For the first time in a while this season, Indiana men’s basketball has built some momentum.
Following a second half turnaround and eight-point home win over Maryland, the Hoosiers have won two games in a row to even their conference record to 2-2.
Their recent stretch of good play will be tested Thursday night, though, as Indiana will go to Madison and take on No. 8 Wisconsin (9-2).
The game would have been a challenge regardless, but with sophomore guard and second-leading scorer Armaan Franklin likely out due to rolling his ankle against Maryland, it is going to be far more difficult.
Indiana found a way to battle and beat Maryland without the 12.7 points per game and 41.4% 3-point field goal percentage that Franklin provides, but to do the same against a loaded Wisconsin group is going to be very challenging.
Replacing Franklin's production in his absence
When looking for how to fill the void, Indiana may have to experiment some. The starting lineup will likely welcome junior guard Rob Phinisee to fill Franklin’s spot for the time, but he and the rest of the guards have not been nearly the consistent scoring threats that Franklin is.
Phinisee, Al Durham, Trey Galloway and Jerome Hunter — all of the usual wing scorers outside of Franklin — have struggled to score the ball with consistency all year. This could be an opportunity to potentially see more playing time out of freshman guard Anthony Leal.
“I feel like I’m pretty prepared in terms of the fundamentals and knowing where I need to be and being in the right position,”
Leal said in a press conference Tuesday.
The freshman guard has had scattered amounts of playing time throughout the year, only playing in six games and averaging about 5.7 minutes per game. He did receive 12 minutes against Maryland, though.
Despite the inexperience, Leal was a four-star recruit out of high school and was recruited to be a scorer and lethal shooter from distance for Indiana. With Franklin not there, it may be necessary that Leal sees the floor more if Indiana wants a chance against the Badgers.
The balanced and versatile Badgers are a nightmare for about anyone, boasting experience, height, defensive discipline and offensive efficiency. They shoot 46.7% from the field and 41.4% from 3-point range.
The efficiency has led them to a scoring average of 76.2 points per game while also having an average scoring margin of 15.7 points per game. This has been done throughout the course of a season with wins over the likes of Louisville, Michigan State and Minnesota.
Leal was known to be a prolific shooter in high school and has been working at it in college, too. If he gets good minutes, confidently shoots and is aggressive, Indiana might be able to replace the scoring lost from Franklin while competing with the Badgers.
“I’ve started to make 500 3s per day, and I try to hold myself accountable to doing that,” Leal said. “I know it’s not only going to make me a better shooter, but it’s going to increase my confidence.”
In addition to not playing many minutes, Leal has not had many shots attempts all season. He has only made one of his six field goals this year and that one make was a 3-pointer. In games he has played well defensively and as a strong passer and system player.
While 1-for-6 isn’t great, the phrase “shooters shoot” is true. Leal has to look for his shot and find his rhythm in order to make an impact in that aspect of that game.
The freshman is familiar with having to make an impact coming off the bench, though. Leal said in the press conference that in his first game of high school basketball at Bloomington South, his team only had six available players and he was the one guy who didn’t start.
“It’s just part of the process,” Leal said. “I learned that in high school and now I’m trusting it through college knowing that just whenever I get in, I have to play my role and play as hard as I can.”
Hoosiers' struggles with Wisconsin
There is no way to predict if Leal will get legitimate minutes or not against Wisconsin, but regardless of i how much he plays, Indiana will need an all-in effort to beat the Badgers.
No matter what year or ranking Wisconsin may have, Indiana always seems to struggle against the Badgers. Just a season ago, immediately after Indiana started 8-0 and beat No. 17 Florida State, the team got destroyed by Wisconsin, losing by 20 on the road.
The road struggles against Wisconsin are very common as Indiana has not won in Madison since 1998.
This year’s Wisconsin team is about as experienced as a team can be in college basketball. Five seniors start, and three of them are redshirt seniors.
The Badgers’ starting lineup is:
- D’Mitrik Trice, redshirt senior, guard, 6-foot
- Brad Davison, senior, guard, 6-foot-4
- Aleem Ford, redshirt senior, forward, 6-foot-8
- Micah Potter, redshirt senior, forward, 6-foot-10
- Nate Reuvers, senior, forward, 6-foot-11
All five of them average double-digits in scoring, with Trice being the leader with 14.2 points per game, and nobody else scoring fewer than 10.