When: Wednesday, February 25, 2004, 7 p.m. CST
Site: Kohl Center (17,142) Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: ESPN Local live television, Wisconsin Radio Network, live radio broadcast
Series Notes: Wisconsin leads the all-time series 13-8, including 8-2 in Madison.
The Badgers are down but not out.
Standing third in the Big Ten and reeling after its first back-to-back losses of the season, the Wisconsin men's basketball team faces a tough task in climbing back atop the conference.
With their final two games of the season on the road following a pair at home this week, the Badgers simply need to win the rest of its games for title considerations and that begins tonight.
The Badgers will kick off their final two-game homestand of the year tonight at 7 p.m. when they host Penn State.
Despite dropping five spots in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll to No. 15 and 10 spots in the Associated Press to No. 22 this week, the Badgers still are the highest-ranked team in the conference.
For Wisconsin to contend for the conference crown in the final week of the regular season, they must take care of business at the Kohl Center, where they have won 26 straight, the fourth-longest streak in the nation.
In fact, over the past 12 seasons, no Big Team to even share the conference title has
lost more than one league home game.
That being said, the Badgers' mentality remains the same regardless of ranking or standing, from head coach down.
"I am just going to get them ready for Penn State," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "Where we are in the standings or anything else isn't going to change how we get ready for Penn State. There is not anything different that we are going to do."
While the Badgers remain the Big Ten's strongest representative in the national spotlight right now, they will have to do some things differently on both sides of the ball, primarily defensively.
The key to beating Wisconsin undoubtedly continues to be attacking the inside, primarily with strong guard penetration and utilizing able-post players. Something that both Michigan and Illinois took full advantage of last week.
"We just need to get back to keeping it out of the post," junior guard Clayton Hanson said. "They've got (Aaron) Johnson, who's not a guy that looks like he is going to jump or dunk on you but he gets it done and an effective big guy. They also have a couple other pretty long bigs, so that's what they'll do is attack inside."
Outside of sophomore forward Aaron Johnson, Penn State's second leading scorer in conference play with 12.6 points per game, UW's primary concern inside will be with 7-foot junior center Jan Jagla. Jagla is ranked fourth during Big Ten competition in rebounding with 7.5 boards per contest.
In addition to a couple agile big men, coach Ed DeChellis' team carries a young, athletic backcourt, one that has put up strong numbers this season despite the team's lack of success.
Freshman guard Marlon Smith paces the team in scoring during conference play, averaging 15 points per game; combined with fellow freshman guard Ben Luber, sixth in the Big Ten with just under four assists per game, the Nittany Lions possess one of the best young guard tandems in the conference.
In the Nittany Lions' three Big Ten wins this season, Smith has averaged 19.7 points and Luber 5.0 assists. During their defeats, those numbers shrink to 12.7 and 3.3, respectively. However, as freshmen, their consistency is very commendable. Smith has only scored under 10 points in two conference games and Huber dished out less than three assists in three.
"Freshman guards that have some great nights and have some other nights that maybe it gets away some," Ryan said. "They just play. (Aaron) Johnson, (Jan) Jagla they all just compete. They had a great chance at getting Illinois for those who saw the game Ed (DeChellis) knows what he is doing and he's got a plan."
UW/Penn State by the numbers
57.5 – Despite their struggles defensively on the road last week, the Badgers still own the conference's top scoring defense.
+4.65 – Wisconsin's Big Ten-leading turnover margin.
1.33 – Wisconsin's conference-leading assist-to-turnover ratio.
1.26 – Jan Jagla's blocks per game—fourth best in the conference.
12.78 – The number of offensive rebounds per game for Penn State, which is second best in the Big Ten.
6 – The number of games in a row the Nittany Lions have lost.