The Indiana Hoosiers have been exposed.
That's the narrative that could form over the next month if other Big Ten teams pay attention to what the Wisconsin Badgers did on Tuesday night at Assembly Hall. In a game that could have given Indiana a head start on the race to a Big Ten title, the Hoosiers came away with a slight limp.
Moving forward, any team that beats Indiana will likely follow this three-step blueprint that Bo Ryan generously provided to the rest of the league.
Let's dissect the formula.
1. Never leave Jordan Hulls
It's obvious that limiting the looks of Jordan Hulls would be a given. He is shooting 51.9 percent from the three-point line. A majority of those looks are created by his teammates—83 percent of Hulls' threes are assisted, according to Hoop-Math.com.
Wisconsin's defensive game plan against Hulls was to stay with him at all times. In this first clip, watch as Christian Watford attacks the basket and Ben Brust stays with Hulls on the right wing.
With Wisconsin staying tight on Hulls, Tom Crean tried to get Hulls his looks with handoffs or ball screens. Wisconsin shut that action down by switching every handoff to Hulls and fighting over every screen.
As you can see in the screenshot below, Traevon Jackson is guarding Hulls as tight as he can, so when the screen is set by Will Sheehey, Jackson is able to fight over the top.
According to Hoop-Math.com, Hulls is shooting only 40 percent at the rim, so it makes sense to run him off the three-point line. Here is the play in real time, where Hulls ends up missing an ugly shot in the paint.
Hulls finished the game with four points on 2-of-8 shooting, and he missed his only three-point attempt. He has been shut out behind the three-point line only three times this season including in both of Indiana's losses. Butler used a similar strategy and limited Hulls to just two shots beyond the arc.
If you're going to play help defense against the Hoosiers, it's best to let Hulls' man stay put.
2. Make the Hoosiers score in the half court
The fall-back explanation for how Wisconsin is able to beat anyone is that Ryan dictates pace.
It's true that the Badgers milk the shot clock and wait until they get a good look. But on the other end, it's not that Wisconsin forces its opponents into longer possessions. It's that the Badgers don't allow many fast-break opportunities.
Indiana's best two players, Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, thrive in the open court. The Hoosiers are averaging nearly three possessions more per game this season than last. One big reason is the defense of Oladipo, who has 39 steals and is a master of deflections.
Wisconsin limited Indiana's transition opportunities by taking care of the ball—Indiana forced a season-low eight turnovers and scored a season-low three points off fast breaks. The few times the Badgers did turn the ball over, they got back on defense before Indiana could capitalize.
In the one transition that Oladipo managed to get, Jackson was able to beat him back to the paint and force Oladipo into a travel.
This is probably the most difficult aspect of the Ryan blueprint to pull off because Wisconsin has been adept at taking care of the ball.
The Badgers lead the nation in turnover rate, according to KenPom.com. Two other Big Ten teams that could give Indiana trouble are Michigan (second in turnover rate) and Ohio State (14th). It also helps to keep the ball as far away from Oladipo as possible.
3. Make Cody Zeller score over defense
This is what Terry Hutchens, who covers Indiana for the Indianapolis Star, wrote in the USA Today on Dec. 17 after Indiana lost to Butler: "I just didn't feel like Zeller was taking over the game. And I think when you're as a big and talented as he is, I would think that would be the case. But Cody needs to command the ball more inside."
What Hutchens writes sounds logical, but the beliefs that Zeller needs to "command the ball more inside" and that Indiana needs to get it to him there are two of the great fallacies in college basketball this season.
Zeller is a great player. He has great hands, moves incredibly well for his size and finishes well at the rim.
But when Indiana is struggling offensively, the answer is not to exclusively post him up and let him go to work. According to Synergy Sports Technology, he scores only 0.95 points per possession off post-ups, and that number likely drops when Zeller is forced to shoot over his man.
That's how Wisconsin shut Zeller down in the second half on Tuesday night. In the first half, Zeller made all eight of his field-goal attempts. Only one of those baskets came off a post-up where he scored over his man. Zeller's seven other buckets all came off the move.
Let's take a look at three of his first-half buckets.
The first is on a simple pick-and-roll that sees Zeller set a screen for Yogi Ferrell on the wing and then immediately roll to the bucket. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Zeller is scoring 1.42 points per possession this season in pick-and-roll situations.
Another way the Hoosiers get the ball to Zeller in space is incorporating the big man in a weave play that is typically reserved for three guards. Notice in the screenshot below that when Zeller catches the ball, Jared Berggren (circled) is already out of position and his teammate, Brust, is essentially setting a pick for Zeller.
Here is the play in real time.
Instead of simply posting Zeller up, Indiana will try to get Zeller the ball on the block as he's moving. In this play below, Remy Abell sets a cross screen on Wisconsin's Mike Bruesewitz.
Since Brust, a guard, is the man defending the screener, Wisconsin does not want to switch. Bruesewitz tries to fight over the screen and ends up lunging at the ball.
Hulls is able to get the pass through, and with Bruesewitz taking himself out of the play on the gamble, Zeller gets an easy bucket.
Here's the play in real time.
The Badgers could not have played Zeller any worse in the first half, so they made several adjustments at halftime to make sure he did not get any more easy looks.
The way to play Zeller is to prevent him from catching the ball going toward the rim and to make sure to keep a defender between him and the basket. Sometimes he will score over defense, but if there's a weakness to his game, this is it.
The Hoosiers started the second half by setting a cross screen for Zeller and isolating him at the elbow. Since the screen was set by another big man, Christian Watford, Wisconsin switched, and Ryan Evans was able to play Zeller on the catch.
Evans stays between Zeller and the basket and forces Zeller into a tough leaner.
In a play similar to the one in the first half when Bruesewitz gambled, Berggren does the same on an entry pass to Zeller. This time around, everyone except for Brust, who is guarding Hulls, converges on Zeller.
Instead of Zeller getting an easy dunk like he had in the first half on Bruesewitz's gamble, the help defense allows Berggren to recover and block Zeller's shot.
Keeping a man between Zeller and the basket is not as easy as it sounds because of the weapons that surround him. Indiana often forces help, and this is when Zeller thrives. It's also not easy to be as disciplined as Wisconsin was when it comes to sticking to Hulls or limiting turnovers.
Even with a loss at home, there is no reason to panic in Bloomington and believe that the Hoosiers are going to take a nosedive. Many teams will not be able to duplicate this three-part blueprint. Even if they do, Indiana is talented enough—and its defense is good enough—to win on off nights.
Good enough to still win the Big Ten?
That will be determined by whether or not Crean figures out a way to make this blueprint obsolete.