The only thing we've learned so far during the Big Ten season is that we have a lot to learn. This is a league where no favorite is safe, whether at home or on the road, and teams' personalities change overnight.
Though Wisconsin looked like a juggernaut dispatching Nebraska, 64-40, in Lincoln in December, it has been a rocky road for the Badgers (13-5, 2-3 Big Ten) ever since. Not to mention the hapless Cornhuskers (9-7, 1-4), who have looked borderline solid in upon the return of center Jorge Brian Diaz and guard Dylan Talley.
What I liked about this year's Badger team early on was its heart and fire. But UW didn't show any of that to start the conference slate. That is why all eyes will be on Mike Bruesewitz and Josh Gasser this afternoon, when a concurrent Packers playoff game threatens to sap the Kohl Center of all its energy.
For those living under a rock, tonight's 5 p.m. CT tipoff comes smack dab in the middle of the NFC semifinal game between Green Bay and the New York Giants, which starts at 3:30.
Packer fans have been giving away their basketball tickets in bunches due to the conflict. With the Kohl Center expected to be far less full than capacity, Wisconsin must look within to find some emotion. The most likely source is Bruesewitz, who reappeared in dramatic fashion in the win over Purdue. Those fans who choose to merely monitor the Badger score during football can probably tell how the team is doing just by looking at the stat lines of Bruesewitz, Josh Gasser, and Ben Brust.
Brust gains loads of confidence when he shoots well early and appears to feed largely off emotion. Bruesewitz and Gasser, meanwhile, are capable of making the hustle plays that all good teams need. The three players combined for 35 points against the Boilermakers after averaging only 18 points together over the four previous outings.
For Nebraska, Diaz (foot) and Talley (thigh) both returned in a valiant 59-54 loss at Illinois, but bounced back for the program's first-ever Big Ten victory, 70-58 over Penn State.
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