I spent a good portion of this afternoon trying decide if this would be Wisconsin's worst loss of the Bo Ryan era, or simply one of the worst. The verdict: this was the worst. (Charlie, on the other hand, voted for the North Dakota State loss. Agree to disagree.)
Against an inferior opponent with a confidence deficit, we played lazy defense, got killed on the board, and once again missed a ton of open shots. We played inspired ball for about three minutes and Penn State played along, but then relaxed and let Taylor Battle dictate things.
Interestingly enough, Jordan Taylor was the one Badger who drew my ire more than the others. He was shooting terribly, not playing particularly well offensively. Then ...
What happened? Taylor played like an All-American for about four minutes, Penn State played about like you'd expect them to, and we pull out an improbable win.
The Badgers got outshot 51.8% to 43.3%; outrebounded 34-22; jacked up an obscene 33 3-pointers; and yet ...
For all its ugliness, this was a win that makes you smile. Why? Because it's a testament to the program's strength. Coming into the Kohl Center and winning is just really, really hard to do. It's similar to, say, a Miami being up 16 points in the second half at Duke: Miami might be doing everything right, and Duke might be laying an egg, but you know they're not going down without making a run, and Miami's going to have to play perfect for 40 minutes to go home a winner. More often than not they'll have a rough stretch and open the door enough for Duke to win a game they probably shouldn't.
That's what happened today. Penn State was the better team for 36 minutes of regulation, and it wasn't enough.
-Are you worried yet about all the 3-pointers the Badgers are shooting? My brain says yes, because it's not the formula that has worked so well under Bo. We're not touching the post, and we're not getting to the free throw line as much as we should. But ... for the most part the 3-pointers are not bad looks, and shooting 30% on 3-pointers, like we did today, is the equivalent of shooting 45% on 2-pointers.
-Look at Taylor's game. He missed a ton of 3-pointers early in the game, then makes two at the end to get us close enough. But his better shots were the game-tying short one and a nice jumper in overtime. Jon Leuer only became an elite offensive player when he developed an inside-the-arc game. His shorter teammates should remember that.
-I'm really going to miss Trevon Hughes when he's done. Where does he rank on your list of Badgers you want taking a big shot under Bo? Somewhere among Devin Harris, Alando Tucker, and Kam Taylor, maybe even #2 on that list.
-How awesome was Jason Bohannon's block on the weakside help? A pretty weak move on the Penn State guy's part, but still. J-Bo's third on the team in blocks, would you have guessed that? Oh, and he went over 1,000 career points today, good for him.
-Everyone's going to remember Taylor, but Keaton Nankivil had a really efficient game, 7-for-9 from the floor, only one 3-pointer. It was a Leuer-esque performance. Stop me if you've heard this before, but he's a really nice shooter, and also probably our most athletic player -- how about that putback dunk?
-I'm glad Rob Wilson is getting minutes and contributing, but all this four-guard lineup stuff doesn't feel right to me.
OK guys, I'm heading off to Germany for a week. The Badgers are in much better shape than they were a year ago when I traveled over the pond; at that point we'd lost six in a row. We're in much better shape now. But even though we're 3-1 without Leuer, I don't think anyone would say we've played well. It's going to be tough to win at Purdue, unless we shoot about 50% on 3-pointers.
Sunday, January 24, 2010