The Wisconsin Badgers’ first opponent in the Big Ten Tournament, the Indiana Hoosiers, will be without senior point guard Verdell Jones III, who suffered a torn ACL in yesterday’s win over Penn State. Jones was averaging 7.5 points and 3.2 assists in 24.5 minutes per game this season.
It’s not a crushing blow for the Hoosiers, who still managed to handle Penn State with relative ease. Removing players not named Cody Zeller from the Indiana roster likely means a bigger role for Cody Zeller, which can only help, really. Indiana’s starting point guard, Jordan Hulls, has also played well, shooting over 48% from three. But Jones has often looked like Indiana’s best offensive initiator, and his absence likely means more minutes for some of the less proven players behind him. Having just a single day to adjust to the loss might be the most harrowing test of all.
Still, Wisconsin can’t afford to look past the Hoosiers. Not when it’s been 4 years since they won a Big Ten Tournament game. Not after they bricked their way to a 75.7 offensive rating in an opening-round game against Penn State last year. The Badgers still have to get over the persistent shooting malaise that has plagued them in tournament settings. They still have to contend with the rest of an Indiana team that took down three top-5 squads this season–Verdell Jones didn’t do that all on his own. Thankfully, they’re entering this game on an encouraging streak. Should the Badgers prevail, a matchup with Michigan State looms large. Just earning that date would be a nice boost for Wisconsin’s tournament resume.