With only one Badger win at Mackey Arena in the last 40 years, a road trip to Purdue is the furthest thing from an antidote to Wisconsin's 1-3 Big Ten start as you could imagine.
I did not expect the Badgers to win in Ann Arbor last Sunday -- Michigan is the better team. Michigan might be better than Purdue also, but I do not expect Wisconsin to win in West Lafayette either.
Regardless of the odds or my own personal lack of confidence, Wisconsin has a chance for conference win number two on Thursday. To me, a win at Purdue would make up for the three-game losing streak entirely and make the Badgers proud owners of the most satisfying 2-3 league start ever. That's how unexpected a victory would be.
Win or lose, I wish Wisconsin would at least show us these three things:
1. Fewer pump fakes.
Shot fakes should be a part of a well-balanced diet on offense -- just don't overindulge. Tim Jarmusz drove me nuts for years with the obligatory shot fake every time he touched the ball even though everyone in the building knew he wasn't shooting.
This year's team is overindulging too. It points to a larger confidence issue I suspect. They are no longer using pump fakes to gain an advantage. Jordan Taylor often jump stops on a drive and pump fakes repeatedly once he's at the hoop. He might be in his own head after getting blocked a few times, but I think it's more a case of opponents figuring out his tendencies. Adapt! Contradict the scouting report!
Jared Berggren has been another offender lately. You are 6'10" ... go up strong! There is a fine line between being smart and overthinking (see: Nankivil, Keaton).
2. More kickouts to open shooters
On one hand, I love the aggressiveness of Ryan Evans. He, Ben Brust, and to a lesser extent Berggren, really hunt their shots. But both Evans and Berggren tend to make up their mind early about whether they are going to shoot or pass. And it is obvious to observers and defenders alike.
Sometimes the head lowers as they back their defender down or try to dribble around him. In league play, they are usually stopped short and thus begins the myriad of pivots and shot fakes as precursors to an awkward shot (we've even seen Evans make a few of these). This also opens up opportunities for opponents to send a quick double-team to strip the ball away, guessing they won't get hurt by a kickout pass.
Wisconsin's roster is a deadly collection of spot-up jump shooters, but the front court players are not taking advantage. Lately there has been too much stagnant passing around and hoping a guy will create a shot for himself, no matter how forced.
3. The return of Jordan Taylor the playmaker
Without rewatching all each game, possession-by-possession, halftime splits are the quickest objective tool I can use to compliment what I am seeing when I watch Jordan Taylor. Chew on these stats:
- Taylor has only three assists in the last 105 minutes of Big Ten play. Disclaimer: I acknowledge that it's hard for a guy to rack up assists when his team is shooting 58-for 164 (35%) in conference games.
- Other than the MSU game, Taylor has not attempted a single free throw in the second half of a Big Ten game.
- Taylor is drawing 4.3 fouls per 40 minutes this year, down from 5.3 FD/40 last year. His free throw rate has dropped from 41.3 to 32.5 (=100*FTA/FGA).
- In the first halves of Big Ten losses, Taylor has hit 6-of-16 shots; in the second halves (plus overtimes), he has hit 13-of-29.
We all hoped the end of the Michigan State game might have been pleasant foreshadowing of things to come when Taylor bullied his way to 22 points after halftime. But his performance against Michigan was a return to general ineffectiveness. If Taylor is waiting until the second half to take over, what is he doing the rest of the game?
My third wish for the Purdue game is that we see less pointless dribbling, better use of screens by scraping off the teammate's shoulder, harder cuts, and no plays off on defense. Taylor must lead by example. The time is now, not later on when your team is squarely on the bubble heading into the Big Ten tournament.
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