Wisconsin might be king of its basketball hill, it might have the best start in school history, but that doesn't rock guard Traevon Jackson's world.
The No. 3 Badgers (16-0) are still flawed.
“We're not content,” Jackson said. “We have to keep getting better. We can get so much better. We've excited for what's next.”
What's next is tonight game against Indiana at Assembly Hall.
“I still think we haven't played a full game yet to our maximum potential,” Jackson said, “so we have to practice, look at the film, go against Indiana and try to do that.”
That does not bode well for the Hoosiers (11-5). They have become Badger fodder. They have lost 12 straight times to Wisconsin, with the last win coming in 2007. They have lost when they have had more talent (see last year) and when they haven't. They have lost close and by blowout.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan doesn't care.
“I don't dwell on that kind of domain. We just prepare for the next opponent. I don't get my guys ready to play by using anything other than the facts, the stats, here it is. Here's what we've got to do. Here's what we have to do better.”
Ryan has owned IU, winning 18 of the last 21 meetings. Of course, he's done that to a lot of teams during a career that has produced 690 victories (307-113 in 13 years at Wisconsin) and three Big Ten titles.
This might be Ryan's best team. Wisconsin's 16-0 start is the best in school history. It is No. 1 in ESPN's RPI, and rolled through a non-conference schedule that included Virginia, Saint Louis and Florida.
In its last game, it throttled then-No. 23 Illinois by 25 points.
“For the players, what they've accomplished they've earned,” Ryan said. “They get the credit. They put the sweat on the floor. I'm certainly proud of them and what they've accomplished to this point. But you start thinking about that (record) too much and it can go the other way in a hurry. Let's try to keep it going.”
The Badgers thrive for lots of reasons -- an efficient swing offense (a Big Ten-low 8.2 turnovers a game), solid defense (allowing 61.1 points), and a knack for not beating themselves -- but don't discount perspective. They don't think they're better than they are.
“There was a quote we were talking about, a John Wooden quote, of 'Don't get caught up in the praise or criticism,'” freshman guard Nigel Hayes said. “So that is what we are trying to do. Don't get too high on ourselves. Make sure that we stay focused, because we know that there are bigger goals down the road that we want to reach.”
Sophomore forward Sam Dekker leads the team in scoring (14.3) and rebounding (6.3). Frank Kaminsky, a 7-foot forward, shoots nearly 48 percent from three-point range. He averages 13.6 points and 5.9 rebounds. Guard Ben Brust averages 13.1 points and 5.1 rebounds. He averages 44.2 percent from three-point range. Jackson averages 10.8 points and 4.4 rebounds. He has 69 assists against 34 turnovers.
Wisconsin is one of the nation's slower teams in terms of possessions per game (it averages about 22 seconds a possession to IU's 15), but ranks fourth nationally in offensive efficiency, scoring 119.1 points per 100 possessions.
“You're looking at a veteran team,” associate head coach Steve McClain said. “When you put five veterans on the court who have been through the battles in this league, you're going to have an opportunity to be as good as you can be.”
IU comes in with momentum from Saturday's 79-76 win at Penn State (“We earned the victory at the end,” coach Tom Crean said. “I'm proud of the resiliency we showed.”), but the Nittany Lions aren't the Badgers, and Crean knows it. He's never beaten Wisconsin as the Indiana coach, and he was just 3-16 against the Badgers while coaching Marquette.
Last year's top-ranked Hoosier squad lost twice to them -- 64-59 at Assembly Hall and 68-56 in the Big Ten tourney in Chicago.
“I have tremendous respect for that entire program,” Crean said. “That is a team that, when you watch him coach and watch them play, you absolutely see his competitiveness and diligence -- all of those attributes you would want to say that a great team looks like. I think you can start with Bo because that's what a great coach looks like.”
Wisconsin's success, Crean said, comes from having experienced players that “totally understand how they win and how they want to play.”
“They have always put excellent shooters on the court, but what you have now, and is 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 and so many others, is … they not only make the next pass, they make the pass after that and, if need be, the pass after that.”
IU's rally from a 15-point deficit to win at Penn State impressed Ryan.
“When you see how athletic they are and you see their freshmen, their younger guys, and what they can do physically, their record might not be the same as it was last year. But teams get better. Their comeback against Penn State -- Penn State's really tough at home. They didn't waver. They did what they had to do to come back. So that shows they've matured already.
“Indiana is a good team. We know what we're going into.”
IU is led by point guard Yogi Ferrell, who averages 17.6 points, and forward Noah Vonleh, who won his fifth Big Ten freshman of the week award after scoring a career-high 19 points against Penn State. He averages 12.3 points and a Big Ten-best 9.3 rebounds.
The Hoosiers might be without sophomore Jeremy Hollowell, who was benched for the Penn State game for a reported lack of focus.
As far as Hollowell's status for tonight, McClain said, “He'll play when he plays.”