It seems like it's been awhile since Wisconsin lost a basketball game. It has been 25 days in fact. With the Big Ten season on the horizon, the Badgers are riding a five-game winning streak but have not played in 10 days because it has been finals week for students.
Though some players -- like freshman Josh Gasser -- may have hit a wall, Wisconsin (9-2) can complete a flawless December by beating Coppin State (4-4, 0-1 MEAC) Thursday night at the Kohl Center. Hopefully the layoff has not slowed the momentum gained by sweeping all three intra-state series.
One question to be answered is whether Wisconsin can keep up its hot 3-point shooting. The Badger big men scorched UW-Green Bay the last time out with Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil and Mike Bruesewitz combining for 56 points on 9-of-13 shooting behind the arc. Leuer's shooting has been reliable all year, allowing him to creep within striking distance of 1,000 career points and landing him near the top of Ken Pomeroy's new Player of the Year rankings.
Another uncertainty is when someone not named Jared Berggren might provide an offensive spark off UW's bench. Odds are favorable that we will see a more balanced attack tonight.
By maintaining superior offensive and defensive efficiency during its non-conference schedule, Wisconsin is still among elite company despite being noticeably absent from the Top 25. However, the Badgers are not quite living up to the free throw differential benchmark that usually defines success under Bo Ryan. Wisconsin has only attempted 11 more free throws (174 > 163) than the opposition this season, but it's worth noting that they are hitting 79.9% of those attempts, the fourth-best mark in the country.
So who's getting to the line? Jordan Taylor has a similar free throw rate as last year, while Leuer's has dipped only slightly. Surprisingly, Gasser has the second-highest rate on the team behind Ryan Evans. Unfortunately Evans is only playing a little over a third of the available minutes because he is so inefficient. In addition, the other returning regulars have all seen significant drops in their trips to the free throw line.
Regardless, it appears Wisconsin should be safe from the rash of losses plaguing the Big Ten. Coppin State lacks size and is one of least efficient Division 1 teams on both ends of the floor. The Eagles were handled easily by No. 4 Connecticut three nights back, 76-64. Wisconsin will be the second of four straight top-shelf road opponents for the Eagles, who will also face No. 13 Kentucky and No. 18 Texas before New Year's.