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Friday, January 29, 2010

Nankivil's Career Night All For Naught

Wisconsin had a perfect opportunity for a statement win on the road, but it ultimately slipped away as Purdue's Big 3 stepped up like big winners.

E'Twaun Moore closed out each half with poise for the Boilermakers. He gave No. 10 Purdue (17-3, 5-3) the lead at halftime with two straight baskets, then took the lead for good with his 20th point of the night on a floater in the lane with 27 seconds remaining.

Even then, No. 16 Wisconsin (16-5, 6-3) controlled its own fate with the last possession. Trevon Hughes' running bank shot rimmed out, continuing the struggles the Wisconsin guards had experienced all night. The Badger sideshow failed to materialize when it was most needed.

Keaton Nankivil was the main event, of course, canning 7-of-8 treys in a 25-point performance. [box score] His scorching hot touch kept the Badgers in the game all night and his big block on Chris Kramer set the stage for his final make right in JuJuan Johnson's face from the wing to give the Badgers a late one-point lead. What a shame to waste another phenomenal shooting performance by Nankivil in a tough loss. Both times against Purdue no less.

Unfortunately, Nankivil also looked tentative in the post, especially after offensive rebounds, and he didn't grab a board the entire second half. Nankivil will never be accused of getting anyone into foul trouble, which allowed Johnson (14 points) to play 33 minutes and counter with some key jumpers of his own. Meanwhile, Robbie Hummel destroyed UW on the glass. The junior forward grabbed a game-high 13 caroms as Purdue pounded Wisconsin 34-20 on the boards.

College Basketball

With the three Purdue juniors playing their roles, neither Hughes nor Jordan Taylor could get their shots to fall. Jason Bohannon proved his outburst in the two teams' last meeting was more exception than rule, as he struggled to get loose. While Wisconsin took a turn in the right direction by attempting only 23 3-pointers and shot a good percentage (39%), players not named Nankivil connected on only 2-of-15 from distance. Credit the Boilermaker defense.

Plenty of bad calls to go around in this game and too many free throws missed by both teams in such a tight game. All in all, I find this loss is easier to swallow because the Badgers got the final crack at it and were not expected to win. But still ... ouch.

The shame of it is that Wisconsin really does match up quite well with Purdue, much better than it does with Michigan State at least. Even without Jon Leuer, Nankivil can pull the shot-blocking Johnson away from the basket. We have already seen that Hughes and Taylor can drive on the Boilermakers. And Moore is really the only player Wisconsin has trouble stopping. Purdue is far from the juggernaut some thought they were heading into the year.

Now beating Michigan State at the Kohl Center becomes a must-win if Wisconsin harbors any thoughts of winning a Big Ten title.

Parting Thoughts
* Hughes took a lot of chances on defense. Some paid off, like when he turned the ball over himself, but then hustled and veered through about 4 or 5 Badgers and Boilermakers alike to rip the ball from Moore I believe. Other chances did not pay off. In those cases, Moore usually made him pay by getting into the lane.

* Moore beat everybody: Hughes, Taylor, Rob Wilson. Hummel may have reached his ceiling as a player, I really like Moore's game.

* Does Hughes get that obvious foul by Hummel (and maybe one by Kramer) called for him if the shot he pulled up for wasn't so ridiculously ill-advised? If that shot came after a dribble inside the arc, I think he gets the whistle, even at crunch time.

* Don't look now, but maybe the transition away from Tim Jarmusz has begun. Yes, Jarmusz played on Thursday -- 19 mins, 0-2 FGs, 1 rebound. But Wilson and Ryan Evans have combined for 76 minutes in the past two games compared to Jarmusz' 32.

* Some big rebounds by Wilson. But he and Nankivil combined for the biggest defensive gaffe of the night when Moore got a completely free pass down the lane off a pick.

* For a game that could have gone either way, how about Jared Berggren nailing a shot clock-beating trey in the first half out of nowhere? After turning away, I had not even realized he was in the game at that point.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Three-Guard Circus Surprise

The Badger circus rolled into West Lafayette some time ago and the spectacle begins in less than an hour. It's a battle to maintain hope in the Big Ten conference chase to catch the men in Spartan green. Many expect Purdue to deal Wisconsin's recent high-wire act of comeback victories a brutal end.

In each Wisconsin's last three wins, a different Badger guard has stepped forward from either a terrible half or straight up obscurity to propel UW to victory in the second half. Trevon Hughes beat Northwestern (though Jason Bohannon certainly did his part in the first half). Rob Wilson introduced himself to Michigan with perfect timing, along with Hughes' help. Finally, Jordan Taylor caught fire to down Penn State.

Who will step up this time and gun down Purdue? Will J-Bo take the mantle down the stretch or will one of the aforementioned guards perform an encore?

The Badgers made only 27.5% of their 3-pointers in the past four games, attempting 27 such shots on average. It's probably wishful thinking to expect a regression to the mean (season avg: 33.5%) when the opponent is better, the venue is less hospitable and UW's personnel remains the same.

But if UW can somehow take advantage of what statistics say is a lax Boilermaker perimeter defense and shoot at or above their season average percentage, that will be worth an extra 6 to 9 points over the course of 27 attempts. Purdue is allowing opponents to shoot 36.9% from deep this year, their worst mark since 2005-06.

Yet the Boilers remain a stellar defensive team. Purdue's philosophy seems to be, "Come into the paint and get denied" ... to which the current perimeter-oriented Wisconsin team says, "Perfect!"

Keaton Nankivil is coming off a very efficient game against Penn State, but had trouble staying on the court (foul trouble) against Purdue in Madison. He needs to turn the tables on JuJuan Johnson and Co. this time so that Bo Ryan is free to go small. Otherwise, the battle of the boards will get ugly.

I see Ryan Evans being the X-factor, along with Nankivil, to keep Wisconsin in the game. If the game is tight in the end, it will be time for another miracle finish from the three-guard -- no wait, four-guard -- circus that Bo is leading.

Prospect Profile: Marshall Plumlee

Marshall Plumlee C
7'0" :: 210 lbs.
Class of 2011
Arden (NC) Christ School [team site]
AAU: Indiana Elite

Scout: 4 Stars * * * * (#4 C/#40 overall) Previous: #3/#24 > #5/#32
Rivals: 4 Stars * * * * (#11 C/#82 overall) Previous: #4/#41 > #9/#79 > #11 C/#99
ESPN/Scouts, Inc. grade: 96 (#4 C/#34 overall) Previous: 93 (#27 overall > #7 C/#82 overall > #6/#83)

2010 All-Carolinas Athletic Association

Recent Press
6/20: Marshall Plumlee enters the stretch run of the recruiting process -
6/18: UVa targets take in JPJ - The Daily Progress
5/3: Indiana Elite wins title at national AAU event - Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
1/28: Basketball prowess runs through Schultz/Plumlee family tree - Appleton Post-Crescent
1/15: Prized recruit a big draw in win - Charlotte Observer
7/10: Youngest Plumlee continues to grow game, interest - Inside the Hall

The Verbal

Marshall Plumlee to join brothers at Duke - Fayetteville Observer (7/11/10)

The Hype
Christmas, Lacey shine on Day 1 - ESPN (6/25/10)
How To Make It As Americans: Vol. 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 - SLAM (5/11-5/19/10)

Scouting: Spiece Run-N-Slam - (5/3/10)
NHSI: All in the family - ESPNRise (4/2/10)
Plumlee finding way on the court - ESPN (9/23/09)
Kentucky HoopFest - Rivals (7/11/08)

Highlights: Marshall Plumlee at Spiece Run-N-Slam (5/4/10) - YouTube
Highlights: Marshall Plumlee vs. Winter Park (Fla.) (4/2/10) - YouTube
Interview: adidas Nations 2009 (8/21/09) - YouTube
Interview: 1 on 1 with Marshall Plumlee (7/8/09) -
Highlights: Marshall Plumlee (8/26/09) -

International Youth Basketball Tournament: Sat / Sun / Mon -
Junior: 2009-10 (Christ) - MaxPreps
Sophomore: 2008-09 (Christ) - MaxPreps
Freshman: 2007-08 (Christ) - MaxPreps

Additional Info
2009-10 Schedule ::


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Future Starting Lineup

After the recent verbal from George Marshall, you can start to see what a Wisconsin starting lineup might look like in 2013 if you squint really hard. It just so happens that the five players signed or committed in the next two classes appear to fill up each of the five positions on the floor.

That means there is nothing stopping me from making wild assertions about who these high schoolers will end up playing like in college for the Badgers. So imagine with me for a moment the following starting five:

PG - Jordan Taylor (Marshall)
SG - Jake Kelley (Gasser)
SF - Kevin Coble (Dukan)
PF - Marcus Landry (Hodges)
C - Greg Stiemsma (Anderson)

It's an optimistic scenario that didn't take much time at all to come up with. That lineup is not too shabby -- a typical Bo Ryan team perhaps. Inevitably one or two guys will exceed expectations while one or two others fail to make the desired impact.

I struggled the most with the Marshall and Dukan comparisons. Taylor is bigger and stronger than Marshall, but Marshall has a strong reputation as a leader with a high basketball IQ, so I though JT applied. Size-wise, Travon Davis is a closer fit.

: : :

Removed the following prospects from the recruiting sidebar:
: : : Class of 2011
G Marquel Curtis, Minneapolis MN [+]
F Marvin Singleton, Minneapolis MN [e]
F Trevor Jorgenson, LaCrosse WI

Jordan Taylor Is Ripped

If you came across Rob Schultz' piece on Jordan Taylor at this past weekend, the picture is nothing new. So for those scoring at home, Taylor didn't strap the Badgers on his back during the Penn State comeback -- he bench pressed them to victory.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Plus/Minus For Comeback Wins

Tracking "plus/minus" statistics is something I've always wanted to do but never got around to before. Traditionally known as a hockey stat, it's only more recently been used for basketball since the influx of advanced statistics into the sport.

The numbers are easy to follow. A player's plus/minus score is calculated by taking the number of points his team scores while he is on the court and subtracting the number of points the opponents score while he is off the court. This stat seeks to account for those "intangibles" that cannot be measured by other stats to connect a player's true value to what you see on the scoreboard.

But plus/minus alone is not always very helpful. Take blowouts for example. A team can build a 10-point lead with a player in the lineup and even when the player sits, his team could extend that lead to 20 or 25 points. Is the player really that instrumental in building the lead or is the opponent just vastly inferior? Also, you need to be able to compare players who play a different number of minutes.

Blogs like The Hoya Prospectus, which has used plus/minus for years (thanks Dylan), account for both problems. This is accomplished by also measuring the point differential when the player is off the floor ("Off") and subtracting it from the traditional "On" score for a Net +/- number. These numbers can also be adjusted per 40 minutes to compare players. I unabashedly copied this model when calculating the plus/minus scores for Wisconsin's past two games, which both happened to be comebacks of epic proportions.

The disclaimer is that plus/minus numbers are only another layer to add to existing stats to try to get the full picture. They are far from perfect. I sorted the players by Net +/- score, though I strongly considered sorting by minutes played to easily weed out data that is unreliable. As you might notice below, statistical outliers are more likely to warp the "net +/- per 40 min" numbers for the most-used and least-used players in individual games.

1/20: @Wisconsin 54, Michigan 48:
Now you can see the problem with calculating Net +/- per minute for individual games. We know that Rob Wilson and Trevon Hughes sparked the comeback against Michigan, but Hughes gets penalized immensely in the Net/40 column because while he took a quick two-minute breather, Wisconsin hit a 3-pointer and the Wolverines did not score.

Concluding that Pop was the least valuable Badger per-minute that day would not be accurate. The calculations will be more valuable when we can average out a whole season of data, which I intend to do. Just keep this in mind as you view the charts.

1/24: @Wisconsin 79, Penn State 71:
Jordan Taylor and Keaton Nankivil were incredibly valuable on average against Penn State. Mike Bruesewitz was once again terribly ineffective. With only four minutes played, Bruiser didn't get a chance to make his +/- more respectable, but that was a wise choice by Bo Ryan. "You gotta knooow when to hold'em ... know when to fold 'em ..."

Stay tuned for +/- for previous games and a season-to-date +/- board.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Scratching and Clawing

After Wednesday's battle between Badgers and Wolverines, Bo Ryan struggled to find any other words to describe how Wisconsin emerged victorious, other than that his guys continued scratching and crawling.

The first half was incredibly hard to watch. Despite plenty of good looks, "Wisconsin couldn't buy a bucket" was the simple explanation. Six scoreless minutes to start the game ... second field goal nearly 10 minutes in ... 32% shooting from the floor in the first half. As we've seen lately, the team was still settling for lots of 3-pointers (1-10 in the half, 4-24 overall). The Badgers seemed to get more impatient with every missed shot and rushed the offense at times.

But UW got its cool back late in the first half and was fortunate to be down only 21-18 thanks to Michigan's own ineptitude (imagine how Tom Izzo would have described it). When Wisconsin held Michigan scoresless in the final five minutes of the half and pulled to within one possession on the bank shot by Trevon Hughes, I left the house feeling pretty good about the ultimate outcome.

Yet UW continued to trail until the final minutes. Michigan's senior big man DeShawn Sims continued to exploit Wisconsin's void inside to lead the Wolverines. While Tim Jarmusz effectively shut down and disengaged Manny Harris, the rest of Michigan's team was coming up empty, however, especially the bench (1 point). Sims finished with 23 pts and 13 rebs. [box score]

This year's Badgers know how to scratch and claw for these wins though. They did it by valuing possessions, so keeping the turnovers to a minimum and fighting for offensive boards were huge in the second half. As Michigan's shot selection fell apart, Wisconsin became more determined than ever to get easier looks and get to the foul line.

"You can’t always shoot well," said junior Keaton Nankivil. "We still do a lot of stuff well that puts us in position to win and that’s the way Coach (Ryan) coaches us."

NCAA Basketball

Despite winning the four factors, it still really came down to making shots. Hughes' 16 second-half points and a surprise contribution from Rob Wilson took care of that.

Wilson scored 13 of UW's 19 bench points. Hughes put it best in his post-game interview on the Big Ten Network: "It's about time he stepped up."

I wouldn't quite call it a coming-out party, but Wilson's performance was vital. Just as important as the stats (4-of-6 shooting in 18 mins, no turnovers) was the aggressive attitude, something that seems to elude many members of this UW team when in a hole. Wilson scored in every way on the court, which Hughes classically described as Rob "bringing his scout team game."

The win preserved Bo's flawless record against Michigan coach John Beilein and kept the next blemish on Bo's Kohl Center record (131-10) at bay. As Beilein admitted, Wisconsin is so good at home because, well, the Badgers under Bo have always been a really good team. That speaks to Bo's special ability to lead a steady program.

Wisconsin will try to get out of the gate much stronger on Sunday when UW hosts Penn State.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

George Marshall Plans His Next Step

Multiple sources are reporting tonight that Chicago Brooks Prep guard George Marshall, Jr. has verbally committed to Bo Ryan's Badgers.

Marshall told that he appreciated Wisconsin's academics and the exciting atmosphere, even calling UW "a basketball school." Interesting to hear. The 5'11" junior also stressed the good relationship he has built with Howard Moore, so score another one for the Duck.

The commitment is the second in Wisconsin's 2011 class, which has room for four players. Both Marshall and forward Devon Hodges hail from Coach Moore's old stomping grounds in the Chicago area. The Badgers absolutely had to have a true point guard in this group and Marshall fits the bill. He is known as a smart floor general-type with a respected jump shot. With the next lead guard in the fold, Wisconsin has outstanding offers to combo guards Traevon Jackson and Chasson Randle, as well as forward Markus Crider.

Interest from a number of big-time programs had been picking up lately, so Wisconsin may be gaining the services of a young player on the rise. Marshall missed a portion of the summer with an injury, which kept him a little under the radar. Check out Marshall's current scouting ranks on his Prospect Profile page.

Just yesterday, Marshall put home the go ahead lay-up with 20 seconds left to lead Brooks over Nicolet, 59-57, in a high school event in Glendale, Wis. Marshall is averaging around 16 ppg this season for the Eagles.

Q&A: Michigan Preview

In anticipation of Wisconsin's upcoming tilt with Michigan, fellow hoops-only blogger Dylan from agreed to exchange a few thoughts about the two teams. Believe it or not, the Wolverines have a chance to move ahead of the Badgers in the Big Ten standings Wednesday night, so the game is pretty important for postseason resumes and conference jockeying alike.

Check out Dylan's stellar blog for my half of the preview.

HM: We know the 3-pointers (29.5%) aren't dropping for Michigan. Has this been the biggest difference so far between last season and this season that has held Michigan back or is it something else?

UMH: We've actually had some healthy discussion about whether three-point shooting is the real problem for Michigan. Michigan shoots a ton of threes and hasn't made them at nearly the same clip they did last year. The statistics show that when Michigan can hit over 33% they are hard to beat. The problem is they have been just dreadful from behind the arc, one of the worst major conference teams in the country.

Will the UConn win carry over and kick start the Wolverines? How do you feel about the fans rushing the court afterward?

Michigan is playing the best basketball they have all year. They've won 4 out of 5 and really let the one loss, versus Northwestern at home, slip away in painful fashion. The schedule hasn't been the toughest but it's clear that Michigan has gained a little bit of confidence back after a dreadful start this year.

As for rushing the court, I was disappointed. I didn't think it was the right call but it also shows that our fan base is just dying for something to cheer about. Football has obviously been a disaster and this was the year the basketball team was supposed to take the next step and that obviously didn't happen. At the end of the day, it was probably fun for those involved but still a little foolish.

Wisconsin may be morphing into a perimeter-oriented team (POT) before our eyes. As someone familiar with John Beilein's teams at Michigan, is there a more hopeless feeling than watching a POT having a bad shooting night?

I was shocked to look at the stats and see how much Wisconsin looked like a perimeter oriented team. The Badgers have actually attempted a higher percentage of three point field goal attempts in conference play than my very own three point happy Wolverines (3PA/FGA 44.9% to 41.9%).

Considering that we are a POT that is shooting 29% from three-point range, I can tell you that I am very familiar with the hopeless feeling of watching missed three-point shots clang off the rim. The flip side is that a game can turn on a dime. Michigan scored 16 points in the first half at Penn State, didn't make a three until midway through the second half, and still managed to catch fire and come back from a double digit deficit thanks to the three point shot.

As painful as it is, a team that relies on the three is never out of the game.

Though people might assume Michigan will deploy a zone, should Wisconsin fans expect Beilein to throw a variety of defenses at the Badgers?

Michigan likes to start with their man-to-man defense which has improved by leaps and bounds over the last several weeks. They usually go to the 1-3-1 zone after made baskets for a stretch here and there, especially if it causes some turnovers and seems to work. Against bigger teams like Connecticut, Michigan also will throw in some 2-3 zone. Still, contrary to the popular belief that Michigan is an all 1-3-1 team, you will see very healthy portions of man-to-man defense.

Can DeShawn Sims take advantage of Jon Leuer's absence and wreak havoc in the paint on Wednesday?

Sims has the ability to be a dominant player on any night. However his tendency to disappear in some games, especially on the road, frustrates Michigan fans to no end. Most of the reason that Michigan has been playing so well in Big Ten play is because DeShawn Sims has brought his A-game (20.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 61.1 eFG% in conference play).

Sims tends to get comfortable against smaller opponents and if he makes his first couple shots he can definitely get on a roll. That being said, Wisconsin is great at defending two-point shots (42.8%) so it will probably be tough for him to get going. When Michigan is at their best they play inside out through Sims first and then spreading the ball out to their guards for three-point shots.

Which member of the supporting cast must have a good game in order for Michigan to steal one on the road?

The key for Michigan is that DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris play their game and at least one other player steps up. Laval Lucas-Perry, Stu Douglass, and Zack Novak can all shoot the ball from three-point range. When one, or even better two, of them can hit a few three pointers Michigan becomes very tough to beat. The problem is that none of them have been extremely accurate from three-point range this year.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Time To Regroup

Wisconsin looked like damaged goods in its 60-51 loss to Ohio State, well, because the Badgers are damaged.

But more interesting than the end result, we got a second glimpse into the transformation of a team missing perhaps its most potent offensive weapon in Jon Leuer. Not only is Leuer the team's best inside scorer, but it is looking more like he was UW's only reliable inside presence of any kind.

Ohio State held Wisconsin to 40% shooting, including 9-of-26 from behind the arc. Wisconsin attempted only five free throws. The Badgers fell behind by 12 points after one half even though Evan Turner was non-existent due to foul trouble. [box score]

That means UW has shot 52 3-pointers (30.7%) in back-to-back games without Leuer. In the previous 16 games, Wisconsin had been shooting 35.6% on 3-pointers. More disconcerting was that I remember seeing a total of only one post move the entire game against the Buckeyes and it didn't come from any of the forwards. With Leuer possibly out until the Big Ten Tournament, the Badgers cannot continue to rely on the three-headed guard trio alone.

Luckily for Bo Ryan's club, they get two winnable games at the Kohl Center after playing four of the last five games on the road.

On Wednesday the Badgers host the Michigan Wolverines, who are coming off their best win of the season over Connecticut. It might be a good time to host Michigan, which is just as perimeter-oriented as Wisconsin appears to be at the moment. For comparison, Michigan has attempted 44 threes in its last two games.

Dylan from will be joining us for a preview Q&A tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Experienced Duo Knocks Out Wildcats

In a game where Wisconsin's lack of front court experience had everyone nervous, the senior back court said resoundingly, "don't worry 'bout it."

Jason Bohannon used a variety of moves to pull the Badgers even, 27-27, in a slowed-paced first half against Northwestern. Bohannon led all scorers with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting, in spite of hitting only 1-of-5 on his 3-pointers.

Bohannon then passed the torch to Trevon Hughes. Hughes, apparently unsatisfied with his reputation as an ACC sniper, completely took over down the stretch. After 33 minutes of terrible shooting, Hughes caught fire, turning a three-point deficit into a seven-point lead that #13 Wisconsin (14-3, 4-1) never relinquished. Pop hit five of his last six shots, including 4-of-5 from distance to scratch out a 60-50 road victory in Evanston. [box score]

Both of the seniors played all 40 minutes. Sophomore Jordan Taylor logged 37 minutes in his first start, notching 7 assists and zero turnovers. Hughes led a balanced rebounding effort (each starter grabbed at least five) with 7 boards. Still, the three-guard lineup looked pretty gassed with five minutes to play, especially Taylor. But Bo Ryan's thoughtful timeout before the last media timeout allowed the team to maintain the momentum that Hughes was providing.

Having Hughes and Taylor on the floor together is very comforting when playing a trapping team like Northwestern -- I am not nearly as nervous as I would have been two years ago. This is a game that the team might have let slip away even last year. Hughes' sense of the moment and emotional leadership prevented that from happening.

For a some great new background info on one of tonight's stars, head over to Luke Winn's article at It is very insightful, clearing up some common misnomers about the nickname "Pop" and digging a little deeper into Hughes' path to Wisconsin. I found it ironic that a national writer brought some of these items to light (I may have missed it if local articles covered this stuff years ago), so Winn should be applauded for that.

After picking up a huge win versus the Wildcats (12-4, 1-3), the Badgers will prepare for another important road game against red hot Ohio State. Like the Wildcats, the Buckeyes will throw some zone at Wisconsin so this was good preparation for Saturday.

Ohio State (12-5, 2-3) doesn't have much in the big man department either, so you might see roughly the same rotation (ie: no Jared Berggren). Mike Bruesewitz was efficient on the offensive glass, but the three reserves totaled only 18 minutes among them. In the absence of Jon Leuer, fatigue is going to be an increased risk.

: : :

Oh, and this is also awesome: Club Trillion founder Mark Titus strikes mixtape gold. [video]

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wanted: Power Forward

Despite Jon Leuer's broken wrist, at least Wisconsin beat Purdue, proving that national respect for the Badgers is warranted. But what if Leuer had gotten injured in the Michigan State game? People would have been jumping out of windows with that news. Leuer, the team's leading rebounder, was just about the only big body who showed up against the Spartans last week.

Even before Leuer got hurt, the power forward/center position was in need of improvement. One remedy for the unsightly rebounding situation in the Michigan State loss could have been a motivated Keaton Nankivil. Laying blame at any one player's feet is usually irresponsible, but Nankivil, one of my favorites, simply has to be called out. Wisconsin's other junior big man suffered through his worst performance of the year last against the Spartans and it didn't get any better against the Boilermakers beyond his highlight reel dunk sequence.

Wisconsin cannot survive the loss of Leuer without improvement from Nankivil. In East Lansing, Nankivil was routinely beaten for rebounds and got caught in defensive positions where he would recover just in time to bump into a Michigan State player. He didn't alter any shots or establish position; he would just slide in late to pick up cheap fouls that get called every time. If I didn't know better, I'd say he was trying to pick up fouls. As a result, Nankivil picked up three fouls, two points and one rebound in 15 minutes of play.

I was hoping a more dialed-in Nankivil would channel his performance from last year's Purdue game, but there he was on Saturday, playing even fewer minutes (10) after picking up two quick fouls five minutes into the game. At least one came when going after an offensive rebound, which is interesting if you look at Nankivil's stats ...

Through 16 games, Nankivil is averaging a little over 22 min/g. With the small samples sizes we have, there seems to be a small correlation between offensive rebounding and fouls committed:


























Here's two quick thoughts: One, Nankivil may come out too aggressive sometimes (imagine that!) in a desire to hit the offensive glass and needlessly picks up extra fouls, which lands him on the bench. Two, maybe by going after more offensive rebounds (and often succeeding), perhaps Keaton puts himself at a disadvantage when the opponent gets the defensive rebound and pushes the ball up court, translating into more times where he is in a poor position defensively ... playing "catch up" if you will.

Regardless of my thinly supported hypotheses, you want your best players on the court. So Nankivil must play smarter so he can get into a rhythm. He has arguably the sweetest stroke out of anyone on the team. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the back-to-the-basket game that Leuer does.

That is why the stage belongs to Jared Berggren. The redshirt frosh has not really experienced Big Ten basketball yet, but he needs to realize some of his potential in a hurry. If Berggren is ready to go, his minutes will skyrocket because he has the potential to be Wisconsin's best remaining weapon in the post. An inside presence will have to emerge or else opponents will be draping themselves all over the Badger guards.

Along with Berggren, two other young guys must step up. Like Nankivil, Ryan Evans needs to cut down on his fouls, but can bring a new dimension to the floor. Freshman Mike Bruesewitz needs to maintain the rebounding prowess he has flashed in limited minutes over a longer period of time.

Leuer's Surgery Set For Tuesday

Right or wrong, one of Wisconsin's biggest victories of the year suddenly seems like a consolation prize.

Even though Jon Leuer played 38 minutes in #17 Wisconsin's huge win over #4 Purdue [box score] that put the Badgers firmly in the Big Ten championship hunt, the university confirmed today that the junior forward will be out of action indefinitely with a fracture in his non-shooting (left) hand. Leuer is scheduled to have surgery to repair the bone on Tuesday.

Leuer has developed into one of the toughest matchups in the conference and is arguably Wisconsin's best scorer. Watching Leuer grow into his role as a go-to player on this team have been one of the most enjoyable facets of the season thus far. Unfortunately, he now joins a list of marquee names from Big Ten teams to be sidelined for a significant time this season. I suppose one reason for optimism is that if one of your best players is going to suffer a major injury, it might as well be in the same year as Kevin Coble, Evan Turner, Lewis Jackson and Maurice Creek.

Another silver lining is that if Wisconsin maintains its composure and makes the NCAA tournament as we all expect, the team could getting one of the biggest pre-tournament boosts of any team in the country just in time for a deep run. Giving the wrist a fair 8-week timetable to heal, a 100% healthy Leuer could potentially return right around Big Ten tournament time to a UW team that may be flying under the radar. I'm sure the team would welcome the new challenge of reintegrating Leuer into the rotation.

However, if Leuer's progress is slow, this could end up being the most significant injury for the program since Alando Tucker missed nearly the entire 2003-04 season with a foot injury. Since Leuer is not eligible for the medical redshirt that Tucker took, we will all be keeping our fingers crossed that Leuer can make an impact on the court year again this season.

No one can replicate Leuer's experience or his exact value to Wisconsin, but a group of guys is certainly going to have to try to replace his production. I cannot imagine Jared Berggren would go from not playing straight to Bo Ryan's starting five, but that's a somewhat arbitrary distinction anyway. It seems like Ryan Evans or Jordan Taylor, fresh off his career-high 23-point showing, would be the best bets to step into the lineup.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Michigan State Outslugs Wisconsin

The game was pretty easy to figure out: the home team won. Or to put it slightly less vaguely: two teams played good defense and shot poorly. The more aggressive team emerged victorious.

Michigan State is most comfortable in the aggressor's role and Wisconsin never forced the Spartans out of that position. Two obvious examples are rebounding and free throw shooting.

For starters, the Spartans were allowed to crash the boards unhindered in most cases, out rebounding the Badgers 28-23 overall. It was frustrating to see MSU get second chances all the time (10 offensive rebs), just by being hungrier for the ball and having the skill to acquire it. Wisconsin's big men have a ways to go collectively. Secondly, while both teams shot the same percentage on freebies, MSU outscored UW by 12 points by stepping to the free throw line 30 times. [box score]

It was a tough, hard-fought battle between the Badgers and Spartans. Both teams were held far below their average efficiency numbers on offensive. For this I applaud the defense on each side more than I care to insult the shooters.

Though Michigan State managed to still be more efficient than the average Badger opponent, Wisconsin was less efficient that the average Spartan opponent so far this year. It was easily the least efficient offensive performance of the year for UW, surpassed by only the Xavier and Duke losses in the previous two seasons. To compound matters, the Wisconsin's shot selection (21.7% on 23 3-pointers) played right into Michigan State's hands. So it seems Bucky brought out the best in Michigan State defensively.

I was impressed by Michigan State's big sophomore Draymond Green, and also junior Chris Allen, who had a rock solid game for Tom Izzo. On Wisconsin's side, Jon Leuer proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is for real with those 18 second-half points. Also, based on the replays I feel like Trevon Hughes' ankle should be good to go next game. I don't think the ankle injury had a whole lot to do with this particular loss.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Badgers, Spartans Jockey For Early Position

With Minnesota's loss to Purdue, Wisconsin's next two games will go a long way to shaping the early conference pecking order. Before the Badgers (12-2) get a shot at Purdue, they face off against arch-nemesis Michigan State (11-3). Wisconsin has lost four in a row in East Lansing, dating back to Bo Ryan's first loss to Tom Izzo in 2005.

This seems like two evenly matched teams, though Vegas has installed Sparty as the clear favorite. As the guys from MSU blog The Only Colors point out, both of these teams are doing what they do best. Namely, the Badgers are taking care of the basketball and the Spartans are hoarding their own missed shots. But no team in the nation limits opponent's second chances like Wisconsin.

The 17th-ranked Badgers enter the game scoring about 72 ppg, 10 fewer than the 10th-ranked Spartans. But MSU also gives up approximately 10 more ppg than UW does. See that evenly-matched theme again? As usual, it will come down to execution.

Trevon Hughes has led UW in scoring the past two games to snap out of the sleepwalk he was in prior to facing Ohio State. But the trepidation for Badger fans stems from Jon Leuer's inability to stay out of foul trouble at all in the team's first two Big Ten games (the same Leuer, btw, that The Only Colors mentioned as a possible Big Ten POY). Guys like budding rebound machine Draymond Green could make life difficult again for Leuer when coupled with MSU's ability to drive past the Badgers' perimeter defense to the cup.

Both teams have some depth, with a rotation of seven players and the ability to go 10 (UW) or 11 (MSU) deep if they have to. After seeing Ryan Evans perform against Duke earlier this year, I feel pretty comfortable with Bo's rotation staying composed in a big game. Can he duplicate this poise on the road?

With all the recent history between the two teams, it was not surprising to hear reports that Kalin Lucas allegedly toed the MSU company line with some comments in a recent interview, much like Goran Suton last season. But why would Lucas need to artificially inflate this game by ignorantly calling Wisconsin dirty? Are these guys being brainwashed by the head coach? There is not a single dirty player on this Wisconsin roster; in fact, if anything, many of the current Badgers are still learning to be less passive. Greg Stiemsma ain't walking through that door, Kalin.

Could it be that the Spartans need to pump themselves up to get that marquee win that has eluded them since beating Gonzaga? Since starting 4-0, Izzo's bunch has dropped every game against quality competition -- on a neutral site versus Florida, at North Carolina and at Texas. Incredibly tough slate, no doubt, but you can see why Michigan State might be searching for a balm of sorts. Right now the conference buzz is about Purdue, but a win over this year's new media darlings from Madison would put the Spartans right back at the forefront of the title chase. I, for one, have not forgotten that talent-wise Michigan State is just as stacked as it was to begin the year.

- Hughes was named one of 20 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award yesterday. I'd handicap this year's award for best point-guard as a two-horse race between Duke's Jon Scheyer and Kentucky's John Wall, with Sherron Collins at Kansas an outside consideration. Hughes is among the second-tier group after those three, but we shall see ...
- Sounds like Milwaukee native Calvin Godfrey is pretty comfortable with his new high school team up in Minnesota. The former Milwaukee Custer forward lit up Jordan Taylor's old crew, Benilde-St. Margaret's, on Tuesday night as the Twin Cities Hoops Czar chronicled.

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