Since Jon Leuer returned from his nine-game absence in the middle of conference play, Wisconsin has been inching closer to playing at its highest level.
If the Badgers hadn't reached that plateau entering Sunday's impressive win at Illinois, they certainly are closer to it than they have been for a while.
With a seemingly easy 72-57 win over the Illini, UW finished the regular season alone in fourth place, only one game behind the trio of teams that earned a share of the league title.
Now, before focusing attention to the rubber game with Illinois set for Friday afternoon, BadgerBlitz.com takes a look back at the good, bad and ugly during Sunday's win.
In the first half of Sunday's telecast, ESPN's Steve Lavin claimed Jon Leuer has NBA Draft Lottery potential. How can you disagree after watching his performance against the Illini?
Leuer was not only solid offensively, but his defensive presence made it difficult for Illinois to get comfortable with the high pick and roll that was so effective in the first meeting.
When the final buzzer sounded, Leuer scored 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, collected four rebounds and dished two helpers in only 26 minutes of action. Leuer did it from all over the low block. He displayed his staple turnaround jumper a few times, but also showcased great footwork in the post to get easy buckets off the glass.
Over the past two games, Leuer has shot a remarkable 77 percent from the floor while dropping 38 points and helping his team to two easy wins over Iowa and Illinois.
His return to the lineup has done nothing but accelerate the ability of this UW squad. If he stays out of foul trouble, Wisconsin will be a very tough out for anybody in the country.
In the first meeting, it was evident that Demetri McCamey found his comfort zone on the court as his play, along with Mike Tisdale's hot shooting, guided the Illini to an upset win over UW inside the Kohl Center.
On Sunday, though, Taylor was bound and determined to prevent that from happening again. By the end of the game, McCamey only managed to 11 points on 2-of-8 shooting from the floor. He also only mustered four assists to counteract his three turnovers. It was obvious that Taylor frustrated the Illinois junior guard.
On top of his tenacious defense on McCamey, Taylor also put together one of his finer performances of the season. With Jason Bohannon struggling to find his rhythm, Taylor picked up the slack by scoring 20 points in addition to eight rebounds, three assists and one steal in 40 minutes of action.
Since Leuer's injury, Taylor has only gotten better and more comfortable as a part of UW's lineup. He is handling the ball at an exceptional level while distributing and scoring seemingly at will. His development, as evidenced again against Illinois, is the best on the team. If he continues to play the way he is, he has a chance to help his team make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Rebounding of the guards:
Is there another team in the Big Ten that has guards rebounding the ball at a better rate than Wisconsin? Against Illinois, helped largely by the 11 boards Hughes collected, UW's trio of guards logged 22 rebounds. As a whole, Illinois only collected eight more boards than the Badger guards did.
Overall, UW's guards have been very consistent on the glass over the course of the season. But with postseason play now upon us, it seems they are only getting better. When you add the rebounding prowess of players like Keaton Nankivil, Ryan Evans and Leuer to that of the three guards, UW will have a chance to do some things of the glass.
For the first time in his rather illustrious career, Trevon Hughes logged a double-double. With 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting and 11 rebounds, Hughes led his team to a bit of redemption by handing Illinois a loss on its senior day.
Though he didn't shoot that well from the floor, Hughes managed to score within the offensive set and chip in while his cohort Bohannon struggled to find his groove.
Speaking of Bohannon, though it's difficult to chastise a player that has carried the team over the past month or so, his game against Illinois was a bit of a downturn. He only managed to score four points on 1-of-6 shots, a far cry from what the senior shooter has been doing over the past eight games.
Still, to his credit, his defensive performance and mere presence on the floor helps the UW offense function. When he's on the court, teams need to pay attention to him regardless if he's shooting well or not. Because of that established reputation, other things open up for his teammates.
So, whether Bohannon shoots 70 percent from the field or 17 percent as he did Sunday, teams will need to pay attention to him and that does nothing but open things up for everyone else on the court in Badger cardinal and white.
McCamey and Weber riff:
It was odd to see such a great player try to blow off his coach like McCamey did late in Sunday's game. With UW pulling away, and after McCamey forced a shot that eventually air balled, Bruce Weber had to physically pull his junior guard back into the huddle during a timeout.
It seemed as though McCamey did not want to have anything to do with his coach at that time. When teammates see that type of behavior, it becomes difficult to understand why that player should be considered a leader.
Obviously not being involved in the sequence of events personally, it's difficult for any reporter to understand the feelings and emotions of that particular instance, but for a player that wants to be viewed as a leader of the team that simply sends the wrong message to everyone else on the team.
-Jon Leuer was named the Big Ten Player of the Week for his performances against Iowa and Indiana. Over those two games, the junior forward shot 77 percent from the field en route to dropping a combined 38 points.
-Following both convincing wins over Iowa and Illinois, Wisconsin moved up two spots in the Associated Press Poll to No. 13. In the coaches poll, UW only moved up one spot to No. 18.
The Badgers will square off with the Illini again Friday afternoon in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
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