Wisconsin-Purdue: Badgers Need a Quick Start

Sam OlesonCorrespondent IJanuary 25, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 13:  Jordan Taylor #11 of the Wisconsin Badgers brings the ball up court against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the second round of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 13, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As a Badger fan, I'm really at a loss.

For two straight games Wisconsin has played probably their worst basketball of the year in the first half, and yet they've come away with two victories.

After being down by as much as 14 against Penn State on Sunday, Wisconsin miraculously managed to send the game to overtime and pulled out another perplexing victory. Perplexing because these two undeserved wins have come at home, and honestly, the Badgers couldn't look much worse as they head into maybe their stiffest test of the year.

This certainly doesn't look like the same team of only two weeks ago.

I understand that losing Jon Leuer really hurts this team. I know that. Losing your second-leading scorer and only true inside presence is huge.

But just the fact that Wisconsin has come out flatter than the Great Plains is what is really confusing and, in a way, depressing me. Wisconsin is still a pretty good team and playing in the Kohl Center is supposed to virtually guarantee a Badger win, but that simply hasn't been the case without Leuer.

Luckily for the Badgers, their two opponents, Michigan and Penn State, are average at best and they were able to recover in the second halves to steal the games.

However, that is not going to be the case when they head to West Lafayette on Thursday to take on Purdue. If they get out to the start they did against Michigan and Penn State, the game will be over by halftime.

Despite a recent rough patch, Purdue is still one of the best teams in the country and there's not going to be 17,000-plus willing the Badgers to a win in the second half.

And this time, Wisconsin isn't going to have the luxury of playing against a vastly-undersized team like they did against the Nittany Lions. Sure, Keaton Nankivil was able to tally 17 points on Sunday, but he certainly wasn't facing the kind of competition he'll face against the Boilermakers.

Both Robbie Hummel (6'8") and JuJuan Johnson (6'10") will look to work it inside and the Badgers simply don't have an answer. Nankivil will have to be on his game both offensively and defensively if Wisconsin is going to have any shot at an upset win.

That said, despite my criticisms in an earlier article, Wisconsin's guards did play well against Penn State. Although their first-half numbers were still lower than desired, their second-half play more than made up for it and was the sole reason Wisconsin managed to pull out a victory. Jordan Taylor was simply amazing down the stretch, scoring 18 of Wisconsin's last 24 points in regulation and overtime.

They'll have to be on their game for 40 minutes against Purdue though, not just a half.

Wisconsin shot only 40 percent from the field in the first half against Penn State and only 32 percent against Michigan. Although Wisconsin is usually good defensively, the Badgers can't expect to compete against Purdue on defense alone. They'll need to score. Purdue is simply too good on offense.

As a team, Purdue is averaging 76 points a game with three players (E'Twaun Moore, Hummel, and Johnson) averaging in double figures. Unless Wisconsin plays their best defensive game of the year, this game is not going to be in the 50s.

That's why Wisconsin needs to get out to a quick start.

Even with Hughes and Taylor having monster second halves in the last two games, it was barely enough to get the Badgers past two mediocre teams. On the road, against a much better team, Wisconsin will not be able recover from a poor first half.