Wisconsin-Penn State: Rematch Could Hinge On Backcourt Play

Sam OlesonCorrespondent IJanuary 21, 2010

BOISE, ID - MARCH 20:  Guard Jason Bohannon #12 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after hitting a three point basket to put his team ahead 52-50 against the Florida State Seminoles in the second half of the first round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Taco Bell Arena on March 20, 2009 in Boise, Idaho.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

If anything is clear from watching the Wisconsin men's basketball team slug it out with Michigan Wednesday night, it's this: we need Jon Leuer.

Despite coming out with a 54-48 win over the Wolverines, the Badgers played arguably their worst game of the year, shooting only 34 percent from the field and 18 percent from behind the line.

Wisconsin had absolutely no presence inside. The Badgers' only true big man playing last night, Keaton Nankivil, was no match for Michigan's DeShawn Sims. Sims scored 23 points and was virtually unstoppable inside, single-handedly leading the Wolverines to the almost-upset.

Without Leuer, Wisconsin shoots three-pointers like no team I've ever seen. That's great if they're hot. But if they're not, like last night, watching them is incredibly frustrating. Only some clutch shooting from Trevon Hughes and Rob Wilson prevented the Badgers' poor shooting from leading to their second consecutive loss.

That said, Wisconsin did win. But the win left many doubts in Badger fans' minds about how this team is going to play the rest of the season. If Wisconsin can barely win against Michigan, at HOME for crying out loud, how can they win in their games against Purdue, Illinois, and Michigan State later this year?

Heck, this performance even makes me nervous about their game at home against Penn State on Sunday afternoon.

The Nittany Lions come into the Kohl Center winless in the Big Ten and only 8-9 overall. But Michigan was only 10-7 heading into the Wisconsin game and they took the Badgers down to the wire.

Fortunately for Wisconsin, Penn State doesn't have the inside presence that Michigan had. No, it wasn't Big Ten leading scorer Manny Harris who almost ended Wisconsin's home court winning streak, it was Sims. The closest thing Penn State has to Sims is forward David Jackson, who averages 7.9 points a game.

That said, Penn State does have one of the most dynamic guards in the country in Talor Battle. Battle is the second-highest scorer in the Big Ten at 18.4 points a game and although Wisconsin has shut him down in past meetings, he is incredibly dangerous nonetheless.

With Leuer out, Keaton Nankivil proving ineffective down-low, and Penn State without an inside presence, it's safe to say that this game will come down to the backcourt play of both teams.

However, aside from Trevon Hughes, Wisconsin's backcourt play over the past three games has been anything but encouraging.

Jason Bohannon did score 19 in their win against Northwestern, but only 10 in their loss to Ohio State, and three against Michigan.

Sixth man-become-starter Jordan Taylor has only scored 10, 6, and 2 points the last three games.

Hughes has put up good numbers, but most of them have come in the second half after the Badgers fell behind by a sizable number. Wisconsin can't expect Hughes to catch fire every time they get behind and one of these games it's going to catch up to them.

You would think that Nankivil would have increased production now that Leuer is out and he has more touches, but he's barely increased his point production since Leuer went down, certainly not making up for the injury.

With little inside presence, Wisconsin is going to be relying on their guards more than ever. Expect to see a similar strategy against Penn State as they employed against Michigan: three-pointers going up left and right. This time, let's hope they make more than 18 percent of them, because until Leuer gets back, that will be their primary strategy.

Don't expect Penn State to lay down and die either just because the game is in Madison. After watching Wednesday night's game against Michigan, it's apparent that without Leuer, Wisconsin is vulnerable to anyone, even in the Kohl Center.