Back Where it All Started

Being praised by virtually every Big Ten coach that in his path of destruction, junior guard Jordan Taylor's combination of scoring, passing and confidence continues to show why he's one of the best players in the conference. Tonight, he'll return to the place where a lot of that college confidence started.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Tom Izzo has seen a lot in his success-filled tenure in the Big Ten. The Michigan State head coach has been a part of a lot of wins, a part of a lot of whining and witnessed plenty of talented point guards dominate the conference, whether on his sideline or the other.

Izzo has had very little to smile about in the past month, seeing his team lose five of six games since Jan. 15, but the veteran head coach couldn't help but smile a little bit after he watched Taylor make 9 of 13 shots, three of four 3-pointers and nine of 10 free throws for a career-high 30 points in a 26-point Wisconsin victory Sunday.

"That's one of the great performances I've seen," Izzo said. "I haven't seen that on film. I know he has really improved his game, but I thought it was on a whole 'nother level. He just kind of dominated the game."

Add that comment to a long line of comments visiting head coaches have mentioned when trying to explain Taylor's performance after he led his team to a win. After spending two years waiting under Trevon Hughes, Taylor has flourished on the court running the Wisconsin offense.

Shooting 45.9 percent from the floor and 41.3 percent from 3-point range, Taylor is sixth in the Big Ten in scoring with 17.8 points per game, but it's his production during conference play that has sparked No.13 Wisconsin into a second-place tie in the Big Ten loss column.

During conference play, Taylor ranks second in scoring, averaging 20.7 points per game, and leads the nation with a 3.88 assist-to-turnover ratio (101 assists to 26 turnovers), numbers that prove he deserves consideration for Big Ten Conference Player of the Year honors.

"I think Jordan Taylor is not only one of the premier guards in the league, that's obvious, I think that he's one of the premier guards in the country," Indiana coach Tom Crean said after Taylor scored 25 in a nine-point UW win Jan.20. "He's been really impressive."

Not impressive enough, apparently, to get his name listed on college basketball's greatest awards for a point guard. Once selected as one of the 20 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the country's top point guard, Taylor was left off the list of the top 10 finalist on Monday.

Curiously, Illinois' Demetri McCamey was the only Big Ten player that made the list. McCamey is 11th in the league in scoring (14.7 ppg) and fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (plus-2.88) with 154 assists and 67 turnovers, numbers that fall far short of Taylor's.

"(Jordan) is a player," said UW Coach Bo Ryan, a member of the committee that will vote on the final 10 players. "I never worry about what list anybody is on or what awards or anything else. I'm still one of those old coaches that never gives out individual awards at our functions, because I always thought it had 'Wisconsin' on the front of the jersey.

"Jordan will be OK. He'll recover from that, not being on the final 10."

If looking for a place to pinpoint the start of Taylor's rocketing confidence, it's hard to not circle Taylor's performance his freshman year at Iowa. Not only did Taylor hit his first career 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, he registered his first double-digit scoring game: 10 points, 3 assists and 2 steals.

When Wisconsin (17-5, 7-3 Big Ten) heads to Carver-Hawkeye Arena against Iowa (10-13, 3-8) tonight, a span of 71 games have passed since the last time UW has visited Iowa City.

Over that time frame, Taylor has averaged 10.7 points, dished out 248 assists and committed just 71 turnovers (a 3.49 assist-to-turnover ratio), impressive numbers considering he's only started 39 (54.9 percent) of those games.

"He's been very reliable for us over his career," said UW assistant coach Gary Close, who is also a former Iowa assistant. "He learned a lot under Trevon and now he's using that knowledge combined with his confidence to make plays for us."

It's grown to the point where Taylor is so confident with his abilities that it doesn't matter whether his shot is contested or not. Lauded for his ability to score off the dribble, from the 3-point range or get others involved, Taylor's outburst against the Spartans was a result of him making shots from all over the floor, some with defenders in his face or the shot clock about to expire.

Shooting better than 53 percent in the field in four of the last five games, it's obvious that the junior's confidence is starting to heat up heading into the season's stretch run.

"For the most part, if you're confident in your shot, it's probably a good shot," Taylor said. "We know we're going to have a hand in our face at times. You just try to be focused and confident in the shot you're taking."


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