While most students head to cars, buses and airports and head home for a relaxing winter break, the Wisconsin men's basketball team's season trudges on with three more nonconference games, followed by the beginning of its Big Ten schedule.
The Badgers, who dropped out of the top-25 rankings after splitting intrastate games with UW-Green Bay and Marquette, face Cal-Poly, UW-Milwaukee and Illinois-Chicago before diving into their conference slate, where the importance of each game rises up a level.
With six Big Ten contests before the first day of spring classes, including four against ranked teams, this Wisconsin basketball team could be in a very different place than they are now when students return.
The highlight of Wisconsin's winter break schedule is a home game against No. 4 Purdue.
The Boilermakers present perhaps the most experienced squad in the conference, as they return basically all contributing players from their last two seasons. Junior forward Robbie Hummel headlines this year's Purdue game. Hummel was named the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year before last season but missed some time due to an injury. With a healthy Hummel, the Boilermakers bring an entirely new dimension in a player with both size and outside shooting ability.
Wisconsin will prepare diligently for Hummel, but it must also be aware of junior guard E'Twaun Moore, whose 16.6 points per game are a team high. And down low junior forward JaJuan Johnson will challenge the Badgers' low post defense.
The Badgers' greatest challenge of winter break may be a road game at Michigan State.
The Spartans began the season No. 2 in the country, but losses to Florida and North Carolina have dropped MSU down to No. 12. Nonetheless, the defending Big Ten champions and last year's national runner-up will be a handful.
Junior guard Kalin Lucas, the 2009-'10 Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, leads the way for the Spartans, scoring 16.7 points per game.
The other ranked foe the Badgers face over the recess is No. 18 Ohio State, whom the Badgers face at home Dec. 31 and on the road Jan. 16.
The Buckeyes surged out of the gate this season to a 7-1 record, but the major plotline surrounding Ohio State is the nasty back injury junior forward Evan Turner suffered.
Turner had a scorching start to this season, scoring 18.5 points per game, pulling down 11.4 rebounds per game and dishing out 5.6 assists per game. Turner put up 20-plus points four times in his first eight games and recorded two triple-doubles, a feat not often seen in the college game.
Turner's back injury will keep him out of the lineup for up to seven more weeks, meaning the standout forward will not play against the Badgers. The Buckeyes may turn to junior guards Jon Diebler and David Lighty for offensive production.
The Badgers also play two conference road games during the break, a Jan. 3 contest against Penn State and a Jan. 13 game at Northwestern.