Inside The Bloggers Unwashed, Unshaven Studio: Wisconsin Hoops Edition

ITBUUS is back for tonight's game with Bucky Badger. I caught up with Phil Mitten of Bucky's 5th Quarter, the Wisconsin SB Nation affiliate, for a little Q & A exchange about our beloved basketball teams. Be sure to check out my responses to his questions on their blog.

Wisconsin has rebounded nicely from their 1-3 conference start that included a home loss to Iowa. What's been the key to the turnaround?

For the most part, Wisconsin simply has made shots of late. During Big Ten play, the Badgers are shooting 33% in losses and 44% in victory. Jordan Taylor has also looked more assertive, getting to the line more often and committing fewer turnovers. But the team is also out-rebounding foes 34-29 on average during this winning streak, after struggling in the department to start the conference slate.

KenPom's system loves this Badger team. He's even admitted his system's error in thinking so. How exactly do you think Wisconsin landed that high in his ratings?

The best thing going for Wisconsin is it's strong strength of schedule. With the exception of Iowa, UW has lost to very good teams, and excluding the Michigan game, the Badgers have been a in a position to win each of them. They've also won enough blowouts to pad their stats. But at a more basic level, Wisconsin's emphasis on limiting turnovers is going to ensure the Badgers always are very efficient on offense, which Pomeroy's numbers like. The strength of this year's team is the defensive efficiency though, and if you look down the Pomeroy rankings, most of the top teams have a good defensive efficiency rank. I think all those added together put UW on an undeserved pedestal.

Jordan Taylor came into the year as a sure-fire POY candidate. With Aaron Craft, Tim Frazier, and Trey Burke having great seasons, he might even get squeezed out of All Big Ten honors (though not likely). Still, what's effected Taylor's game this year?

Taylor was clearly hurt to start the season. Right ankle surgery forced him to miss the Team USA tryouts during the summer and kept him out of some typical off-season condition drills. His quickness was non-existent and his shooting form was a little awry, so he was unassertive offensively. His numbers suffered (12.2 ppg during non-conference). Only a game or two before the Big Ten season did Taylor seem to be getting that pep back into his step. During league play, he's back up to 16.3 ppg and over 6 FTAs per-game. Taylor's shooting percentages are still down, which I'd attribute partially to the loss of experienced seniors Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil around him. But when you consider how Taylor had one of the top offensive seasons in the last decade in 2010-11, some regression to the mean is expected.

I'm very interested to see how all these guys finish the season. As you say, several lead guards have made good cases for honors. In the end it will come down to the standings. If either Michigan or Wisconsin can hang with Ohio State, you'd have to think Burke and Taylor will be major parts of that.

Was this breakout season from Jared Berggren expected?

Nothing we've seen from Berggren has been expected. Honestly I expected more out of him offensively, but have been very impressed with his defense. He leads Wisconsin in blocks (35) and steals (24), and is the king of poking away entry passes. I appreciate that he has played up to the level of competition and played his best against North Carolina, Illinois' Meyers Leonard and Indiana's Cody Zeller.

However, the inconsistency has been maddening. I think everyone was hoping for a little more emphasis on post play with Leuer and Nankivil gone, but it's almost gotten worse. Berggren's shooting (35.8 FG%) and free throw rate (6.17) in conference are unacceptable for a big man. He's a so-so rebounder. I think UW fans -- myself included -- see him as fourth-year guy in the program and expect more even though he's seeing the first significant, consistent playing time of his career. That may not be fair.

What are your thoughts on PSU's new coach, Pat Chambers? He's already had success on the recruiting trail against Wisconsin. We're hoping he can have more success on the court against Bo than Ed ever did.

Watching Penn State has not been a priority for me this year, so I've soaked up very little about Chambers on the sidelines. But you have to like a guy that comes in with guns blazing like he did and act like PSU is the best job in the world. I think the recruiting battles will continue, since UW assistant Lamont Paris has PA ties. It was very impressive of Chambers to pull Geno Thorpe -- he's a talented guy I would have liked to see Paris reel in and it sounds like Sheldon Jeter could be another.

What's the ceiling for this Wisconsin team this season?

Best-case scenario, the Badgers pull off another Ohio State upset, finish in second place in the Big Ten, then get hot from outside and make a 2-3 game run in either tournament. Realistically, I think UW should be able to win one game in both the NCAAs and the B1G tourney, but are too streaky to do much else. Pencil them in for 11-7, another top four finish in conference and about 24 total wins.

Penn State's inept offense could very well score under 40 in this game. Is there a chance Wisky's O will lay an egg on the road and we'll get another 36-33 showdown? What are your thoughts on tonight's matchup?

I'm not sure we'll ever see another game like the one we did in last year's B1G tournament. Completely disgusting. There's always a chance for an off night for either team The Badgers have shot under 40% five times in nine Big Ten games and under 25% from deep on four separate occasions in that span, while the Nits are even more familiar with poor shooting. Since Penn State's best players are perimeter guys, I'd like to see Wisconsin impose it's will in the front court a bit. The best strategy would be to stick Josh Gasser on Frazier, let him get his points, but lock down everything else. It seems plausible that Wisconsin could win another slow, ugly game tonight.

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