In the Thick of Things

Even without Jon Leuer in the lineup, Wisconsin will finish the month of January in second place in the Big Ten. While the shooting numbers aren't what they need to be, the Badgers are finding other ways to grit out the victories.

MADISON - When second-leading scorer Jon Leuer went down indefinitely with a broken left wrist, the Badgers did whine, cry or complain. Sure they were losing a dominant post presence, but the Badgers, particularly Keaton Nankivil, never complained about the hand they were being dealt.

The basic reaction; "We'll see how it goes."

No.16 Wisconsin (16-5, 6-3 Big Ten) isn't the same team without Leuer in the lineup, relying on its three guards and the three-point bucket. The numbers don't scream success, but the Badgers are finding ways, going 3-2 without him and being competitive in all three challenging road games.

"We felt like we can do it without him regardless," senior Jason Bohannon said Thursday. "We (feel) like we have a great chance to win."

Lately, the best chance for Wisconsin to overcome the absence in the paint is to try and make a splash on the perimeter. With Leuer in the lineup, Wisconsin had hit 35 percent of its shots from the perimeter and averaged 18-of-53 shots (34 percent) from three-point range.

Entering last Thursday's game at Purdue, Wisconsin had attempted 212 shots in the four games since Leuer was sidelined with the injury. With the Badgers missing a post presence, 51 percent of the Badgers' shots have been a three-point attempt. With the Badgers hitting only 28 percent of those shots, Wisconsin's offense has been one shot and out more often than not.

Part of that burden junior Keaton Nankivil said fell of himself for not being productive in the post. While averaging 7.9 points per game, making 48.1 percent of his shots in Big Ten games and leading the team with 5.6 rebounds per game, Nankivil had made only 14.3 percent of his three-pointers.

But when Purdue left Nankivil opened on the perimeter (could they blame them after a 1-of-7 shooting performance against Michigan?), Nankivil's 7-of-8 three-point buckets even made Boilermakers junior Robbie Hummel gasp in amazement.

"If you're open, shoot," Ryan said after. "I am pretty easy to figure out."

What's hard to figure out is how the Badgers are staying competitive in conference games when they are getting out shot and out rebounded on average and are still struggling from the perimeter. Other than Nankivil's outburst against Purdue, the Badgers as a team shot 11-of-36 from the field.

Tell that to Ryan and he'll tell you a story of inviting the neighbors over to remove a refrigerator out of the house.

"You get about 10 different opinion on how you are supposed to turn it, how you are supposed to tilt it, who should take the front, who should take the back, so I always find that humorous," Ryan said. "As a coach, I am trying to get these guys to understand what they need to do and if that doesn't happen, then you steer this way … You can get it done in different ways."

While the offense isn't there, the Badgers are getting done by what Ryan calls respecting the game. Wisconsin is sixth in the country in scoring defense, allowing opponents to score just 57.1 points per game, and, thanks to sophomore Jordan Taylor's nation's best 3.89 assist-to-turnover ratio, led the country with only 9.4 turnovers a game.

"It gives us a chance," Ryan said of the low turnovers. "It's that Jim Carrey line I have used up so many times. That's what taken care of the ball does for you. Is it automatic? No, but it gives you a chance. That's a statistic that makes a statement to your fans."

After a six game losing streak in the middle of conference play last year and still being competitive without its best player, Wisconsin has already made a statement to its followers. While the Badgers could be without Leuer for only three more weeks, it could be argued that Leuer will be returning to a better Badgers team than the one he left.

"A lot of these guys were on the team and we weren't through that," Bohannon said. "We had empty possessions … and we learned that each and every possession counts. When you are doing things the right way on consecutive possessions, you can overcome those deficits."

Will Wisconsin be able to knock off No.5 Michigan State at home Tuesday and will Nankivil's confidence get a boost from Thursday's performance? When asked, Ryan only had two words on the subject matter.

"We'll see."

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