It has become increasingly clear with each game the Badgers play against an actual competitive opponent there is one difference between the Badgers being a solid team or a dominant team.
With Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor, the Badgers are a good team. They will finish fourth in the Big Ten. Receive a No. 5-6 seed in the tournament. Win their first round game, possibly the second. Yes, with Leuer and Taylor, Wisconsin has another good team, putting together a good season. All is good.
But with Nankivil, UW has a chance to be special. When Nankivil is on, the Badgers turn into an offense with too many shooters, too many weapons and too many options for a defense to handle.
Take a look at and appreciate this stat. Nankivil has put together 13 double-digit scoring games in his career and the Badgers are 12-1 in those contests.
There are probably a few holes in that stat. Obviously when secondary scorers have good games, the team record is going to be strong as they are probably providing unexpected aid to the primary scorers. Logical, mathematical breakdown. It is like the stat they always throw around in the NFL about a team's record when a running back rushes for 100 yards.
Still, 12-1, despite any logical explanation, is pretty good. The team's record is not that good with Mike Bruesewitz or Ryan Evans hitting double digits. There is something to the presence Nankivil provides when he is in a groove.
Driving lanes open up as Nankivil can draw away the other team's post defender. The floor is spaced in the most ideal way for the swing offense. Usually, Wisconsin has five legit three-point threats on the floor, a tough combination for any opponent to match up with.
So the question — it is ALWAYS the question with Nanks — is why doesn't he do this all the time? Why does Nankivil go five game stretches without making an impact on the offensive end?
As anyone who watches UW practices can attest, Nankivil is the best pure shooter at Wisconsin. He is an athlete (one of two players who ever dunks the ball) and a senior. All the tools are there to be an impact player.
Even Nankivil is aware he needs to play a larger role in the offense.
"I have to become a little more assertive, but right now, being consistent is at least a start for me," said Nankivil.
Of course, he has spoken words like this before. Actions are really the only veritable confirmation of a change in attitude by now, which leads us to the glimmer of hope.
For the first time in his career, Nankivil has scored 10 points or more in the three straight games (all wins), including dominating the floor at Marquette. His play allowed Wisconsin to continue to hold and then extend the lead with Leuer sitting with foul trouble for much of the second half. He isn't passing up open looks, stepping into open shots with authority.
For a player who has struggled with confidence for most of his career, it would be a pretty special transformation if Nankivil were to play up to his abilities in Big Ten play. And if that happens, the word special might be thrown around a lot this season.