Why Indiana Lost: Badgers Defensive Game Plan Was to Allow Zeller to Do His Thing

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 16th, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

You may consider Wisconsin basketball boring as they make it their primary objective to slow the game game. You may even consider them boring because they don’t wow you with their athleticism. But if you are a basketball fan, you have to appreciate the Badgers’ Tuesday night effort in Bloomington leading to a big upset over the Hoosiers. Bo Ryan’s team executed a solid game plan to beat Tom Crean’s squad by five points and are standing tall in the early Big Ten race with a 4-0 record. It was very clear from the tip-off that the Badgers weren’t going to let the Hoosiers beat them from long range, instead preferring to let Cody Zeller get his shots in the paint. After trailing by one at the half, Ryan told ESPN sideline reporter Samantha Ponder that they were trying to contain the Hoosiers’ other weapons around Zeller such as Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford. Zeller toyed with Jared Berggren in the paint to end up with 23 points but the rest of the Hoosiers were held to a relatively quiet night.

Bo Ryan's Badgers played great defense to upset the Hoosiers in Bloomington.

Bo Ryan’s Badgers played great defense to upset the Hoosiers in Bloomington.

Assembly Hall serves as a huge advantage for the Hoosiers by making it very tough for opponents to dig themselves out of a rut once IU makes a run. Most of the big runs begin in transition or consecutive long-range shots from Indiana’s sharpshooters: Hulls, Watford, and Will Sheehey. But together this trio was held to just 1-of-5 shooting by the Badgers’ backcourt of Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson. Brust must have studied every one of Hulls’ jumpers this season because he knew his tendencies and stepped into Hulls’ favorite spots on the floor immediately before he got there. Hulls loves to shoot the deep ball in transition and is very efficient as he goes left towards the top of the key to use his quick release on the jumper. Someone who averages five shot attempts per game from beyond the arc was held to just one shot from the perimeter last night! That statistic proves that Brust played him so tightly that he couldn’t even free himself up to take a shot during the second half. Brust’s backcourt mate Traevon Jackson was just as effective on defensive rotations and helped lock down Sheehey to an 0-of-6 performance. Not only was IU’s long-range threat neutralized by the Badgers, but the Hoosiers couldn’t get anything going in transition either. Victor Oladipo couldn’t find a rhythm offensively because he wasn’t able to lead transition like he usually does because the Badgers pulled back immediately after missed shots and also covered Watford at the perimeter to prevent transition threes.

By shutting down the long-range shot, Ryan forced (ahem, dared) the Hoosiers to beat his team through Zeller. But because the guards and wings around Zeller couldn’t find their rhythm, they seemed to get more frustrated and failed to push the offense through the post in the second half. If they would have just run several weave plays where Zeller could take Berggren off the dribble going to his right from the top of the key, the Hoosiers might have prevented the Badgers from building a substantial lead during the first 10 minutes of the second half. Brust and Jackson played great defense in the first half too but Zeller had singlehandedly put Indiana up by a point at the half. It takes a tremendous amount of patience and discipline from the wings and guards to commit to feeding the post when their shot isn’t falling, but the Indiana backcourt fell hook, line, and sinker into the trap laid out by Ryan.

Last night’s performance should not be viewed as an anomaly when evaluating Wisconsin’s perimeter defense because their guards have been stepping up to the challenge thus far in Big Ten play. They held Illinois to 14% (2-of-14) shooting from beyond the arc, frustrating Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson because they couldn’t get any of their long-range shots to fall. Jackson is a big guard who will continue to bother point guards in the league and Brust appears to be a very steady defender by understanding his opponents’ specific tendencies. Overall, the Badgers made a strong statement with their win last night, one that recognizes that they are once again a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten.

Deepak Jayanti (270 Posts)

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