I must admit, I was worried about last night’s game. I even took Iowa, who was getting 7.5. For a while there, it looked like I might be right, as the Nits came out flat after the week off. But the seniors were able to right the ship and led the Nits to a workman-like 65-51 victory. All that matters is the W.
Talor Battle got back on track, as he usual does against the weaker defenses of the conference. He scored 23 points on 8-13 shooting and extended his streak at the foul line to 24 straight (and 82.2% in conference play). He is now 88 points shy of 2,000 for his career (likely to come at home against Northwestern in a few weeks). He is also 226 points away from Jesse Arnelle for the leading scorer in program history. If we make the postseason and he stays healthy, he’ll likely get there. Jeff Brooks continued his All Big Ten campaign, scoring 22 points on 9-17 shooting and maintaining the block parade with 3 more swats (I mean, look where he comes from to make this block). Drew Jones had a near double-double with 9 points and 10 rebounds.
As a team, it needs to be noted that they have dominated the boards the last 5 games, after getting humiliated in the home Purdue game. It continued last night as they posted a +40% offensive rebounding percentage for the third straight game. Also, how about this team from the free throw line? 44-46 (95.6%) the last 4 games. That is unheard of for good foul shooting teams, let alone this PSU squad who has been notoriously bad over the years. These are the little things that will make the difference in games.
So this sets up a pretty big showdown with Wisconsin on Saturday for another Coaches vs. Cancer clash. PSU has just survived their gauntlet, and they were able to put the heartbreak of OSU and PU behind them. They now stand at an even 4-4 in the conference. This next 6 game stretch will make or break these Lions. They have a legitimate chance to win all 6 of them (although the first 2 are going to be the toughest, IMO). If the Lions go 4-2 or better, they’ll be pretty close to reaching their goal of the NCAA Tournament. If they don’t, they’re gonna have to pull off some shockers at the end of the year (last 4 games = 3 road trips and a home date with Ohio State).
As far as Wisconsin, they’re going to be tough as nails, as usual. Ed still has yet to get off his schnide against Bo Ryan. Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor form one of the best duos in the nation. The Lions are going to have to defend as well as they can – hopefully limiting the # of breakdowns because the Badgers will take advantage. The improved frontline dominance has to continue as well. Yes, when you make over 60% of your 2′s and rebound over 40% of your own misses, you are dominating. I’m looking for DJ Jackson to be an X-factor. Battle against Taylor, Brooks against Leuer, Jones against Nankivil are all fairly even match-ups. We need DJ to get free against Mike Bruesewitz/Tim Jarmusz. Any and all bench production would be a very welcome sight, as well. I just have a gut feeling that Billy Oliver is going to have a small ‘breakout’ performance very soon. I think Wisconsin and their slow pace might be a good matchup for it. I know Billy’s really been struggling, but some people just don’t see how intelligent the guy is on the court. His shot is way too pure to be shooting as poorly as he has been.
Anyway, if you’re reading this, go to the game. This team deserves the support. Talor Battle is the best athlete this school has had since Michael Robinson, he deserves an audience. Also, be sure to check out my Q/A session with Wisconsin blog – Bucky’s 5th Quarter.