UW Health Sports Medicine 

The Voice: Storylines abound as march to March begins

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgWe begin today's blog with a tip of the cap to the Wisconsin women's basketball team, which begins the week tied for first place in the Big Ten. Among the highlights so far this season is coming back from a 16-point deficit to win at Minnesota.

It is a big week of hoops at the Kohl Center. On Thursday night, the women host third-place Michigan State. Beyond the obvious importance of the game in the league race, head coach Lisa Stone is on the brink of 500 career wins. She picked up number 499 on Sunday when the Badgers beat Northwestern in Evanston.

If you have not seen the women's team in action, Thursday would be a good time to start. Tip time is 7 p.m. at the Kohl Center.

If you are a student, why wouldn't you go? It is "UW Student Night," when simply showing a valid student ID gets you in for free. Plus, you will get a voucher for a free hot dog and a soda, while supplies last.

Free is good. It is one of my favorite words. Hopefully many will take advantage of the opportunity.

It is another important week for the men's squad, with Purdue in town on Tuesday, followed by a Super Bowl Sunday matchup with Michigan State. While Ohio State is threatening to run away with the championship, I say we should wait a bit before crowning the Buckeyes (I'll refrain from the Dennis Green line here).

The Buckeyes appear to have it all --tough defense, plus the ability to score inside and outside. However, some observers wonder about their depth, or lack of it. In conference games, five players average more than 30 minutes per game. While concern about a lack of rotation can be overrated, it is worth watching how OSU will handle the second half of a tough Big Ten schedule, which includes a Feb. 12 visit to the Kohl Center.

Those close games are further proof of how deep the conference has become. How many people believed Penn State would be a player? I would guess not many outside of State College. Talor Battle is a terrific guard, and he is getting support from a veteran group around him.

As the second half of Big Ten play gets going, there are several storylines to watch. How will Minnesota hold up without the departed Devoe Jospeh and the injured Al Nolen? Can Michigan State remain a threat minus Korie Lucious? In addition, the Spartans have made life very difficult for themselves by constantly playing from behind. Yet in January alone, they managed to rally and win three games in overtime.

Can Illinois get more consistent play from Demetri McCamey? When he is on, there are few guards who are better. It seems every team has a question or two, with the answers going a long way in determining their postseason outlook.

As for the Badgers, it is no secret they need to rebound better. In addition to missing a number of open looks during the second half of Saturday's game, they also struggled on the glass, and Penn State made them pay.

The Badgers remain a good, solid team. While two of the three conference losses are "coulda-shoulda" type of games, Wisconsin enters February alone in third place, with four shots against the teams ahead of them in the standings.

For years, Bo Ryan has said he does not spend a lot of time looking ahead. As for me, when the conference released the schedule last summer, this month caught my eye right away.

The Badgers have Purdue twice, the rematch with Sparty, and a home date with Ohio State. That alone is pretty good stuff, but the way this Big Ten season is going, nothing looks automatic anymore.

It makes for an interesting month. For the Badgers, hopefully it will be fun as well.