Badgers Face Tough Task Defending Title

The Badgers are trying to find their way in an early season that has seen them lose to numerous highly ranked teams and beat those outside the rankings. How will they fare Thursday against the Gophers?

From Wisconsin's perspective, Purdue's Robbie Hummel and Chris Kramer picked inopportune times to prove their lingering injuries are close to healed. Hummel (back spasms) and Kramer (foot) came off the bench to do their usual good things as Purdue handled Wisconsin 65-52 on Sunday in West Lafayette, Ind.

It's a cautionary loss for the Badgers, who couldn't solve the Boilermakers last year either. But on the other hand, it's probably good to get a realistic idea of how hard it will be to repeat as Big Ten champs.

Once again, Wisconsin did a fine job of limiting an opponent's top option. E'Twaun Moore shot just 1-of-12 from the floor and finished with four points. But Purdue is the most balanced Big Ten team the Badgers have seen, which meant 6-foot-10 sophomore JaJuan Johnson, who wasn't a factor last year, stepped forward with 20 points and 10 rebounds while Hummel (16 points) forced the Badgers' packed-in man-to-man to stretch with four 3-pointers.

Maybe there's no great lesson other than this: Wisconsin remains on the border between being a Top 25 team and being one that deserves to be just outside the polls.

The Badgers' four losses have come to teams that last week ranked No. 5 (Connecticut), No. 7 (Texas), No. 14 (Purdue) and No. 18 (Marquette) in the Associated Press poll. Meanwhile, their 12 wins have come against teams currently outside the Top 25. Only Michigan, which leads the "others receiving votes," received any votes.

This theory will be tested over the next four games as Wisconsin hosts ranked Big Ten teams Minnesota and Purdue while traveling to Iowa and Illinois.

NOTES

  • After getting embarrassed on the boards when they lost to Texas on Dec. 23, the Badgers won the rebounding battle in each of their first three Big Ten games by an average of 6.3 per game. That run ended Sunday at Purdue when the Boilers controlled the boards by a 34-29 margin. That means Wisconsin has lost the boards in each of its four losses.

  • Wisconsin started last year's Big Ten schedule with a different guy delivering a team-high 20-plus points each game. The Badgers haven't quite hit that big number every game this year, but they've maintained their trend of a different guy leading the way.

    Trevon Hughes and Marcus Landry (16 points apiece) shared scoring honors at Michigan, Landry (career-high-tying 23) led against Penn State, Jason Bohannon (career-high 20) led the way against Northwestern and Joe Krabbenhoft (13) paced the Badgers in their 65-52 loss at Purdue.

  • Thanks to a large free-throw disadvantage at Purdue (the hosts went 13-of-19 while the Badgers went 4-of-6), Wisconsin no longer has made more free throws than its opponents have attempted this season. The Badgers have made 214 free throws through Jan. 11 while their opponents have tried 229.

  • Junior guard Jason Bohannon delivered a career game on Jan. 7 against Northwestern. In addition to setting personal bests for points (20), field goals (eight) and assists (five), Bohannon also tied his marks for rebounds (six), blocks (one) and field-goal attempts (12).

  • Serenaded by Purdue's student section whenever he touched the ball, senior Marcus Landry suffered through his worst game of the year Sunday at Mackey Arena. Landry, whose older brother Carl was a star at Purdue, shot 3-of-15 from the field (including 1-of-6 from 3-point range) and finished with nine points and three rebounds. He entered the game shooting 53 percent from the field and 41 percent from beyond the arc.

  • Senior walk-on Morris Cain, a fan favorite at the Kohl Center, has been a monster in his limited appearances this year. He swished two free throws and grabbed a rebound in two minutes of action against Northwestern, which gave him six points and two rebounds in nine minutes this season.

  • Wisconsin used the same starting lineup in its first 16 games, though sixth man Jon Leuer and seventh man Tim Jarmusz continue to get more playing time than starting forward Keaton Nankivil. The Badgers are essentially a seven-man operation against good opponents, though freshman Jordan Taylor offers a few minutes respite at point guard while senior Kevin Gullikson gives a few minutes at forward.

    PLAYER ROTATION: Usual starters — PG Trevon Hughes, SG Jason Bohannon, SF Joe Krabbenhoft, PF Keaton Nankivil, C Marcus Landry. Key Subs — G/F Tim Jarmusz, F Jon Leuer, G Jordan Taylor, G Rob Wilson, F Kevin Gullikson.

    IN FOCUS: Wisconsin hasn't lost back-to-back games since Feb. 20-25, 2007, which coincided with the Badgers' first appearance at No. 1 in the national polls. The polls aren't an issue this year after Sunday's loss at Purdue, but the Badgers must figure out a way to get its offense back on track against Minnesota. Wisconsin shot just 38 percent at Purdue. Coincidentally, Minnesota's opponents shoot about 38 percent and Tubby Smith has 11 players he mixes and matches in order to get the matchups he wants.

    On the plus side for Wisconsin, the Gophers have six new players in their rotation who have never played in front of a hostile crowd of 10,000 fans or more. With Wisconsin's students due back on campus, the Kohl Center could be a rude awakening for Minnesota's newbies.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know you will find this hard to believe, but I'll be able to find 20-30 things we did not do well on some of those possessions when we didn't cover well and handle those screens." — Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan after his Badgers drilled Northwestern 74-45 on Jan. 7 and forced the Wildcats into season-lows for points and field-goal shooting (31.4 percent).


    GAME REVIEW:
    Wisconsin 65, Penn State 61
    Wisconsin 74, Northwestern 45
    Purdue 65, Wisconsin 52

    GAME PREVIEW:
    vs. Minnesota, Thursday, Jan. 15
    at Iowa, Wednesday, Jan. 21
    at Illinois, Saturday, Jan. 24


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