The Wisconsin men's basketball team will put its three-game winning streak to the test Saturday as the squad travels east to face the Penn State Nittany Lions at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Penn.
Penn State began the year with a shaky streak. After a handful of devastating home losses, including a 23-point embarrassment to Maryland and a disappointing 10-point loss at the hands of mid-major, Maine, Penn State has resurrected their hopes for the NCAA tournament.
Penn State (4-4 Big Ten, 11-8 overall) currently sits at seventh place in the Big Ten. Since Jan. 8, the Nittany Lions have gone 3-2, topping Iowa, preseason Big Ten favorite Michigan State and No. 16 Illinois. During that stretch, their losses have been more impressive showings than their victories, dropping games at No. 12 Purdue and No. 1 Ohio State by a combined four points.
""Earlier in the year, people weren't as excited, but [Penn State head coach] Ed [DeChellis] is a good coach, and he's got the guys believing now because they've done things to give them a reason to believe,"" Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. ""And if you start believing, as a group, then there really isn't any obstacle or any team that you don't feel you can go out there and compete with.""
Big Ten Player of the Year candidate and senior guard Talor Battle can take much of the credit for Penn State's remarkable mid-season turnaround. No stat is more telling of Battle's importance to his squad than his team-leading 37.3 minutes per game. He also leads the Nittany Lions with over 20 points per game.
""With Penn State, it's pick your poison,"" senior guard Keaton Nankivil said. ""They have guards like Battle, but when they are on and getting to the basket, they can open up shots for their forwards too.""
One of Penn State's three other starting seniors, forward Jeff Brooks, is exactly the type of poison Nankivil was referring to. In last week's games against Purdue and Iowa, Brooks went off for a combined 41 points and 11 rebounds.
Penn State isn't the only team coming into Saturday's game ride a hot streak, however.
After crushing Northwestern last Sunday in Evanston by 32 points, the No. 15 Badgers are full of confidence. Over the past five games, only one overtime game at Michigan State stands between Wisconsin and perfection.
More impressive than the Badgers' recent surge, however, has been the selfless manner in which they've accomplished their goals. No single game in Ryan's tenure better epitomized his team approach than the win at Northwestern.
""How I think success should be gauged is by how well the group does, not by individual accolades or performances,"" Ryan said. ""People play to play well, but people in a team sport play to play well so that the team does well.""
Five Badgers finished in double figure scoring, including freshman guard Josh Gasser, who recorded Wisconsin's first triple-double in school history with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
""He's a hard worker, a determined person,"" Nankivil said. ""He does a ton for this team that people don't even recognize.""
The Badgers will need more of that community effort to halt Penn State's spirited mid-season run Saturday.