Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Badgers big win opens door for Big Ten race

In an effort to begin 2010 with the biggest understatement of the new decade, the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team’s win over No. 5 Michigan State Tuesday night was big.

For starters, the No. 16 Badgers (17-5 overall, 7-3 conference) didn’t squeak out a win like they did against Michigan and Penn State. Rather Wisconsin poured it on, beating the Spartans (19-4, 9-1), who were previously undefeated in Big Ten play, by the final score 67-49. The Badgers shot slightly better than 50 percent overall from the floor and connected on nine 3s to the Spartans two.

Furthermore, Wisconsin dominated Michigan State without former-leading scorer, Jon Leuer, who is still recovering from a wrist injury. Keaton Nankivil stepped up again in Leuer’s absence to lead the team with 19 points and five rebounds.

Beyond that, Wisconsin whooped the Spartans early and took a 15-point lead into halftime with guard Trevon Hughes on the bench with two fouls. Jordan Taylor took over the game, scoring 17 points – including three 3s. He also chipped in four rebounds and four assists. Jason Bohannon did his part behind the arc also, shooting 3-for-9 from long range.

By far the most impressive stat was how few turnovers the Badgers committed. Wisconsin turned the ball over a mere five times compared to 13 Spartan turnovers. The ball control is a great demonstration of how the Badgers rise to task of important games – a good sign headed toward the tournament. Tuesday marked the third time this year Wisconsin has beat a top-10 team (Duke Dec. 2 and Purdue Jan. 9 were the others).

The best part of Tuesday’s win – at least in the eyes of other Big Ten teams – is Michigan State won’t run away with the conference season championship. The Spartans are just two games ahead of Wisconsin, and two and half games ahead of Ohio State, Illinois and Purdue who all play either Wednesday or Thursday. Michigan has to play Illinois again, Purdue twice and Ohio State once more – all while wearing a big target on their back. The Badgers, however, only have to play one team, Illinois, who has a winning conference record. Wisconsin will play them twice, though.

The Badgers’ win Tuesday night has guaranteed the Big Ten regular season race will be a good one coming down the home stretch.

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