McClain on Wisconsin: “You’re looking at a veteran basketball team”

Indiana-Wisconsin has been a contrast of styles as long as Tom Crean has been the Hoosiers’ coach.

Indiana wants to run. Wisconsin very much does not. The Hoosiers’ tempo is usually in at least the top third of Division I per and this season ranks No. 19. The Badgers are always in the bottom 50 and this season rank 304th.

The contrast is even greater, this year, however, because the rosters are as different as the styles. Indiana will likely start two freshman, a sophomore and a fifth-year senior who is a first-year transfer in today’s 7 p.m. game against Wisconsin at Assembly Hall. The Badgers, meanwhile, will likely start a senior and three juniors — one of whom is a fourth-year junior — to go with one of the best sophomores in the conference in Sam Dekker.

“When you look at Wisconsin, you’re looking at a veteran basketball team,” associate head coach Steve McClain said. “With (Ben) Brust and (Josh) Gasser and Dekker and (Frank) Kaminksy and (Traevon) Jackson, you look at their better teams over the years, they’ve got veterans. You’ve got five veterans in their starting lineup. … When you’re in the Big Ten and you put five veterans on the court who have played in this league and been through the battles, you’re going to have an opportunity to be as good as you can be. And that’s who they are right now.”

And they’re also as good as any team in the country. The Badgers (16-0 overall, 3-0 in the Big Ten) were bumped up to No. 3 in both the Associated Press and USA Today coaches’ polls on Monday. They’re coming off a 95-70 blowout of Illinois, and the eye-popping news there is that a Wisconsin team scored 95 points. The Badgers are playing slightly faster than usually this year, but more so, they’re brutally efficient. Wisconsin ranks fourth in the nation in offensive efficiency with 119.1 points per 100 possessions, so they’re averaging 76.4 points per game even though they’re one of the nation’s slowest teams in terms of possessions per game.

“I don’t know if the speed of the game is any different, when you look at the time of possession for each possession. It is still around 21 or 22 seconds over a period of time,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said on the Big Ten teleconference on Monday. “But I do think the one thing that separates them on offense is they have always had the experienced players that they can put other people around those guys because they totally understand how they win and how they want to play. They have always put excellent shooters on the court. I think what you have now, and what is a little different to me, is that they are not an above-average passing team, they are a great passing team. Where they are so efficient, and where they have hurt us in the past and so many others, is when the game gets into rotation and you are constantly helping and over-helping or trying to stop the dribble or this or that, they are such a great passing team. They not only make the next pass, they make the pass after that and, if need be, the pass after that.”

In Dekker (14.3 ppg), Kaminksy (13.6 ppg), Brust (13.1 ppg) and Jackson (10.8 ppg), the Badgers have four players averaging in double figures. Jackson, Brust and Gasser give the Badgers three veteran guards who can handle the basketball, plus reserve freshman point guard Bronson Koenig.