Jared Berggren has an average of 10.6 points per game with a season total of 234 points, second on the Badgers, behind offensive star Jordan Taylor.[/media-credit]Where the Wisconsin men’s basketball team once peered up from near the bottom of the Big Ten standings, it now finds itself looking down on most of its peers after just three weeks’ time.The Badgers (17-5 overall) went from 1-3 in conference play to a 6-3 mark that leaves them tied for third place with Michigan and just one game outside first-place Ohio State.No. 20 Wisconsin has had the luxury of four full days of rest after pulling off a well-played 57-50 upset over then-No. 16 Indiana at the Kohl Center last Thursday.Mix that with a 3-1 conference road record, and don’t be surprised if you find a little spring in the step of Badger players as they prepare to meet with Penn State (10-12, 2-7) Tuesday.“We’re sitting pretty good,” guard Josh Gasser said. “We had a couple days off after the big win to kind of reenergize ourselves, rest our bodies a little bit.“We got a lot of time to regroup and stuff, and we know we have a big stretch coming up with traveling to Penn State and Ohio State later in the week. We just like where we’re at right now.”The Nittany Lions may find themselves at the very bottom of the Big Ten standings, but in what may be the nation’s deepest conference, a loss can emerge from anywhere. Both of Penn State’s two victories in the league came against teams with winning records, while one of them – Illinois – has consistently been ranked.Fans of either team may cringe at the thought of UW and PSU matching up again after the last time they met – in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament last year, the two teams battled it out in a game where the final tally read more like a halftime score.Penn State shot 33.3 percent from the field while Wisconsin managed 29.4 in a 36-34 decision.But much has changed for PSU’s men’s basketball team since. The Nittany Lions introduced a new head coach, Patrick Chambers, in the offseason and waved goodbye to four senior starters.The Badgers, meanwhile, also graduated three starters themselves.“They have pretty much a completely different team; they had a lot of seniors last year so they have a lot new faces now. We have some new faces as well,” center Jared Berggren said.But the lone PSU starting returnee just happens to be one of the Big Ten’s most impressive guards. Junior Tim Frazier – at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds – is second in the conference with 19 points per game in league play and first with 5.1 assists.His numbers have made quite a leap from last year, when he started 33 games and averaged 6.3 points per game.UW guard Jordan Taylor and associate head coach Greg Gard both said one reason for Frazier’s leap in production has to do with the fact that last year he was a sophomore starting along with four seniors, and the burden of scoring was placed more heavily on his teammates.With so much experience leaving, Gard believes that, in a way, Frazier had no choice but to step in and take charge. Either way, Gard praised Frazier’s development and nearly called him the conference’s most improved player.“They lost a lot, so [Frazier] had to take a jump or he has to stand out because he’s one of the few returning,” Gard said. “But … I don’t know if there’s anybody in the league that’s made the jump he has in what he’s added to his game.“He’s made himself a better shooter. Very similar to Jordan, when he came in, his shooting was not – you know, you’d like to have him shoot it from out there – and he was just a driver, just a penetrator. Now he’s added [shooting] to his game.”In all likelihood, it will be Gasser who will be assigned to defend Frazier Tuesday, as he did last season as well.But Gasser has already had success against some of the Big Ten’s best. More recently, against Illinois Jan. 22, he was primarily responsible for Brandon Paul, now currently the only person averaging more points per game (20) in Big Ten games than Frazier.Paul had a forgetful game, scoring 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting.But even last year, as a sophomore that didn’t pose much of a scoring threat, Frazier made so much of an impression on Gasser that he now calls the PSU guard one of the three toughest foes he’s ever had to defend.“He’s up there, top three for sure,” he said.
Freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu was beat out by Arizona’s freshman forward Zeke Nnaji for the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. (James Wolfe | Daily Trojan) The biggest question for USC, as it has been for the regular season, will be regarding its consistency on both ends of the floor. Players like Mathews and redshirt senior guard Daniel Utomi must continue to hit shots when it matters most, and the Trojans will need to improve their abysmal 41.7% free-throw percentage from the win over the Bruins, as there is a good chance the game will be closely contested in the final minutes. Like all conference tournaments, the Pac-12 Tournament is being played at a neutral site — but that has not normally stopped USC, Arizona and other basketball fans from traveling across the country for the action, until now. Meanwhile, the Trojans are coming off a wildly competitive win at Galen Center over crosstown rival UCLA capped off by a game-winning 3-pointer from senior guard Jonah Mathews. The Santa Monica native became USC’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals that afternoon as well. USC will also need to rely on its leading scorer, shot-blocker and rebounder per game in Okongwu if it wants to strengthen its case for a higher seed in March Madness. Okongwu, who is averaging 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game, has been USC’s anchor on offense and defense and is expected to play a huge role against the Wildcats on both ends of the floor. Despite Enfield’s prior struggles in February and postseason play, USC has won at least one game in the past five Pac-12 Tournaments and will look to increase that number against Arizona. USC beat Arizona in last year’s tournament, but the Trojans’ win over the Wildcats was led by forward Bennie Boatwright and guard Derryck Thornton, neither of whom remain on USC’s roster. The USC men’s basketball team will take on Arizona in Las Vegas Thursday in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal. The Trojans, who earned a first-round bye, will battle the Wildcats after they beat Washington 77-70 Wednesday. “We’re excited to advance and have a chance to play USC,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “They’re a very good team.” Regardless, the matchup between two All-Pac-12 First Team freshmen forwards Onyeka Okongwu for USC and Zeke Nnaji for Arizona will be watched closely, especially as Nnaji was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year over Okongwu Monday. USC will tip off against Arizona Thursday at 2:30 p.m. at T-Mobile Arena. The winner will go on to face the winner of No. 1-seeded Oregon and No. 8 Oregon State in a Friday semifinal matchup at 6 p.m. Nnaji recorded 11 points and nine rebounds against the Huskies Wednesday, but the Wildcats’ efforts were led by freshman guard Josh Green, who dropped 19 points on 50% shooting from the field. The performance helped Arizona set the stage for a rematch with USC after the two teams split the season series 1-1. “We were 15-2 at home this year and we were 8-1 in the league,” head coach Andy Enfield said per the Los Angeles Times. “I think if you look around the country, the home court means a huge advantage … There won’t be any advantage for any team. So the schools that usually draw a lot of fans … it will be a big difference.” Thursday’s game will be played in a desolate, fan-less T-Mobile Arena. The NCAA announced Wednesday that March Madness will be closed to the public in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and the Pac-12 followed suit hours later.