At least unfamiliarity with the opponent won't be an excuse.
Wisconsin and Illinois face each other for the second time in six days Friday at the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, and not much has changed for either team.
The Illini are still desperate for a win to vault them back into NCAA tournament consideration. The Badgers are looking to improve their seeding in the Big Dance and have a legitimate shot at winning the conference tournament title. They will also be looking to prove they can consistently beat good teams away from the Kohl Center.
The winner will most likely face top-seeded Ohio State in the semifinals Saturday.
Nowhere has Jon Leuer's impact on Wisconsin been demonstrated more clearly than in the Badgers' two performances against Illinois in the regular season. Without the junior forward, the team lost 63-56 at home, the only time they fell in Madison this year. They had trouble generating any offense in the second half and had no answer for Mike Tisdale of the Illini.
With Leuer back in the fold, Wisconsin posted an impressive 15-point victory in Champaign against a team with everything to play for.
Fortunately for the Badgers, Leuer is still in the lineup and seems to only be getting stronger with every game. Had he not gone down, we may very well be talking about a co-Big Ten Champion squad.
But conference tournaments represent another shot at some hardware, and many of this year's players remember how good it felt to hoist the trophy on Selection Sunday two seasons ago. Expect the Badgers to come out with a purpose.
Keys to the Game
Control Demetri McCamey. It is pretty simple for the Illini; as Demetri McCamey goes, so do they. He leads the team in points, assists and steals, and he can carry a team when he's hot. When he goes into a funk, or even when he exits a game, the team just doesn't look the same. Jordan Taylor did a terrific job of frustrating McCamey Sunday, so much so that the star even had an altercation at the bench with his head coach. Keeping him out of a rhythm is a must.
Feed Jon Leuer. It became obvious early Sunday that Illinois simply had no answer for Leuer's myriad abilities. He scored 20 points, while staying on the court just 26 minutes because of foul trouble. Leuer is like a football team's running game - until the opponent proves they can stop it, why not keep trying?
Get Trevon Hughes hot for NCAAs. Hughes has been solid but not spectacular lately. He dropped 14 points on the Illini Sunday, but rode the bench often with four fouls and was overshadowed by emerging sophomore Taylor. For the Badgers to make a serious run in the NCAAs, Hughes needs to be in top shape.
Wisconsin 63, Illinois 51. It's the same old story for Illinois; they "need" a win. Well, they have needed a win for a while now, but they have dropped five of six, including three home games. This is a team whose only consistency is their inconsistency. Add to that the ongoing Weber-McCamey tension, and it's likely the Badgers will frustrate them again. Wisconsin is playing for a tourney championship, Big Dance seeding and national respect.