BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team had just beaten the No. 2 team in the nation, and Indiana coach Tom Crean couldn’t get through the postgame handshake line quick enough.
Crean’s blow-by handshake caught UW coach Bo Ryan off guard and was one of the lasting images from the Badgers’ shocking 64-59 victory over the Hoosiers last January at Assembly Hall.
When the teams met two months later in a Big Ten Conference tournament semifinal, Crean was much more gracious in defeat despite falling to 3-14 all-time vs. Crean, including 0-10 at Indiana. He gave Ryan a hug and the two spent more than 30 seconds together, with Crean doing most of the talking.
The lovefest continued on Monday morning when Crean praised Ryan and the No. 3 Badgers (16-0, 3-0 Big Ten), who will play the Hoosiers (11-5, 1-2) Tuesday night at Assembly Hall.
“I have great respect for him, I always have,” said Crean, who was 3-4 against UW during his time at Marquette. "I think what I respect about him is he’s one of the great competitors around, and I think he’d be the kind of person that would compete in anything and want to win and I think you have to respect that.
“He’s always been very gracious to me, and I hope he would feel for the most part I have been with him. I have tremendous respect for that entire program. That’s a team when you watch him coach and when you watch them play, you absolutely see his competitiveness, you see his diligence. All those attributes that you would want to say, ‘That’s what a great team looks like,’ I think you can start with Bo, and that’s what a great coach looks like.”
Earlier in the teleconference, Crean spoke about the challenge of stopping UW's efficient offense. The Badgers are averaging a league-leading 82.0 points in Big Ten play.
“They’re not an above-average passing team, they are a great passing team," Crean said. “Where they are so efficient and where they have hurt us in the past and where they’ve hurt so many others is when the game gets into rotation and you’re constantly helping and over-helping or trying to stop the dribble or stop this or stop that, they are such a great passing team. They not only make the next pass, but the pass after that and, if need be, the pass after that.
“The thing about them is they’re so efficient with the ball, it’s the old (Princeton coach) Pete Carril comment that the quality of the shot is directly related to the quality of the pass. And that’s exactly what you see with Wisconsin.”
The Badgers have beaten the Hoosiers 12 consecutive times, including five in a row at Assembly Hall.
Ryan said he wasn’t aware of the streak when it was brought up during his weekly news conference.
“The players certainly never hear it from us,” Ryan said. “I just don’t dwell in that kind of domain.”
Indiana’s most recent victory over UW was a 71-66 decision at Assembly Hall on Jan. 31, 2007. UW’s freshman class was in the seventh grade at the time.
“The fact that we’ve won this many straight against Indiana is kind of weird to realize,” UW junior guard Josh Gasser said. “You don’t think that’s really possible. But when you go into every game preparing the same way, it just kind of happens that way, I guess.”
Bring the noise
The Badgers practiced with crowd noise blaring through the Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion speakers Sunday night to get ready for what they believe will be a rowdy atmosphere at Assembly Hall.
It’s not something Ryan does very often, but he said the practice dates to his days at UW-Platteville when the Pioneers were preparing for road games in packed gyms at places such as UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Whitewater.
Badgers associate head coach Greg Gard compared it to “1,000 people scratching their nails on the chalkboard all at once.”
Gard thought the Badgers handled the noise well during practice.
“Obviously, you can’t talk and we don’t rely on that much anyway,” Gard said. “So you’ve got to visually communicate and take advantage of the tight huddles when you can.”
Young and dangerous
Indiana lost four starters from last season’s team that won the Big Ten regular-season title. Each of those players scored more than 1,000 points during their career with the Hoosiers.
Some growing pains were expected this year, but Crean is hoping his team turned a corner after rallying for a 79-76 win at Penn State on Saturday. The Hoosiers trailed by 15 points midway through the first half.
“Their record may not be the same as it was last year, but teams get better,” Ryan said. “They didn’t waver, they did what they had to do to come back (at Penn State), so that shows they’ve matured already.”