Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court. He attended last night’s Wisconsin @ Milwaukee game and filed this report.
Memo to Wisconsin fans: don’t worry about Jordan Taylor.
Despite hitting a dagger three with under a minute left, last night’s performance in the Badgers 60-54 win at Milwaukee (5-14 FG) was the latest in a long line of off-shooting nights for Taylor so far this season. The preseason All-American has yet to top 18 points in a single game, forcing role players such as Ben Brust, Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans to handle a larger chunk of the scoring load.
Taylor's shooting slump is bound to end very soon
But it’s the percentage decrease that’s truly frightening. His FG% has plummeted dramatically from 43% as a junior to 36% as a senior. Taylor’s three-point (43% to 33%) and free throw (83% to 70%) marksmanship has also dipped. Even his turnovers are higher than last season’s remarkable rate and the 0-10 FG night against UNLV was certainly an eye-opener.
Still, the Badgers sit firmly entrenched in the top 25 with a 9-2 record on the season. They were a handful of threes away from upsetting North Carolina on their home floor. They controlled tempo and easily dispatched of a top-25 caliber UNLV team. They pulled away and won by 17 against BYU. Every low-major Division I team on their schedule has been no match for Wisconsin.
That’s right, 9-2 and in the top 25 with their preseason All-American, the centerpiece of their offense and one of the single most important players in college basketball shooting a meager 36%.
That simply won’t last. Unless that minor ankle surgery over the summer is causing him ongoing problems or he’s hiding a new injury of some sort, Taylor’s shooting slump will end any day now. He’s way too good of a shooter, finisher and playmaker for his numbers to dip that suddenly. His 18.1 PPG and 43% mark from three last season didn’t happen by accident.
Although one could never tell Taylor is struggling by the way he constantly encourages teammates and plays with that easygoing, free-flowing pace, his emotional reaction after sinking that game-clinching three did suggest he was feeling some pressure. He knows he must step up and carry a team that, on some nights, has a very difficult time scoring on a consistent basis.
“I’m just trying to stay aggressive, stay confident,” Taylor said after the game. “I think I shot alright from the two areas I’ve been struggling most from three and free throws. I just couldn’t finish around the rim so it’s the same thing. It’s just a mental thing, mental toughness. Just got to hang in there and do a better job and be tougher about it.”
Berggren still has all the confidence in the world in his senior leader. I’m sure if you polled the rest of this year’s Badgers, they’d wholeheartedly agree.
“How can you not want a guy like that taking that shot?” Berggren said. “He showed at the end there, when it comes down to it, we all have confidence in him. I know he still has confidence to make that big shot and I think the majority of the time he’s going to come through for us and perform when we need him.”
The big question heading into this season was whether Wisconsin could find a secondary scoring option to relieve some of the pressure from Taylor. The silver lining from his slump is that other players have taken turns shouldering the load, whether it’s Brust making all seven of his threes against UNLV or Evans chipping in with 16 points and eight rebounds in the hard-fought win at Milwaukee.
Taylor will come around. There’s no reason to think otherwise. With their role players showing they’re capable of stepping up when called upon and another stalwart Badger defense stifling opponents, Wisconsin is once again a threat to finish near the top of the Big Ten.
Just wait until Jordan Taylor gets going.