Return to Normal?

Although No.14 Wisconsin went 6-3 without junior Jon Leuer in the lineup, the Badgers missed out on success in the paint and the free throw line. With Leuer expected to make his return Thursday at Minnesota, the Badgers are hoping his addition will make them even stronger heading down the stretch.

MINNEAPOLIS - When Jon Leuer went out of the lineup five weeks and nine games ago, the remaining members of the Wisconsin basketball team were hopeful that the junior would be returning to a better team.

With five games left in the regular season, the Badgers will have a chance to flex their tournament muscles.

It is still unclear how much time Leuer will play Thursday when the No. 14 Wisconsin (19-6, 9-4 Big Ten) play at Minnesota (14-10, 5-7), but all signs after two telling practices Monday and Tuesday point to the Orono, Minn., native playing in his home state baring any setbacks.

"I've been waiting for awhile," Leuer said after being medically cleared Monday. "Now I'm just focused on helping this team and doing whatever I can to help us."

The help the Badgers will be looking for is post presence. With Leuer in the lineup for the first 16 games, Wisconsin averaged 23.8 points per game in the paint and shot 20.8 free throws. In nine games without Leuer, that number dropped to 15.3 points per game in the paint and only 12 free throws.

The Badgers average the fewest number of free throws per game (13.5) in the Big Ten this season, an unheard of stat under Head Coach Bo Ryan.

"Hopefully our scoring will go up if Jon doesn't hog the ball too much," freshman Mike Bruesewitz said. "It'll take pressure off the guards to produce so much because all of a sudden, we are getting points down on the block and some easier shots."

The lack of presence inside made the Badgers' dependency from the three-point rise. In those 16 games, 35.9 percent of UW's total field-goal attempts were three-pointers (303-of-843) with UW making 35.6 percent of those attempts. In the nine games without Leuer, 48.8 percent of UW's total field-goal attempts were three-pointers (233-of-477). The Badgers made 34.3 percent of the attempts, but that number has received a big boost thanks to Wisconsin making 42.6 percent of its perimeter shots the last three games.

"We never changed how we are trying to play," associate head coach Greg Gard said. "We always want to try to touch the post and get to the free throw line, do the things we've done before and that doesn't change who we have on the floor. It just happened that most of our scoring came from perimeter-oriented positions. People were giving us some threes and, for the most part, we made enough of them to be successful.

"Does Jon give us more of a post presence? Yes, because he's done it before. It obviously brings some experience in the post and defensively with his length. If the open perimeter shots are there, we're still going to take them and knock them down."

Although the struggles in certain areas are noticeable, the overall record hasn't plummeted like many expected. Wisconsin is 6-3 without Leuer, registering a win over fifth-ranked Michigan State and a pair of road wins, thanks to the stellar play of its guards.

Senior Trevon Hughes, who was the main scoring threat with Leuer in the lineup, led the Badgers in scoring three times and willing the team to victories over Northwestern and Michigan, senior Jason Bohannon has increased his offensive production, averaging 15.6 points over the last nine games and reserves Ryan Evans, Rob Wilson and Bruesewitz have made strides into the rotation.

The biggest dose of confidence can be dished out to sophomore and fellow Minnesota native Jordan Taylor, who started all nine games for Wisconsin in Leuer's absence. Playing mostly in a three-guard lineup, Taylor has dished out 37 assists to only nine turnovers in the last nine games.

Taylor leads the nation with a 3.38 assist-to-turnover ratio and is playing an average of 17.2 minutes more per game.

"I don't like to turn the ball over … I don't think anyone likes to turn the ball over, but I am just lucky guys are making shots," Taylor said. "With Jon out, it was an opportunity for guys like me to go out and show we can do a little more, but certainly don't mind Jon coming back."

Leuer injured his left wrist early in the game against Purdue but he said he didn't realize the seriousness of it until after the game. While it was hard to accept his fate, Leuer, who worked daily with trainer Henry Perez-Guerra and the medical staff and Coach Gary Close on shooting for the last two weeks, accepted it and was ready to move on.

"They did a great job," Leuer said. "I can't even tell you how pleased I am with what they have done. They got me back as soon as possible."

And what a coincidence that it comes against a Minnesota team that valiantly recruited Leuer before he decided to head across the border. And what a coincidence that the Badgers are expected to bring in Leuer against a Gophers team that is long and likes to clog the lane, posing the same match-up programs that the Illini did last Tuesday.

Whether Leuer plays three minutes of 30 minutes, the Badgers will welcome his return.

"I don't see my role changing at all," Leuer said. "I feel like my role no matter what is just doing whatever I can to help this team win. If anybody has a problem with that, they can tell me."

Badger Nation Top Stories