One thing is for sure, senior Jon Leuer and Wisconsin's three-point shooting is ready for the brutal 18-game stretch.
The perimeter game of the Badgers – particularly their All-Big Ten selection – showed little rust after a nine-day layoff, coming out firing to quickly distance themselves from Coppin State in a 80-53 blowout Thursday.
Leuer and junior guard Jordan Taylor each paced Wisconsin (10-2) with 19 points and were part of a historic three-pointer showcase. The duo shot 9-for-18 from three-point range and the teams' 17 total three-pointers set a Kohl Center and school record in the process.
The old mark of 15 makes in a game – occurring twice in the Dec. 1992 contest against Alcorn State and the 1994 NCAA Tournament against Missouri – never stood a chance, as the rim looked as big as a Madison snow pile in the opening minutes for UW.
After the Badgers shot 10-for-17 from three-point range in their last outing against Green Bay, UW still felt comfortable with the deep ball. Of its first 15 shots, 12 were from three-point range and seven found the bottom of the net, helping UW build an early double-digit lead that was rarely threatened.
"We shot a lot of threes today … and guys were finishing underneath the basket," said Taylor, who added a team-high seven rebounds and six assists. "Individually and collectively, we've come a long way in a lot of different areas."
The accurate shooter of the group was Leuer, who hit a three-pointer on UW's first four possessions. In 2 minutes, 54 seconds, Leuer had 12 points, making a three-pointer from the top of the key, each wing and one with a hand right in his face, putting a wrench in Coppin State's 1-2-2 zone defense.
"We knew that Wisconsin had a lot of shooters, but we didn't recognize how many ‘a lot' meant," Coppin State Coach Fang Mitchell said. "We want zone because we felt that we could identify people, but that didn't work at all."
Two years ago, Leuer surprised the Eagles with 16 points off the bench in an 11-point home victory. This time, he flat out overwhelmed them with his athleticism. Of Wisconsin's 47 first-half points, 17 (36.1 percent) came from Leuer and 33 (70.2 percent) came from the three-points shot, including Josh Gasser's three-pointer from the corner that beat the buzzer by one-tenth of a second.
UW finished with 17 assists to only five turnovers (none by UW's guards); ball movement that helped engineered the open looks.
"That's the best job I've seen us do of not forcing a three," UW Coach Bo Ryan said. "Not one of those threes was forced … Everybody knows you can screen against zones and if you're not, you are in trouble."
With Leuer first-half output, Coppin State (4-5) mixed defenses to try and slow down UW's offense. The decision never caught fire, especially with Taylor scoring 11 after halftime and senior Tim Jarmusz, whose brother, Adam, was in attendance after a tour in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army, chipping in with a career-high 12 points on 4 of 5 three-point shooting.
"It's so important that we have nine, 10, 11 guys ready to go in certain situations," Ryan said. "Entering the Big Ten, hopefully we'll stay in the position we are with guys keep working."
Leading the Big Ten and ranked second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 53.9 points per game, the Badgers turned nine turnovers in to 14 points and 12 offensive rebounds in to 17 second-chance points.
Coppin State, in the midst of a four-game road swing that took them to Connecticut Monday and to Kentucky and Texas over the next eight days, had little success competing against the size and length of Wisconsin.
The Eagles were led by guards Tony Gallo and Milwaukee-native Michael Harper with 17 and 12 points, respectively, but still turned in a season-low in points and were out rebounded 34-23 for the game.
"It's a tough team to be able to defend," Mitchell said of Wisconsin. "We had our problems today trying to defend them."
After winning 10 non-conference games for the fifth time in the last six years, Wisconsin turns its focus on the conference opener against Minnesota, as UW looks to win its eight consecutive conference opener.
"I think we are very prepared," Leuer said. "Through the non-conference (season), this team has grown a lot and taken steps in the right direction. We still feel like we can better, which is what we're going to continue to work on every day in practice."