Wisconsin's recipe for success today against Penn State is pretty simple. The whole team needs to stay aggressive for 40 minutes.
The No. 10 Badgers (19-6, 9-4 Big Ten) failed that mission in every sense during their 56-52 loss to the Nittany Lions (14-11, 7-7) on the road earlier this season. In fact, let me count the ways: UW got out-shot from the free throw line (20-3), got out-rebounded (29-23), received zero bench points, and surrendered an 18-6 run to Penn State to start the second half. Looking back it is no surprise that PSU shocked Wisconsin on that day.
So Wisconsin needs production from not only Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor, but also guys like Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Josh Gasser. A more consistent defensive effort will also be needed since Talor Battle and company proved they had the ability to blow by flat-footed Badgers defenders.
Bruesewitz and Evans were shut out in 22 combined minutes in State College. In the five games that followed, Evans has seen his playing time bump up to almost 16 mpg while Bruiser's has decreased to under 15 ppg during the stretch (below his season average of 20 mpg). Continuing this trend may give Bo Ryan more punch off the bench against the Lions.
Another player to watch is Keaton Nankivil. The senior forward has been struggling of late, sinking only four of his last 20 3-pointers. The fact that he is still shooting 45% on threes this season is a true testament to how accurate he has been. However, the length and athleticism of Penn State big men Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones seemed to bother Nankivil last time, even on his outside shot attempts.
Defensively, the Badgers must find improvement starting with the guards. Both Taylor and Gasser fouled out trying to stay in front of Battle and Tim Frazier in January. Battle exploded for 20 second-half points to lead his team to its biggest victory of the season to date.
The outburst from Battle fueled the Nittany Lion surge that erased UW's nine-point halftime lead. Lax play out of the break has become a trademark problem in some Badger performances this season. Besides the 18-6 run by Penn State, Wisconsin also allowed a 19-6 run to Ohio State to start the second half and survived a 20-7 spurt by Purdue at home. This is something the Badgers definitely have to clean up as they prepare for the postseason.
Though Ryan's winning streak against Penn State's Ed DeChellis is no longer in tact, expect another one -- Wisconsin's undefeated run at home this season -- to continue.