Jordan Taylor’s heroics bail out Wisconsin

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During ESPN’s telecast of Wisconsin’s 68-60 win over Minnesota, Dan Dakich said that he thought Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor was the best point guard in the Big Ten.

That’s not exactly the same as calling Indiana the best team in the Big Ten, but it is still a fairly bold statement considering this conference is also home to guys like Demetri McCamey, Kalin Lucas, Juice Thompson, and Talor Battle.

Dakich’s reasoning?

Taylor’s not the most talented point guard in the league, but he’s a tough defender and he’s an intelligent basketball player.

Tuesday night, Taylor made Dakich look like the intelligent one. The junior point guard finished with 22 points and 7 assists — to just one turnover (Wisconsin only had two as a team. I know, right?) — despite being held scoreless for the first 12 minutes of the game.

One play down the stretch made all the difference, however. The Badgers had been killing Minnesota in the pick-and-roll early in the game, so Tubby Smith made the adjustment to switch ball screens involving Taylor. With just over a minute left in the game and the Badgers up 59-58, Taylor found himself being guarded by Sampson. He drove left, getting all the way to the rim.

Now, earlier in the game, a similar play occurred and Sampson had blocked the shot. This time, Taylor threw a pump-fake as he landed in his jump-stop, got Sampson into the air, and went up strong with his left hand. He finished through quite a bit of contact, drew the foul, and hit the free throw, putting Wisconsin up four and in firm control of the game.

With the win, Wisconsin moves to 70-6 under Bo Ryan in Big Ten games at the Kohl Center.

Minnesota had their chances at landing the upset tonight. At one point during the second half the Gophers were down double figures, but they were able to fight all the way back to take a 54-53 lead on a Trevor Mbakwe dunk. Miscues down the stretch — a couple of missed free throws and a blown box out on Jon Leuer with 25 seconds left — were what added Minnesota to Wisconsin’s long list of visitors that came close.

In the process of that comeback, Minnesota may have exposed Wisconsin’s flaw this season.

Mbakwe and Sampson absolutely dominated the paint on both ends of the floor in the second. Minnesota’s comeback was largely a result of the work those two, and Colton Iverson, did on the offensive glass and around the rim. Jon Leuer struggled to gain post position, and when he did he wasn’t strong enough effectively make post moves. The same could be said about Wisconsin’s loss to Notre Dame in the Old Spice Classic final.

Neither Leuer nor Keaton Nankivil are what you would call a bruiser. Both are more comfortable spotting up on the perimeter, which is a major reason the Badgers ended up with just four offensive rebounds last night. They made up for it by not turning the ball over, but since they don’t force many turnovers themselves, the ability to clean up the defensive glass becomes that much more important for the Badgers.

There are some big and physical teams in the Big Ten.

And regardless of how well Jordan Taylor is playing, Wisconsin needs to be better in the paint if they are going to compete for the conference crown.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.