Michigan heads to Madison on Wednesday to take on the pesky Badgers. Phil from Hoops Marinara, our favorite Wisconsin blog, was nice enough to answer a couple questions about Wisconsin thus far. I also answered some questions about Michigan, which you can read here.
What has Wisconsin done to cope with losing Jon Leuer to injury? Also, what’s the latest on Leuer’s injury status, when is he expected to return?
In the absence of Leuer, Wisconsin has committed to small ball. Bo Ryan is starting sophomore Jordan Taylor in a three-guard approach right now. The Badgers used this look a lot before, but now Taylor is being asked to take on about 10 of Leuer’s 28 mpg right off the top. Bo has also indicated his rotation will be more situational without Leuer, depending on the quickness and size of the opponent. Leuer will be replaced by committee.
Some are predicting Leuer could return in 4-6 weeks from last Tuesday’s surgery, but I really doubt you will see him back during the Big Ten regular season. The bone he broke in the left wrist is a tricky one medically (it’s complicated), so I think they will play it safe. But most people are expecting that he will be able to play in the Big Ten tournament.
Is Wisconsin underrated? Ken Pomeroy has them as his #6 team in the country but they are just cracking the top 20 in both polls.
Pomeroy and tempo-free statistics have traditionally liked Wisconsin — due to its defense, care for the ball and overall offensive efficiency — while the team’s national reputation lagged behind. However, the Badgers actually were as high as #13 in the AP poll before the Ohio State loss. At this juncture, I think Wisconsin is right where it should be rated. The Badgers could be special with Leuer, but will be their normal Top 25 selves until he returns. The backcourt leadership gives them a good shot in any game.
If you were game planning against Wisconsin, what are two weaknesses that you would try to exploit?
Two things in particular go hand-in-hand considering the current situation. One annual weakness that has been alleviated somewhat by Taylor’s emergence is dealing with extended pressure to the guards in the half court. This approached worked early in the season for Gonzaga, a team with some length at guard, and I would still try it if I was Michigan. Secondly, go to the hoop and get Keaton Nankivil in foul trouble. He will oblige often times by being slow to rotate on help defense. With the front court a little thin, there is not much Big Ten-ready size behind Nankivil. So if you suffocate the perimeter, you may give up some guard penetration, but there may not be anyone dangerous enough down low to may you pay for over committing to Hughes, Taylor and Bohannon.
Trevon Hughes has been playing like an All-Big Ten first team performer, tell me a little bit about how his game has matured this year
For starters, Hughes is much more capable driving to his left this season. By correcting that flaw, he’s opened a whole new can of worms. This year he has been deadly from long-distance (42%) and his overall shooting is better. Hughes has been able to hunt his shot more with Taylor taking over some ball handling duties. But Pop’s leadership and ability to take over games when needed has really made him the team’s MVP thus far. He has earned a long leash from Bo and is taking advantage.
Beyond Hughes and the injured Leuer, who’s another player that has stepped up this year for Wisconsin?
Taylor Jordan is the biggest reason Wisconsin is exceeding expectations. It’s rare that a second-year player gets this much burn at Wisconsin, but Taylor has improved almost every aspect of his game. His shooting is much more accurate and he is more aggressive getting to the rim (and finishing). Taylor sports a 3.4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and dropped 23 on Purdue in the recent Badger win.
What’s your prediction for Wednesday’s game?
I expect Wisconsin to defend the home court with a victory. I think there are still struggles ahead while UW is shorthanded, but I cannot see Michigan being the team to take advantage of the Badgers in the Kohl Center. I say 65-58, Wisconsin.