With four practices down and 10 to go before the Wisconsin Football Spring Game on April 28, the Badgers broke camp Thursday for spring break.
A 24-period practice -- the team's first of the spring in full pads -- served as a send-off for the players, who will take advantage of a week off as part of UW's spring break before returning to the field on April 10.
St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott (Badger 2003-07) is
doing something he hasn't done since the 2005-06 season for the Wisconsin
Badgers. He's leading his league in goals-against average, save percentage and
shutouts. He's also on an extended shutout streak between the pipes.
Back during Wisconsin 2005-06 season, Elliott backstopped
the Badgers to the program's sixth NCAA title and led the nation with a 1. 55
goals-against average, .938 save percentage and eight shutouts. All are school
records. He also put together a WCHA record shutout streak of 269:52.
This season for St. Louis, Elliott currently leads the NHL
with a 1.48 goals-against average, .943 save percentage and nine shutouts. He
also happens to be in the midst of a shutout streak lasting more than three
games. The Newmarket, Ontario native hasn't allowed a goal in 186:33, which is a franchise record. He has already set single-season records for
shutouts and shares the franchise record of combined shutouts in a season with
teammate Jaroslav Halak at 15. The 15 shutouts equal the modern era NHL record for team shutouts in a season.
In addition to Elliott's individual marks, his team leads in
the chase for the NHL's President's Trophy, which goes to the regular season
champion of the league. The Blue have four games remaining in their season.
Elliott's Blues are comfortably in the NHL playoffs, which
begin in just under two weeks. He will be joined in the race for the Stanley
Cup by other Badger alumni. New York Rangers Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh are
battling Elliott for the President's Trophy with a playoff spot in hand. Other
Badgers currently in playoff position include Jack Skille's Florida Panthers,
Kyle Turris' Ottawa Senators, Ryan Suter and Craig Smith's Nashville Predators,
Adam Burish and Jake Dowell's Dallas Stars and Davis Drewiske's Los Angeles
Kings. Joe Pavelski and Brad Winchester's San Jose Sharks are just on the
outside looking in at the moment. The Detroit Red Wings, who Brendan Smith has
skated for this season, has clinched a playoff spot.
Head coach Bret Bielema met with members of the media Thursday, prior to the Badgers' final practice session before spring break.
Bielema discussed his impressions from the first week of spring practice, as well as the addition of Maryland transfer QB Danny O'Brien.
The Badgers practice in full pads for the first time this spring on Thursday before breaking camp for spring break. They return to the field April 10, with an additional 10 practices leading into the Wisconsin Football Spring Game on April 28.
If you could build a team using the players that have suited up for the Badgers during Bret Bielema's six years at the helm of the Wisconsin program, who would you choose?
That was the question we posed during three weeks of voting by fans on the official Wisconsin Football Facebook page. The result is a list of the best to line up at each position during the Bielema era, as chosen by the fans -- the All-Bielema Team.
In the last five NFL drafts, a total of 16 UW players have been selected. That number will grow in a big way this year, with a school-record eight players invited to the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine -- the second most of any school in the nation.
Over the past six seasons, the Badgers have had finalists for the Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker Award, John Mackey Award, Rimington Trophy, Ted Hendricks Award, Manning Award and Lou Groza Award. In addition, Scott Tolzien won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, J.J. Watt won the Lott IMPACT trophy, and Gabe Carimi and Joe Thomas both won the Outland Trophy.
Leads to some tough choices, huh?
Tough enough, in fact, that a number of players who have gone on to play in the NFL didn't even sniff inclusion on the All-Bielema Team.
Garrett Graham was a distant third in the voting at tight end, while other pros -- like FB Chris Pressley, LT Carimi, RG Kraig Urbik and QB Scott Tolzien -- didn't make the cut, either.
With that in mind, here's the All-Bielema Team, which was originally released in the March 15 issue of Varsity magazine: OFFENSE
Quarterback * Russell Wilson (2011)
Running Back * Montee Ball (2009-11)
Fullback * Bradie Ewing (2008-11)
Tight End * Travis Beckum (2006-08)
Wide Reciever * Nick Toon (2008-11) * Jared Abbrederis (2010-11)
Left Tackle * Joe Thomas (2006)
Left Guard * John Moffitt (2007-10)
Center * Peter Konz (2009-11) Right Guard * Kevin Zeitler (2009-11)
Right Tackle * Josh Oglesby (2008-11)
Defensive End * J.J. Watt (2009-10)
Defensive Tackle * Nick Hayden (2006-07)
Defensive Tackle * Patrick Butrym (2008-11)
Defensive End * O'Brien Schofield (2007-09)
Outside Linebacker * Mike Taylor (2009-11)
Middle Linebacker * Chris Borland (2009, 2011)
Outside Linebacker * Jonathan Casillas (2006-08)
Corner Back * Jack Ikegwuonu (2006-07) * Antonio Fenelus (2008-11)
BOSTON, Mass. -- The Badgers advanced to the 2012 Sweet 16, and that meant @BadgerMBB sent out 16
Tweets with observations and commentary leading up to the matchup between No. 4 Wisconsin and top-seeded Syracuse.
Patrick Herb and Karl Anderson were in Boston with the team. Check out the Field of 68 and Field of 32 to see what you missed while the team was in Albuquerque.
16. Seems like an appropriate way to launch the #Badgers #Fieldof16. Beautiful Boston: http://t.co/tXxqmDEv
15. Scout team has a new weapon at its disposal for practice tonight. Former #Badgers big-man Paul Grant. http://t.co/69ybODtA
Danny O'Brien participated in a media teleconference on Wednesday following the announcement that he would be attending UW in the fall. There were some audio issues during the teleconference but the majority of it can be heard through the link above.
If reading is more your thing, check out these links:
By Anna Poulter-Hendrickson on March 28, 2012 2:47 PM
In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the Badgers' good start at Iowa.
What a great start to Big Ten play. The Wisconsin softball team is thrilled to open the season taking 2-of-3 at Iowa. Iowa is such a legacy program with four trips to the World Series and 16 NCAA appearances. We knew we would have our hands full facing them on the road for our first Big Ten games of 2012.
Entering last season, Iowa was 28-7 all-time against the Badgers. We're fortunate to have swept them last year, posting a 4-1 record against the Hawkeyes these last two seasons. Iowa native, sophomore Cassandra Darrah pitched all three games for us, holding Iowa to just two hits in the first game of the series.
After 23 games on the road, we're thrilled to host our home-opener this weekend against Northwestern. We have a doubleheader on Saturday at noon and 2, and our game on Sunday will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network at 2 p.m. Northwestern also has a rich winning tradition, with three Sweet 16 finishes and a second-place World Series appearance in 2007.
There are some great highlights from our games at Iowa on the Big Ten Network's homepage too. You can find them on UWBadgers.com. BTN is rebroadcasting one of our 2012 Iowa games today, March 28, at 3 p.m. CT on the Big Ten Network's cable channel.
The official announcement came down today that QB Danny O'Brien is becoming a Badger after starting 17 games at Maryland over the last two years. The above video should give fans an good look at the kind of person, QB and student Danny is. This feature ran prior to the 2011 season opener.
In the final game of the 2010 regular season, O'Brien led Maryland to a 38-31 win over NC State, throwing for 417 yards and four TDs. Badger fans may recognize the NC State QB as well. Lots of highlights in the video above.
Tuesday saw the Badgers don shoulder pads for the first time under sunny skies and warm temps in Camp Randall. The live hitting was kept to a minimum (DB Michael Trotter did get a good lick on WR Chase Hammond during 7-on-7) but the offensive and defensive lines were able to get after each other a little bit.
Thursday will be the final practice before spring break. It will be conducted in full pads in front of about 2500 high school coaches in town for the annual Wisconsin Football Coaches Association clinic.
It happens every season, but it remains a jolt. Unless a team goes the distance, the basketball season ends suddenly. A player is in the routine of practices, scouting reports, road trips and all the rest. This time of year is especially hectic. The road trips are longer. The stage is bigger. The lights are brighter.
Then it is over. No more practices. No more scouting reports. No more road trips.
Even for someone who just announces games, it is a jolt. As someone who has seen more practices than I can count, at times it can seem like Groundhog Day. Then I miss it. Imagine how a player feels.
There are years when a team's final game is ugly, when you know that group simply did not have it. Sometimes a team loses because it runs out of gas. This Wisconsin team appeared to have plenty in the tank. It just ran out of time. At least this year's Badgers know they went down swinging against talent-rich Syracuse. One could argue that last Thursday's Sweet 16 game in Boston was the best game of the tournament so far.
For that reason, I left TD Garden feeling both good and lousy for the players, coaches and support staff. Good because the Badgers did nearly everything right. Sure, they could have made a couple of more free throws, or finished another play or two near the basket. That happens with every team nearly every game. The Badgers proved to be the toughest of outs, and there is no shame in that.
I felt lousy because I thought they deserved better. Yeah, I am a touch biased. I wanted to see Jordan Taylor nail one more big shot. Then again, if his final attempt is just another quarter of an inch short, it is an airball, and Mike Bruesewitz is in position to recreate the ending of the NC State-Houston NCAA title game of 1983. If the final attempt is a hair longer, the ball caroms off the rim better, and Bruesewitz probably is still in good position for the board.
So it goes.
That is not how I choose to remember the season.
There are the obvious moments that can make Badger fans smile, such as the thrilling victory at Ohio State, Rob Wilson's 30 point outing against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, and the NCAA tournament nail-biter with Vanderbilt.
All of that works fine, but for the last few days, I was thinking about other things. Such as the night before a road game in January. The team was on the bus, returning to the hotel after a practice. On the radio was the 1983 Lionel Ritchie hit "All Night Long," and the players were singing along.
Gotta love it when players less than half my age know a tune that was big when I was in college.
I think about the routine on the airplane before road trips. The radio crew, athletic communications director for basketball Patrick Herb and some others usually are on board before the team arrives. When the rest of the travel party boards the plane, assistant coach Gary Close always acknowledges everyone with "Gentlemen," and then he looks at me and says "Matt." OK, maybe you need to be there, but it is always good for a chuckle.
Then strength and conditioning coach Scott Hettenbach will chime in with his usual wisecracks, leaving those within earshot laughing helplessly, and another trip officially begins.
Finally, I will think about those seemingly endless practices, and how I believe the Badgers have a chance to be pretty good again next year. George Marshall, Jarrod Uthoff and Zach Bohannon are players you have yet to see. My guess is you will like them.
Those three, plus the continued development of the other returning players and the additions of Zak Showalter and Sam Dekker, should make for quite the battle for minutes.
As for Taylor and Wilson, Bo Ryan put it best when he told the CBS crew that followed the team during the tournament, "They will be able to step away from here, once the sting of this eases up a little bit, they will realize what they have accomplished, and also how well they played for the name on the front of the jersey."
Perhaps that is the best memory of all. Their love of the game, and their love of the school they have represented so well. It was a pleasure watching them in a Wisconsin uniform.
It's always interesting when new coaches come aboard to observe the first few practices to see what their coaching style is. Some are yellers, some are quiet, some are intense, some keep it light.
First-year WRs coach Zach Azzanni is definitely hands-on, as is shown above. He has no problem jumping in a drill if his guys aren't executing properly, chasing someone down to give a pat on the helmet after a good play or physically moving a player's feet further apart if he doesn't like their stance. He definitely falls under the category of "high energy."
Coach Bielema met with media on Monday. A complete transcript and video from the session are available here. If you don't want to read the entire thing, here are some topics he touched on:
Linebacker depth "At the mike position, (Chris) Borland's there. I think Marcus Trotter
has popped into that position, and a guy that we're really excited
about through two practices, and we got to see them all fall.
"Derek (Watt) has handled that spot, had a great practice on Tuesday.
We'll get reps out there with the ones out there today when Chris isn't
in there, just really instinctive, makes a lot of nice, just natural
football plays that you love to see. So I think he's in there in
conjunction with the possibility of maybe Jake Keefer and, obviously, Marcus Trotter."
WR Marquis Mason "Nobody made a bigger jump, in my opinion, in a certain couple areas
from Thursday to (Saturday) as Marquis. I mean, he made a couple nice
catches last Thursday, but he's playing the old high school ball with a
ball out here. And he's got such big mitts.
"I remember the first (day), at the beginning of practice, we do this
thing called pat-and-go. And I just kind of was standing there. I was
watching everybody kind of move around, and all of a sudden this big body
ran in front of me. And the ball was behind him, and he just reached
back with this left hand, caught it in mid-air, did a complete 360 and
took off running. Didn't put his other hand on it.
"He's so freaky athletically. He's, basically, a full year removed
from the ACL (surgery), and he's a kid that I think had to battle
through a lot upstairs as well as with his knee. Those basketball guys ...
you've got to take your time with them. And we brought that mentality."
Quarterbacks "Two things, I think, with our quarterbacks. I just want to see that
composure in the huddle, being able to communicate, "Hey, this is the
verbiage. This is the language." And that's been outstanding. I think
both of them, even the players around them, have noticed that right away
going into the first practice last Thursday.
"And then the second thing is just post-snap reads and reactions.
Obviously if we're running a run play, there's not much to it. They know
where it's going. They know how to hand it off and let everything else
happen. We'll do some adjustments at the line of scrimmage, whether it's
going right or left like we've always done.
"But in the passing game, being able to recognize pre-snap what the
coverage is, being able to execute post-snap (with) decision making, and
both of them have been outstanding. I believe we're looking at over a
70-percent completion percentage through two practices, which we've
never been at that level with those kind of quarterbacks at this point
through two practices, so it's been pretty amazing to me."
With spring break looming next week, the Badgers will get two more practices in this week (Tuesday and Thursday) before the team bonding trip to Cancun (just kidding, most guys have told me they are just going home while some others are staying around Madison for rehab ... just like they show on MTV).
Coach Bielema likes to say that at Wisconsin, we play 'American football." What he means is a physical style with an emphasis on toughness. The first two days of spring practice, he concedes, can be a little frustrating for players and coaches alike because the NCAA mandates the practice sessions be conducted in helmets only, no pads.
The good news is that on Tuesday, the Badgers will don shoulder pads for the first time since the 2012 Rose Bowl. While the practice won't feature live tackling, the intensity will be ratcheted up, especially along the offensive and defensive lines.
That's not to say the first two practices are meaningless. Especially for a team that had to replace six assistant coaches. Also, with a number of returning starters on the shelf for parts or all of the spring combined with the natural turnover in college football, every rep is important in the development of the inexperienced players.
Along those lines, there were a couple players that caught my eye in today's practice, held in the morning and outside under cool and cloudy skies. With no pads and absolutely no hitting, the defense is at a definite disadvantage the first two days. Also, the offensive and defensive lines are tough to judge when they are really just engaging in hand-to-hand combat. So these initial observations are limited to skill players.
Tight end has been a position that has flourished in recent seasons at Wisconsin and even with a new offensive coordinator in Matt Canada, it doesn't look like that will change. Coach Bielema has said that Jacob Pedersen may see more time in an H-back role, leaving an open position for a tight end along the line. Brock DeCicco, a junior transfer from Pitt who spent last year sitting out and on the scout team, looked good today, catching a number of balls over the middle.
Another position of strenght for the Badgers is running back. Everyone knows about Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball and 2010 Big Ten Freshman of the Year James White. But a guy a lot of people were excited about during fall camp last year was Melvin Gordon. He saw some time early in his true freshman season but struggled with a groin injury the kept him out of the majority of the season. Today he looked fast and shifty in a some 11-on-11 periods, proving he is 100 percent healthy.
One position where there are some questions marks is at wide receiver. While Jared Abbrederis will be back after his tremendous sophomore season, he is sitting out while rehabbing a foot injury. Jeff Duckworth saw his role increase as last year wore on but behind him, there's not a whole lot of experience. Redshirt sophomore Chase Hammond has a great WR body (6-5, 212 pounds) but has been plagued by injury. During today's practice, he flashed some of his potential, using his long frame to go get a couple balls and showing some speed after the catch in 7-on-7.
This will serve as a final snapshot of Jordan Taylor in his Wisconsin game jersey: Taylor politely answering all questions at his locker following Thursday's loss to Syracuse in an NCAA East Regional semifinal; Taylor dutifully staying true to his core beliefs despite the pain.
On Taylor's left is fellow senior Rob Wilson, who's looking inconsolable; his body very nearly curled up in the fetal position. On Taylor's right is junior Mike Bruesewitz, who's looking drawn and tired; his legs stretched out, his head back, his eyes vacant.
Taylor is first asked about the gamesmanship with Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine, a fifth-year senior. Taylor and Jardine were roommates at the Deron Williams elite guard basketball camp in Chicago over the summer. They attended the Chris Paul camp, too.
At the 10-minute mark of the second half, Jardine buried a 3-point shot to push the Orange into a 51-47 lead. A smiling Taylor brought the ball up and immediately answered Jardine with a 3-point hit -- one of his five triples, matching a season-high.
Acknowledging Jardine, and the competitiveness that exists between them, he said, "It's a very serious game. At the same time you've got to have some fun.
"Above everything else, I've had a ton of fun during my four years here. I wouldn't trade it for anything.''
Taylor was later told that UW coach Bo Ryan had praised him for his work in grooming Wisconsin's front line of Bruesewitz, Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans. Their development has been instrumental to the growth of the Badgers throughout the season.
Given that Berggren and Evans, in particular, had seen so very little playing time last season -- Berggren averaged 6.9 minutes and Evans averaged 11.6 while serving as understudys to Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil -- how far had they come as a group?
"Really far,'' Taylor said. "It's kind of a tough question to answer, just because I feel like they had that in them -- they just had to come out and show it. I'm sure I had a small role in that. But I didn't put all the talent in Ryan and Jared and Mike.
"That's not me. That's them working on their games hard in the offseason. My job was to try and get them the ball and encourage them -- be a leader for them. I did a decent job with that but, obviously, came up a little bit short.
"I hope that I helped them a little bit this year and I hope that I helped them move forward for next year, because they're going to have a really good team.''
All things considered, if Taylor had been given the ball and one possession -- one shot to win or lose against Syracuse, one shot to either advance his team to the Elite Eight or go home if that shot missed -- would he have accepted that proposition beforehand?
"I was thinking about it before the game,'' Taylor said. "I just had a weird feeling that it was going to come down to one possession. I mean obviously that's easy to say now. I just had a weird feeling that it was going to come down to that.
"I feel like seven-out-of-10, eight-out-of-10 times, we're going to get a score there. It's just unfortunate we didn't. Like I said earlier, hats off to Syracuse. They did a very good job of defending on that last possession. It was great defense.
"They did just enough to win.''
Berggren was presented the scenario: one shot to win or lose. Take it or leave it?
"Yeah, absolutely, I'd take it,'' he said. "To be in that kind of game back and forth -- they made runs, we made runs -- it's a lot of fun. That's what this tournament is all about. It's about guys playing with everything on the line and giving it all they have.
"To be down one (point) with the ball in our hands for one last possession, I never had a doubt; I believed to the very last second that we were going to win that game. To see the ball not go in at the end is heartbreaking.
"Until the final horn sounded and the ball didn't go in, I was still believing and hoping and praying and wishing that we'd be playing Saturday. But that's not the case.''
UW assistant coach Gary Close, who had put together the scouting report on Syracuse, felt that Badgers would have a chance to win the game if they made at least 10 3-point shots, had 10 or fewer turnovers, and had 10 or more offensive rebounds.
That was his formula: 10 + 10 + 10 = victory.
They finished with 14 3-point shots, six turnovers and eight offensive rebounds. "Maybe a couple of offensive rebounds would have gotten us one more bucket,'' he said.
So close, yet so ... painful.
"It was a one-point game in the Sweet 16 and we were one point short -- it's pretty tough to swallow,'' Bruesewitz summarized. "We did some good stuff. We made shots, played well as a team. It just wasn't enough, at least this time. We came up a little short.''
Sizing up the UW locker room, Close observed, "There's a lot of potential in here and they (the returning players) will get better. That's what this program is all about.''
From 1-3 in the Big Ten to one shot from the Elite Eight.
The Badgers held the first of their 15 spring practices on Thursday. Despite a run of record-breaking heat in Madison in recent weeks, rain forced practice No. 1 to be moved inside to the McClain Center. Coach Bielema met with the media following practice and discussed position battles, position changes, players who will be limited due to injuries, the addition of some new coaches and much more (yes, he even talked about the quarterbacks).
Rob Wilson, Ben Brust and Frank Kaminsky will be watching and studying. They will be taking mental notes on everything that takes place on the floor between Wisconsin and Syracuse in the early minutes of Thursday night's Sweet 16 game of the NCAA tournament.
They will each be paying attention to the individual matchups and all of the little details that impact runs and momentum despite not knowing for sure when they will get the call from Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan to enter the game against the Orange.
Staying ready is part of the challenge for any player who comes off the bench. Through the second and third round games - the wins over Montana and Vanderbilt - Wilson, Brust and Kaminsky are averaging 25.5, 16.5 and 4.5 minutes, respectively.
"You know that you could be called on at any time so you prepare your mind mentally that you're always ready," said Wilson, a senior, who stunned Indiana in the Big Ten tournament with 30 points in 32 minutes. He has two starts in 116 career games.
"You can learn a lot by not being out there right away," Wilson said, "because you're able to see what they're doing and you can almost figure out what their game plan is before you actually get into the game and go against it."
You can get a feel, Wilson noted, from watching how players move without the basketball on offense or handle screens on defense. Against Syracuse, which features a signature 2-3 zone, he will see if there are tendencies, especially jumping passing lanes.
"I want to know which guy is playing aggressively in their zone," said Wilson, adding that the most distinguishing characteristic of the Orange defense is the length of the players which they use to their advantage by getting deflections and creating turnovers.
"You always have to keep that in the back of your mind - that they are a lot longer than you might expect. So you have to make a lot of ball fakes and be strong with the ball. If you turn it over, there might be a dunk at the other end. They feed off that."
Understanding and accepting a bench role is key. "Our bench has been important all season and we have to keep bringing the energy," said Wilson who had 10 points against Montana but none against Vandy. "Scoring is not the only way you can contribute."
On defense, Wilson helped chase John Jenkins, who was held well under his season scoring average. He also had a couple of timely rebounds and assists without turning over the ball. That will be critical against Syracuse's ball-hawking defense.
"We haven't really faced a lot of zone this year," conceded Brust, who faced many box-and-one defenses in high school because he was such a big-time scorer. "We've played a lot of different defenses this year and we have to use that knowledge in this game."
As the opening minutes are unfolding, Brust said, "There's definitely a learning curve because you have the time to watch (from the bench) and see what's working, and what's not working and what mistakes are being made."
Brust had 11 points and four rebounds against Vanderbilt. That was the most he had scored since Jan. 26 when he had 13 against Indiana. But who's counting? "We have a balanced attack," he said. "Everybody can shoot, dribble, pass and defend."
Kaminsky, meanwhile, is still trying to figure out some things as a true freshman. Against Montana, he played only three minutes. "I was really nervous; it's my first tournament," he said, shrugging. "But I got rid of the nerves and now I'm ready to go."
While he's waiting for his turn, Kaminsky will try to get a feel for how Syracuse is handling Berggren and then put it to use when he's in the game. "If they're closing out too hard, then go to the rim," he said. "If they're playing off of him, then shoot it."
Getting up to game speed is more difficult. "You really have to be out there," Kaminsky said. "But you can pick up on the little things that can help you. Coach (Bo Ryan) is always telling us before the game to pay attention to what you can go in and do."
Syracuse's bench outscored Kansas State, 33-0. Dion Waiters, who's viewed in most circles as the top sixth man in college basketball, had a game-high 18 points while James Southerland chipped in with 15 points and six rebounds.
How will the Badgers counter-punch? Will it be Wilson? Brust? Will it be Wilson and Brust? Kaminsky has a reasonable expectation. "Even if I have to go in and give someone a break for a couple of minutes, that's fine," he said. "We have to do what we can do to win."
In honor of National Athletic Training Month month, a tip of the cap to the medical folks, including athletic trainer Henry Perez-Guerra and Dr. John Orwin, for helping Josh Gasser beat a nasty stomach virus last Saturday.
Their efforts made it possible for the sophomore guard to help his team advance to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16. Henry and Doc Orwin probably hate the fact I am mentioning their names, but you should know about their work.
They sit at the end of the bench, and fans might wonder who they are. Put it this way, without them last weekend, Gasser probably had no chance of playing.
The bug struck several members of the team's traveling party, including Gasser, freshman Jared Uthoff, a few cheerleaders, at least one administrator, and even some family members, including those of head coach Bo Ryan.
As someone pointed out earlier this week, on one hand it was amazing how many people were affected. On the other hand, it is amazing more folks, especially the players, were able to dodge the bullet.
Ryan is never one to publically make a big deal out of an injury or an illness. You either can play or you cannot. Gasser is much the same way, as he downplayed what he dealt with. Without going into great detail, it did not sound pretty. Add to it the challenge of going against a hot Vanderbilt team, featuring perhaps the prettiest 3-point shooter in college basketball, and the odds appeared to be stacked against Wisconsin.
Maybe the Badgers just like it that way. This group might not always shoot straight, but nobody with a clue will ever question their heart. Nobody with a clue will ever question their toughness.
Of course, Ryan ended up joking about it, saying Gasser was turning green in honor of St. Patrick's Day. No word yet whether the head coach will be appearing at a Boston area Chuckle Hut.
All kidding aside, there is no question that Ryan appreciated what Gasser went through, and the coach was proud of how his teammates helped pick him up. Very simply, that is how this team rolls, and perhaps more and more observers are taking notice.
Up next is a date with the region's No. 1 seed, Syracuse. While this will be their first matchup against each other, Ryan and Orange coach Jim Boeheim have known one another for years. In fact, on May 5, Boeheim is scheduled to be the special guest at the fifth-annual Coaches vs. Cancer Wisconsin Gala that Ryan and members of his "coaching tree" host to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
In that regard, Ryan and Boeheim are very much on the same team. Thursday will be a different story. While the Badgers successfully handled adversity last week, Syracuse has had its own well-documented obstacles. The latest is the loss of freshman big man Fab Melo, the Big East's defensive player of the year. Yet the 'Cuse keeps rolling along, winners of 33 games in 35 outings.
As tip time approaches, you will hear more and more about the Orange's famed 2-3 zone, as well as the squad's lack of rebounding.
Don't be fooled about the latter. What they might lack on the glass they more than make up for by forcing turnovers. On average, Syracuse has a turnover margin of plus-six. This is an aggressive zone with players who have, as Ryan would say, great length and bounce.
While the Badgers shoot plenty of 3s, it will be interesting to see how they attack it. Can they get the ball inside? Will they get decent looks from midrange?
Offensively, the Badgers had terrific balance Saturday, with five players scoring in double figures. More of the same might be necessary against Syracuse, a balanced team in its own right whose second-leading scorer, Dion Waiters, comes off the bench.
Another game, another tough battle for the Badgers. To those surprised to see Wisconsin in the Sweet 16, perhaps they view it as a team playing with house money.
As for the players themselves, they seem to a be a group determined to extend their season as long as possible. Already they have beaten Montana, Vanderbilt and the flu. Why stop now?
A nauseous Josh Gasser got his wake-up call at 12:30 a.m. Saturday. The UW sophomore guard was not green in honor of St. Patrick's Day, either. Mike Bruesewitz was watching a movie when he heard something that he didn't want to hear from Gasser, his road roommate.
"Josh went to the bathroom," Bruesewitz related, "and he says, 'Mike, call Henry.'"
Henry is Henry Perez-Guerra, the trainer for the UW men's basketball team.
"That's when I got quarantined out of my room," said Bruesewitz, who joined Badger teammates Dan Fahey and Jordan Smith in their hotel room. Gasser was isolated, and the virus was severe enough that he was unable to get back to sleep because of vomiting and diarrhea.
"To be honest, I probably only slept from noon to 2 (p.m.) until we left for the game," he said.
It was not just any game, mind-you, but a third round NCAA Tournament game against Vanderbilt, the No. 5 seed. In preparation for chasing and checking John Jenkins - a prolific 3-point sniper - Gasser had three Saltine crackers. "That was my pre-game meal," he said.
Throughout his ordeal, he was hooked up to IVs. He didn't suffer alone, though. Bo Ryan's wife, Kelly, was too sick to attend the game. So was redshirt freshman Jarrod Uthoff. The virus also weakened several members of the UW travel party, including some cheerleaders.
In the early morning hours, Bruesewitz admitted that "It was looking real suspect." That was his prognosis on whether Gasser would be ready for the 4:10 p.m. tipoff (MT) at The Pit. The prospect of trying to deal with Jenkins without Gasser would be the pits, he thought.
"But we have world class trainers in Henry and Dr. O (Dr. John Orwin, the team's orthopedic surgeon)," Bruesewitz said. "They were really proactive and able to get fluids into Josh and they got everything under control. I didn't think for a second that Josh wasn't going to play. He's a tough kid."
By then, Gasser had already made up his mind. "I knew I was going to play, it really wasn't a question," said Gasser, a member of the Big Ten's All-Defensive team. "But I also knew that I wasn't going to play as much as I normally do because I didn't have the energy that I normally do."
That was apparent during the pregame warm-ups. Not only did Gasser look peaked, but he appeared to be conserving energy, by design. "I got a few shots up," he said. "But I knew I would be chasing Jenkins around most of the game and I wanted to be able to maintain that for 40 minutes."
UW coach Bo Ryan did a masterful job managing his bench and getting the most out of Gasser, who played 24 minutes in the UW's hard-fought 60-57 win over Vanderbilt. "I definitely didn't want this to be my last game this year because it would have been tough to swallow," Gasser said.
Not to worry, the Boston-bound Badgers have survived on their grit and toughness and advanced to the Sweet 16 where they will run into a No. 1 seed, Syracuse, in Thursday's East Regional semifinals at the TD Garden, the 18,000-seat home venue for the Celtics and Bruins.
"It's not about how you start, it's about how you finish, that's the best way to describe it," Bruesewitz said in response to a question about the UW's 1-3 start in the Big Ten. "We knew we had a tough group, a real gritty group. Maybe the best example is Josh getting sick the night before the game.
"But what happens in the closing minutes? Jordan (Taylor) missed a shot, and who tracks it down? Josh. He gets fouled, misses the free throw, but Ryan Evans comes up with a big defensive rebound on Jenkins miss and then Berg (Jared Berggren) knocks down their in-bounds pass."
All those contributions, Bruesewitz pointed out, came from different contributors. That's how the final box score read, too. Five different players scored 10 or more points and everybody who got into the Vanderbilt game came down with at least two rebounds; highlighting the team balance.
"I've been saying this for a long time," Berggren said, "when we get all of our guys contributing that's when we are at our best. When we get Mike (Bruesewitz) shooting the ball and Ben (Brust) shooting the ball and Josh gritting through his illness ... that's just huge."
Referencing that 1-3 conference pothole in early January, Berggren said, "We still knew we had a good team, and we never got too down on ourselves. Guys kept believing and we kept fighting and we were able to turn things around and get on a winning streak."
Maybe the Badgers needed a starting point, albeit a season low point, to build from. That's how UW associate head coach Greg Gard saw it. "That 1-3 stretch toughened us, and forced us to grow up in areas where we needed to be mature in," he said. "It's all about how you respond to adversity."
As such, Ryan and his assistants leave nothing to chance. Thus with the uncertainty surrounding Gasser's availability, they got Traevon Jackson and Duje Dukan ready to play against Vandy, if needed. "We wanted to make sure they knew what we were trying to do and were ready to go," Gard said.
Was there any doubt about Gasser? Not for Gard. "He's a gritty kid, a hard-nosed kid," he said. "Unless the doctor was going to make him stay in the hotel room, he was going to play. You have to credit him for gutting it out, and you have to credit his teammates for stepping up."
That has been the storyline since the players assembled to run Elver Hill at the start of classes. "We had a lot of young guys who had to grow up and be in these roles for the first time," Gard said. "I don't know in November whether they would have had the grit to get through this (Vandy)."
After Friday's practice, Gard discussed some of the keys for controlling Jenkins and beating the Commodores. "It's going to come down to a lot of blood and guts plays,'' he said. "At this stage of the season, a lot of times the hustle plays make the difference.''
When the contact escalated in The Pit, the Badgers felt like they were in their element. "It was one of the more physical games we've played, and usually Big Ten games are physical," Gasser said. "But this was right up there. That's how it's supposed to be - that's how you want it to go to the Sweet 16."
When he was on the floor, Gasser made it as tough as he could on Jenkins, and he got plenty of help from his teammates. "They were setting double and triple screens for him," Gasser said, "and he does a really good job of creating space, and getting that extra step. That's all he really needs."
The guards were not solely responsible for contesting Jenkins' shots. "I was just trying to get a hand in his face," said Berggren. "We knew that if I played off and let him come off their bigs uncontested, he's going to knock down those shots, especially coming right to left, he's money."
That's how it unfolded in the dramatic closing seconds with the Badgers clinging to a precarious two-point lead. Vanderbilt ran a play for Jenkins who came off a Festus Ezeli screen and got separation on his chaser. Moving right to left, he launched a shot from beyond the arc.
"I tried to come out on him, but I was probably a half-step late," Berggren said. "I tried to get a hand up as much as possible but he got a pretty good look. When the ball was in the air, I think my heart stopped for a second. It was straight-on and I thought, 'Please don't go in.'
"But he back-rimmed it, and Ryan (Evans) made a big play getting the rebound."
Evans fought off the 6-foot-11, 255-pound Ezeli for the board. The Vandy bench protested that he had pushed off, but Ezeli had been clearing space the whole game. "He was one of the biggest dudes I've ever played against," Evans said. "I got into his body and went up and grabbed it and got fouled."
Evans made one free throw, and Berggren deflected the in-bounds pass to seal the win - sending the Badgers into the Sweet 16. "It says so much about us as a team," Evans said. "Everyone is contributing. In order to make a deep run that's what you have to do, and we're doing it."
Jordan Taylor knew his teammates had enough grit to get it done. "When we were up by seven with six minutes left we knew it was far from over," he said. "We knew that they weren't going away quietly. But we were able to withstand their run and make just enough plays to win."
Taylor's dad was in Albuquerque but his mom didn't make the trip because of the travel expense. But she has a ticket for Boston. And the Badgers have punched theirs. "We didn't want to send Jordan and Rob home early," Bruesewitz said. "We like those guys too much."
By Anna Poulter-Hendrickson on March 17, 2012 6:04 PM
In today's blog entry,
head coach Yvette Healy writes about the need for leadership and building a
legacy at Wisconsin
Watching the team play yesterday, and how bad we were, it's
easy to see how Wisconsin softball struggled in the past. We played like the
177 RPI team we were in 2010. What we've achieved in the last 1.5 years --
winning 30 games last season, sitting 11-8 right now after facing several
ranked teams, is special. Culture is not easily changed, and losing ways and
bad old habits die hard. Like any progress, it's not a straight, linear path. Sometimes
it's two steps forward and one step back. You have to appreciate the climb, and
celebrate the small victories and minor improvements.
As a team and
coaching staff, you can't panic when things fall apart, but rather focus on
solutions and improvements. It's easy to get angry and point fingers when we
fail. Yet the best programs and coaches stay constructive with their criticism
and approach, focusing on teachable moments and opportunities for growth rather
than sulking and dwelling on what's broke. Things can get ugly and go downhill
fast when adversity strikes.
The main thing I feel like we're missing right now is
leadership. It's not just about one or two great players that we need to lead,
but a culture of leadership that needs to be created. We need people to model
what leadership is all about and to teach our athletes how to be great
With all the amazing athletic success at Wisconsin in
football, basketball and hockey, our athletes need to reach out to other top
programs and ask the captains to share how they lead. It's interesting after
being around teams in the past and coaching and playing, there's a toughness
and savvy that we need. We need a few people who refuse to let the team or
individuals be bad. For now, it's just our staff saying the tough things and
holding people accountable.
What great teams have...
Great teams have a group of hard working athletes who love
the game of softball, who are passionate about being extraordinary at what they
do. Amazing teams are comprised of fearless individuals who know their
strengths as an athlete and joyfully pursue improving their weaknesses, step by
Championship programs have a group who hold themselves to a
higher standard, working to be great in all parts of their lives; academically,
offensively, defensively and socially. There is accountability within great
programs, where people aren't afraid to talk about what's missing and what
needs to be done.
Most importantly, great programs achieve. The leaders will
work, fight and prepare to guarantee effort and results. Leaders refuse to let
their team walk in flat or scared. On their way to success, great teams grow by
being fearless. They aren't afraid to fail. When they do stumble, they work
through the difficulties, they embrace the journey, and all the while they
fully believe in their talent, teammates, and inherent ability to succeed.
Mental toughness and confidence are the keys to achievement.
Great teams and athletes have a sense of urgency. They passionately work to
improve, grow, and minimize their deficiencies while remaining focused,
cheerful and confident.
What would it take to truly believe that everything is going
to work out, that things are meant to be good and you deserve to succeed? I
don't know why some athletes truly believe that they are great, that their team
is great and failures and setbacks are just bumps in the road along the path of
What's really important in this whole collegiate experience?
What matters most as a take away from college athletics? Is it wins and losses
and ERA and batting average? Or confidence, success and a deep belief that
anything can be worked towards, built and attained?
When our athletes walk out the door in four years with an
amazing degree from a nationally-ranked school, the most important asset they
can take with them is an unshakable belief in themselves.
Athletics forges a sense of purpose and control over our
lives. It is a microcosm of the world, where we all get to see and experience
how hard-work, passion and dedication lead to success. Great things can be
built from scratch.
Legacies and programs grow from the ground up, becoming
something extraordinary and lasting, when a few passionate people dedicate
themselves to improving as individuals and as a team. It is that group
achievement that you'll never forget. Growing, leading, and lifting up those
around you is life changing, its life affirming.
All great leaders care more about the relationships and
group success over personal glory. There's an amazing satisfaction and pride
that comes from making everyone around you better as you collectively achieve.
That lesson in leadership must come alive at Wisconsin.
Legacies aren't easily built. They are hard-fought victories with a prize truly
worth the years of dedication they take to grow.
UW freshman George Marshall lived every shooter's dream during Friday's practice at The Pit. Marshall got the "green light" to shoot just about every time that he touched the basketball while playing the role of Vanderbilt's John Jenkins on the scout team.
Now in all fairness, the Commodores are not a One Man Gang. They have more scoring options than the 21-year-old Jenkins, who's averaging 20 points. His tag team partner is Jeffery Taylor, who's averaging 16. Three other starters are averaging nine points.
That being said, Jenkins has to be focal point, and he was for Marshall.
Since arriving on campus, Marshall has gotten stronger while adding some muscle weight to his frame. At 5-foot-11, 187-pounds, though, he still falls short of measuring up physically to Jenkins (6-4, 215), the leader scorer in the Southeast Conference.
Size aside, Marshall tried to give the rotation a good picture of Jenkins, who sparked Vandy to a 79-70 win over Harvard here Thursday night. Eight of Jenkins' 12 field goal attempts were from beyond the 3-point arc and 10 of his game-high 27 points from the line.
Wisconsin's Bo Ryan cut to the "chase" on Jenkins.
Chase is the operative word. More on that later.
"He can score from the 3-point line about any way possible - step backs, fades," Ryan said. "If you know of any way to stop him, please feel free... I can get you my number. What a prolific scorer. When they use that term, I've heard them use it about a lot of guys.
"But for him (Jenkins), if you looked it up (in a dictionary), you'd see his picture."
This season, the Badgers have enacted the "Marshall Plan" in preparation for opponents whereby Marshall, who's redshirting, has tried to simulate some of the top guards in college basketball for Jordan Taylor, Josh Gasser, Rob Wilson and Ben Brust.
"He's got the fastest release in America," Marshall said of Jenkins. "With our defensive guys already knowing what he's going to do, it was kind of tough for me to emulate what he does with our defense right there in my face.
"He's a great shooter and I did my best to emulate him. Almost every play was for Jenkins, so I definitely got some shots up. To shoot almost 50 percent (.481) with the amount of times that he shoots (445 field goal attempts) says a lot for him.
"Today, I just worked on getting my shot off as fast as I could."
When asked about Josh Gasser - who will draw the defensive assignment on Jenkins - Marshall said, "Josh is really a great defender, especially off the ball. He's really good at chasing. You can go through a lot of screens and he will still be right there with you."
Gasser stressed the importance of sticking to fundamental rules and concepts. "First, you can't let him get going," he said. "If he gets one or two, he's going to keep knocking them down. You have to chase hard over screens and run him off the 3-point line."
If only it was as easy as it sounds. "Obviously, he's good slashing and he can get to the rim," Gasser went on. "But really his strength is shooting 3's. I think he's averaging almost four per game which is pretty unheard of."
Jenkin's 3.8 made 3-pointers per game is actually unheard of this season, it ranks No. 1 in the NCAA.
Has Gasser faced anyone comparable to Jenkins? "I don't think anyone has the same release; he has about the quickest one around, probably the quickest we've seen," he said. "But (Ohio State's) William Buford and (Iowa's) Matt Gatens come to mind."
Team defense, as always, will be the point of emphasis for the Badgers; especially in containing Jenkins. "Getting a hand up on him is going to be the biggest thing," said Ryan Evans. "We've got to make it difficult for him to shoot."
Rob Wilson brought up the collective awareness of the five players on the floor defensively. "You just have to be aware of where he's at," he said. "You have to take him off the 3-point line. You have to be right on his tail when he's coming off screens."
Cutting to that chase, he said, "Basically you can't let him breathe out there.''
Not allowing Jenkins to catch the ball - or limiting his touches - would be an ideal scenario. In addition, UW associate head coach Greg Gard said, "You try not to make mistakes and not feed his fire, so to speak, and I can use Rob Wilson as an example."
In the Big Ten tournament, Wilson scored a career-high 30 points against Indiana. "He got free a couple of times early, got a couple to go down and then it didn't matter how they guarded him, he had some confidence going, a little Mojo going," Gard said.
Jenkins has gotten off 10 or more shots in 31 of 34 games. Twice, he was "held" to nine attempts. His low was five shots against Mississippi, and he made all five, and finished with 26 points on the strength of going 12-of-15 from the free throw line.
"He's going to hit tough shots, and you know that he's going to get his shots," Gard said. "You just can't give him the freebies that start his fire. He's too proven and too good. The biggest thing is trying to make everything as tough as possible for him.
"Just watching some clips of him, he gets it off so fast, but he gets it off when he's crowded, too. If he gets just sliver of daylight, it's gone and he gets fouled a lot on those shots. He's a savvy veteran; he kicks the leg out, twists and run into you at times."
What's the best advice Gard can give to Gasser? "Chase hard, stick to your rules," he said. "You have to be on high alert; you can't fall asleep or he'll make you pay. We're not going to change much about what we do; it's still about good habits and outworking him."
Gard suggested Gasser "has to be a tough sucker" to handle the screens that are set for a shooter like Jenkins. "You've got 6-11 guys who are trying to knock you into the third row," he said. "Our best defenders have always been mentally and physically tough."
That would be Gasser. Cutting to that aforementioned chase again, Gard concluded, "It's going to come down to a lot of blood and guts plays. When you get to this stage of the season, a lot of times the hustle plays can make the difference."
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The Badgers have advanced to the 2012
NCAA Tournament Round of 32, and that means @BadgerMBB will send out 32
Tweets with observations and commentary leading up to the second round NCAA
tournament game between No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 5 Vanderbilt.
Patrick Herb and Karl Anderson are in Albuquerque with the team. Check out the Field of 68 to see what you've missed.
32. How'd the #Badgers celebrate? Video games, watching hoops, study hour, dinner, haircuts & lots of sleep
31. #Badgers practice is underway at ThePit. Asst. Gary Close the teacher, Vandy the subject. http://say.ly/LjI1Av3
30. Katz asked JT if UW always needs to prove self. "We always get picked to lose 1st game but we win-Now have to take next step"
Jared Berggren knew what was coming and he was ready for it; the 6-foot-11 Wisconsin center was ready for the challenge that Montana's guards, Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar, would present by attacking the paint off the dribble.
"There were going to be some situations where I knew that I would have to pick up the ball-handler,'' he said. "The way their bigs can pick and pop, there were some times where we had to switch out and make sure we didn't give them open looks on the outside.
"I knew that I had to do a good job of protecting the rim and moving my feet when I got switched out on the guards. And I was lucky enough to get a few blocks today.''
Lucky? A few blocks? Berggren finished with a career- high seven blocked shots, which set a school record in an NCAA game (Andy Kowske had four blocks against Michigan State in the semifinals of the Final Four in 2000).
That doesn't take into account all the shots that Berggren altered, too.
Only two players in UW history have had more blocks in a single game: Brad Sellers (9 in 1982) and Kim Hughes (8 in 1973). This season, Berggren now has 6o blocked shots; the most by a Badger since Rashard Griffin had 66 in 1994. Sellers has the record with 68 in '83.
Was Berggren aware of how many shots he had blocked against Montana? "Not until after the game,'' he said. "I knew that I had a good number but I didn't realize it was seven until the guys told me (in the locker room).''
Berggren's undeniable presence guarding the rim helped contribute to the offensive struggles of Cherry who had only nine points on 3-of-14 shooting. Cherry had scored in double-figures in 19 straight games; 10 times scoring 20 or more, including a career-high 30.
Wisconsin's senior captain Jordan Taylor had a lot to do with stifling Cherry, who got into early foul trouble. As a result, what was billed as a classic matchup between elite point guards - Taylor and Cherry - turned out to be a complete mismatch in Taylor's favor.
Taylor had 17 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 0 turnovers in 36 minutes. His backcourt partner, Josh Gasser, was also a significant contributor, not only with his 12 points - a nice bounce back after going scoreless against Michigan State - but with his defense.
Gasser held Montana's Kareem Jamar to just six points (3-of-8); only the fourth time in 32 games that he has been held under 10. Jamar had five triples and scored 23 points in the Grizzlies' win over Weber State in the Big Sky championship game.
Gasser limited Jamar to one attempt from beyond the 3-point arc, which he missed.
"I knew that he has been a big part of their offense,'' Gasser said. "Just looking at their last game (against Weber State) he can pull it from 3. If you put a hand down, he'll shoot it and make it. He has been shooting a very high percentage (.445) all year.
"I just tried to limit his touches from the perimeter. Get up in him. Always have a hand up at all times because he's such a good 3-point shooter. At the same time, he can drive, too. It was a full team effort that way.''
Enter Berggren who repeatedly turned away Jamar and Cherry at the rim.
"I heard that he had seven blocks - seemed like 10,'' Gasser said. "Coming off those ball screens, Jared was sticking with the guards when they were trying to take him one-on-one. He did a real good job of eliminating them that way by getting a piece off the ball.''
Gasser felt Berggren's defense was one of the keys to the victory. Another key was how the Badgers shot the ball effectively against Montana's zone defense. The message was clear: the Griz were challenging Wisconsin to make shots; an understandable strategy.
"They played the match-up zone and kind of sagged off and hoped that we would miss a few shots,'' Gasser said. "We just wanted to get good looks, and I think we did. Ryan (Evans) got us started and we all followed him.''
Finding the soft spot in the zone, Evans had 14 of his 18 points in the first half.
"We were patient moving the ball around the perimeter,'' Gasser said. "Ryan was kind of floating on the baseline and just waiting for things to happen. When he got the ball, he was aggressive and confident.''
Vanderbilt will pose a far greater challenge on Saturday to the Badgers who need to stay aggressive and confident as a team. Physically and athletically, the Commodores compare favorably with Big Ten opponents like Michigan State and Ohio State.
Whereas Montana was undersized and overmatched that certainly won't be the case with Vandy which has proven that it can play with anyone in the nation including a heavyweight like Kentucky; a 71-64 loser to the Commodores in the SEC title game.
John Jenkins, a silky-smooth 6-4 junior guard, was the leading scorer in the conference with a 20-point average. Jenkins is particularly deadly from beyond the arc. Coming into the NCAA tournament, he had 129 triples, 75 more than Jordan Taylor.
Vanderbilt also has a Taylor - Jeffrey Taylor, who's originally from Norrkoping, Sweden, was named to the All-SEC first team, along with Jenkins. Taylor, who averages 16 points, played his high school basketball in New Mexico and won a state title at The Pit.
Throughout the season, Berggren has been matched against some talented "bigs '' in the Big Ten: Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, Michigan State's Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix, Indiana's Cody Zeller and Illinois' Meyers Leonard. He's more than held his own, too.
Saturday, Berggren will draw Vandy's 6-11, 250-pound senior center, Festus Ezeli, a native of Nigeria. Ezeli missed the first eight games of the season, while recovering from sprained ligaments in his knee. The Commodores are 15-6 with Ezeli in the starting lineup.
Last Sunday, Ezeli had 17 points, six rebounds and four dunks against Kentucky's freshman phenom Anthony Davis, who's likely to be the Player of the Year in college basketball. Davis had dominated Ezeli in the two previous meetings.
His teammates call him Fes. His full name is Ifeanyi Festus Ezeli-Ndelue. By any name, it's March and anything can happen in these matchups. Berggren will have to be ready again.
By Anna Poulter-Hendrickson on March 14, 2012 1:55 PM
In today's blog
entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the team's success at the Wolf Pack
Softball Classic and what is key for UW's top performers.
It's sunny and 78 in Madison today, as we prepare for our last
spring trip. We're thrilled to practice outside on the dirt this early in the
What a great weekend for Badger softball in Reno. The team went
4-1 in Nevada, batting .394. We're 10-7 overall right now, which puts us 4th in
the Big Ten with our winning percentage. A few of our student-athletes are
really playing well, including many of our Midwest kids.
Former New Trier (Ill.) standout Molly Spence was named Big Ten
Player of the Week after batting .529 with an OPS of 1.873. Molly reached base
in each game of the weekend and had three multi-hit games, including two,
three-hit games. She belted four home runs on the weekend, including two in the
final game against Nevada, finishing with 10 RBI.
Freshman Maria Van Abel, from Kaukauna,
Wis., is leading the Big Ten in hitting, with a .459 batting average. She's done a great job at the top of the
lineup, setting the table for our big hitters. Maggie Strange, our junior
catcher from Gallatin, Mo., is leading the Big
Ten in throwing out runners and allowing the least number of steals against.
The key for our top performers is definitely confidence, mental
toughness and competitiveness. Each of our standout athletes has the right temperament.
They understand that success is a process, and the only way to achieve small
victories is continued hard work, a great attitude and the overwhelming desire
to succeed. Injuries, setbacks and obstacles don't faze the best
student-athletes. They just continue to work hard, developing a plan for
improvement each day. They refuse to fail, and emotionally invest in the
success of this year's team and the Badger softball program.
We leave Thursday for Santa Barbara, Calif. We'll have five games
on the road, including a big match-up on Sunday against nationally-ranked
Oklahoma State. OSU returns most of their squad from last year's team that
reached the 2011 Women's College World Series. They just pitched a no-hitter
against Nebraska who was ranked earlier this year too. We've had great games
against several ranked teams this spring, and it's time to get over the hump. This
game is a great opportunity to steal a key win for our young squad.
We've seen some weekends of good pitching early this spring, and
strong offense lately. We're looking forward to putting it all together this
weekend, building some excitement and energy as we open up Big Ten play next weekend
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Back by popular demand, in honor of the 2012 NCAA Tournament's 68 teams, @BadgerMBB
will be sending out 68 Tweets with observations and commentary leading
up to Thursday's NCAA tournament game between No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 13 Montana.
Patrick Herb and Karl Anderson are in Albuquerque with the team, and you can follow along here to get the updates in real-time.
This page will serve as an archive of all the tweets and will be updated often.
It is probably fair to say the Badgers' performance in last week's Big Ten tournament did little to help or hurt its seeding for the NCAA tournament. Perhaps there have been exceptions, but as far as Wisconsin is concerned, in most years that seems to be the case.
Still, there was plenty of exciting basketball in Indianapolis. OK, the semifinal games will not be instant classics, but Thursday, Friday and Sunday provided good theater.
For Badgers fans, Friday's quarterfinal victory against Indiana was special. In recent weeks, fans have been watching Rob Wilson get more and more playing time. Hoosiers coach Tom Crean told his players that, since the first meeting between the two teams in late January, Wilson was the Badgers' most improved player.
Yet I doubt anyone in the building figured Wilson would explode for 30 points and make "Rob Wilson" a trending topic on Twitter.
As enjoyable as it was in the moment, what stood out to me was how happy his teammates and coaches were for him. While watching the highlights, I noticed the players on the bench jumping up and down. Of course they were happy for the team, but as Bo Ryan has said, everybody likes Wilson, so that made the day even more fun.
After the game, associate head coach Greg Gard told us on the radio broadcast, "I haven't seen that since I recruited him at Garfield Heights." A few seconds later, Gard, for the second time in as many weeks, started to get emotional when talking about his senior from Cleveland, Ohio.
"I could not be happier for him," he said before his eyes started to water. Gard needed a few seconds to gather himself. "What he's had to go through, and what he's had to work towards. Umm (another pause). Glad to see him do this at this time."
The same can be said of Ryan, who on Friday won his 266th game as the Badgers' boss, a school record. He, too, was thrilled for Wilson. "And what is so special about it is because the way Rob has been since Day One. A great young man, a fine young man that works hard."
The head coach has said that some players need more time than others to develop. Ryan said a friend of his sent a text message offering a similar observation.
"He mentioned how he has seen that happen in some research he has done about people. He knows about people, and he realizes, too, that people have certain times where the focus is a little better, and nobody has that timetable that they can tell you ahead of time."
The text was from David Maraniss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. His work includes books on Roberto Clemente and Vince Lombardi, among many others.
As for the record, "All the memories to me always go to the players and the teams and things that they did," said Ryan. "I just feel really good for all the people involved in the program."
Then the ultra-competitive head coach showed his human side, too. "There is so much that goes into it that I'm so thankful for, from my family. And the fact that my..." Ryan needed three or four seconds to regain his composure before finishing the sentence. "My parents are still with me and had a chance to watch a lot of these games, and a lot of those teams that we've had."
I still think of Ryan's first season, when the Badgers upset seventh-ranked Illinois, 72-66. Among those who came out on the floor was Bo's father, Butch, pumping his fist as he joined the team in celebrating a memorable victory. No doubt Butch and Louise are very proud.
This week it is all about the NCAA tournament, as the Badgers face Montana and an old friend in Grizzlies assistant coach and former UW player Freddie Owens. With Bo it is always about "next." But as we head into what many call the greatest three weeks in sports, I just hope Badgers fans can cherish what took place last Friday in Indianapolis.
In the big picture of tournament seeding, it probably meant nothing. But sometimes sports can offer us a chance to witness something more important. Such as a player who has persevered, and a coach who just set a record, yet was thinking of everyone but himself.
Then again, maybe that is the essence of Wisconsin basketball.
Freddie Owens has transitioned from climbing hills at Wisconsin under coach Bo Ryan to "climbing mountains'' at Montana under coach Wayne Tinkle, a Milwaukee native, just like Owens. The 30-year-old Owens, of course, is the starting point for any scouting report on the Griz.
"Freddie texts me and I text him now and then; we stay in touch,'' said Ryan who was fully expecting to hear from Owens later Sunday night after the No. 4 seed Badgers drew No. 13 seed Montana in the NCAA Tournament. Owens is completing his third season on Tinkle's staff.
"In my workout room at the house,'' Ryan went on, "there's a big picture of Freddie on the wall - the picture of him running down the court after he realizes that his shot went in against Tulsa. I have to look at Freddie every day when I go down there and work out.''
Laughing, he added, "I might turn it (the picture) around this week.''
Truth is, whenever Ryan thinks about Owens making that memorable 3-point shot that capped a furious rally from a 13-point deficit with four minutes left and advanced the Badgers to the Sweet 16 in the 2003 tournament, he says, "It puts a smile on my face.''
Ryan had a premonition that Wisconsin might draw Montana. "When they won (the Big Sky tournament), I said, 'That's a team we could play,''' he recounted. "To be real honest, I probably said that about some other teams, too. But there's no question I thought that was a possibility.''
Owens had the same premonition.
"I said if we can somehow crack the 13 seed, I told my wife we're going to end up playing Wisconsin, just watch,'' Owens told the Missoulian, the local newspaper in Missoula, the site of the University of Montana campus. Missoula is a little less than 200 miles from Spokane, Wash.
"I'm excited personally and the guys are excited,'' continued Owens, a product of Milwaukee Washington High School. "It's going to be a weird feeling being across the bench from coach Ryan and some of the other guys on the coaching staff.
"This is March and crazy things happen. I think it's a great opportunity for us to go out and show that we can play against a really good program and hopefully come out with a win.''
Nobody has a longer active winning streak in college basketball than the Grizzlies, who have won 14 straight games and 20 of their last 21. The last time they lost was Jan. 14 at Weber State; a setback which they have avenged twice since then.
Montana upended Weber State, 66-51, in the final game of the regular season (Feb. 28) and then won the rubber match in the title game of the Big Sky tournament (March 7). It wasn't even close, either. The Griz wound up scoring 54 points in the second half alone during an 85-66 rout.
All five starters scored in double-figures - Kareem Jamar and Mathias Ward had 23 each. To say the least, this is not a deep Montana team. Tinkle subbed only twice against Weber State. Shawn Stockton played six minutes and Keron DeShields played three. Neither played in the second half. The Grizzlies are led in scoring by Will Cherry, a 6-foot-1, 177-pound junior guard from Oakland, Calif. Besides averaging 16 points, Cherry is the school's career leader in steals with 221. He's also a lockdown defender; the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year.
Cherry shares the backcourt with Jamar, a 6-5, 210-pound sophomore from Los Angeles, who averaged 14 points. Both are 3-point threats. Jamar went 5-of-8 from beyond the arc against Weber State in the Big Sky finals, and has 49 triples on the season, one fewer than Cherry.
The Griz are anchored on the frontline by Derek Selvig, a 7-foot, 230-pound senior and the only player from Montana (Glendive) on the roster. The starting forwards are Ward, a 6-7, 236-pound junior from Gig Harbor, Wash., and Art Steward, a 6-4, 210-pound senior from Casper, Wyo.
The Grizzlies are no strangers to the Big Dance. This will be their second trip in three seasons. In 2010, they lost, 62-57, to New Mexico (coached by Steve Alford) in the East Regional. Montana, then a No. 14, seed, played in San Jose, Calif.
Tinkle, whose teams have won 20 or more games in each of the last three seasons, was also exposed to the NCAA Tournament as a Montana assistant under Don Holst once and Larry Krystkowiak twice. Krystokowiak is a Missoula native, a Griz alum and a former Milwaukee Bucks player and coach.
The 46-year-old Tinkle is also a Griz alum; and the sixth-leading scorer and fourth-leading rebounder in school history. His wife Lisa starred for the Lady Griz, while their daughter Joslyn has started 20 games for the Stanford women's basketball team.
During the course of this season, the Grizzlies have adopted "Ain't no Mountain High Enough'' as a theme song. They've sung the lyrics during bus rides and following road wins. Climbing a mountain would be in Owens' wheel-house since he climbed his share of hills at Elver Park during his UW career.
How do you quantify momentum? Especially in a program that wins so much?
UW women's hockey coach Mark Johnson has rarely been forced to go down this path where the momentum of his team has come into question.
"Momentum comes in different areas,'' Johnson reasoned. "Obviously if you win a big game and there are some dramatics within that game -- if you happen to win in overtime -- it's going to carry some energy over to your next practice or game.
"If you beat a real high-quality opponent, I think it can do the same thing. That's what is so fun about the postseason. Unlike regular-season games, the playoff games are all big. Certainly, the momentum of the season and playoffs can carry into the NCAA games.''
But what if the opposite is true? The Badgers lost their final game of the regular season to Ohio State, and they also lost to Minnesota Duluth in the WCHA Final Face-Off. Do they have momentum going into Saturday's NCAA quarterfinal matchup against Mercyhurst?
"I think we're in a good spot, whether you define it as momentum or not,'' Johnson said. "As I was telling our staff this week, if we were sitting in the locker room in September and we were saying, 'We're going to be the No. 1 seed,' we would have taken it.
"We're in a good position. We're pretty healthy and we're where we need to be. Like any sport, it's now going to come down to execution. At the end of the day, you don't want to have any regrets. Championship teams don't make any excuses.''
Losing two of their last four games has been a breaking news story in women's college hockey, particularly since the Badgers lost only twice in their first 34 games. A Johnson-coached team hasn't lost consecutive games in five years.
Consider: after losing 3-2 to Minnesota on Oct. 16, the Badgers bounced back with a 4-3 win over Duluth; after losing 1-0 to the Gophers on Jan. 7, they crushed North Dakota 8-2; after losing 4-2 to Ohio State on Feb. 18, they overwhelmed Minnesota State 7-0.
"We've done a lot of good things,'' Johnson said modestly.
Does he still believe that you can learn more about yourself after a loss than a win even though his teams have so little experience with losing?
"Absolutely,'' he said. "You ask yourself, 'What do we need to do to make sure we don't feel this way after our next game?'''
What about the leadership in his locker room? How have some of his better players handled going 2-2 over their last four games? "Anytime you lose it's a tough pill to swallow,'' he said. "We haven't been there very often (as a program). But you deal with it.''
To this end, Johnson has been encouraged by their reaction to the recent setbacks. "They're saying the right things,'' he said. "They're coming to practice and doing the right things. You never want to lose but if you can become better, it's a good path to go down.''
It's just that so few people around here are conditioned to this conversation.
"When we lost a (NCAA) quarterfinal game in '05 to Dartmouth,'' Johnson said, "it was one of those things where we talked afterward and planted a seed for the following year. That learning experience helped us win in '06.
"That's how I look at our playoff system. It's a good two week learning opportunity, whether you've been successful or not. If you get to see another day - which we do - you need to take some things from the loss and move on. That's how I look at momentum.''
Never let them see you sweat, either.
"It comes down to habits and what we do on a daily basis,'' said Johnson, whose calm and collected demeanor sets the tone for his team. "It's the way you go about business. You learn from what the previous game showed you.
"If you're consistent in what you do and your approach, the players understand that and they get to the point where they don't like losing either. They'll come back more focused on paying attention to detail and playing with a little more hunger.''
That's what he's counting on against Mercyhurst.
"Executing and playing with energy is crucial right now,'' he stressed. "We've shown all year that we've been competitive and consistent and we've won a lot.
"Our preparation will give us our best chance to win knowing if we're not successful, it's the end of the road.''
Ryan Evans was still trying to digest the win over Indiana here Friday in the Big Ten tournament when he was prodded to look ahead to Michigan State, a rival that swept the regular season series against the Badgers for the first time under Bo Ryan.
"Aw, man, I'm just trying to sit back and enjoy this one," Evans kiddingly protested while unwinding in front of his locker. "But it's the same old, same old (with the Spartans). You've got to guard Draymond Green; he's going to be the focal point.
(Green had 18 and 20 points against Wisconsin earlier this season.)
"But they've got a lot of other guys that are able to do stuff. We watched them a little bit today (in Michigan State's 92-75 win over Iowa). A lot of guys were knocking down shots fluently within their offense.
"They're like us - they've got a lot of players that you've got to stop."
The Spartans had four players in double-figures against Iowa: Green, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Brandon Wood. Two others had nine apiece: Derrick Nix and Travis Trice. Michigan State dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Hawkeyes by a 36-24 margin.
"I think we actually outrebounded them (33-30) at their house," Evans noted of the Feb. 16 game at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. "But it's going to be tough to be able to do that again. We just have to be ready to get pushed around some."
And they need to push back, too, Evans implied. They also need to get back - on defense. Michigan State outscored Wisconsin 15-0 in transition points; most of the damage coming during a 14-0 run in the first half. The Badgers never recovered in the 69-55 loss.
"We know what they're capable of, and we know what they're going to try to do to us," said UW center Jared Berggren. "They took it to us twice this year and we know where we have to improve on, and where we need to do a better job.
"If we get contributions from different guys like we did (against Indiana) and balanced scoring - Rob (Wilson) getting hot like that again definitely wouldn't hurt either."
Wilson was the buzz of the tournament after scoring 30 against the Hoosiers. Had he done this next week in the first round of the Big Dance, which has no equal in terms of national exposure and pub, he would have been booking an appearance on The Late Show with Dave Letterman.
Will Wilson feel any better, he was asked Friday, knowing that Michigan State will likely be talking about him when the Spartans go through their walk-through in advance of facing the Badgers?
"No, I don't want them to put that much thought into me," he said.
Pausing, he then completed his thought by saying, "I hope that I can continue to be open - I just have to keep moving so that my teammates can find me like they did today. My mentality is to keep shooting, especially when you're hot, just keep shooting."
Wilson played 16 minutes and scored five points against the Spartans at the Breslin Center. In the 63-60 overtime loss to Michigan State at the Kohl Center, he took only two shots and missed them both during his 12 minutes of playing time.
A key will be what the Badgers can get out of Jordan Taylor, who had 28 in Madison but only 13 points on 3-of-13 shooting in East Lansing. When push comes to shove, as Evans intimated, they're going to have to make a push to get Taylor more involved.
Especially since the Spartans will be on the look-out for Wilson.
This is the weekend Badger fans across the country have looked forward to for weeks. Selection Sunday, the day when voting for the All-Bielema Team comes to a close (oh, you thought I was talking about a different sort of selection?).
Voting that began with the QB position (Russell Wilson is leading the way) on Feb. 20, will wrap up on Sunday with fans choosing a punt returner. Today the specialists get their day in the sun. During Bielema's head coaching career he has had just two full-time punters and two kickers (though Philip Welch's injury early in 2011 allowed for some cameo appearances by Alec Lerner and Kyle French) so there is not much to choose from. But what we make lack in quantity is definitely made up for in quality.
Ken DeBauche (2006-07) Four-year starter whose 42.4-yard average is second-best in school history ... honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2006, second-team in 2007 ... team captain as a senior ... ranked second in Big Ten in punting during conference season as a senior ... ranked fourth in the Big Ten in punting as a junior ... completed a memorable pass to long snapper Paul Standring vs. No. 1 Ohio State in 2007 (below)
Brad Nortman (2008-11) Two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten selection ... three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree ... ranks third in school history with career punting average of 42.1 yards per punt ... averaged 41.8 yards per punt in 2008 to rank fifth among freshmen in the nation ... ran two fake punts for first downs in 2010, including picking up a key first down during the game-winning drive at Iowa (below)
Taylor Mehlhaff (2006-07) Fourth on school's career scoring list with 295 points ... tied for third on UW's career field goals list with 50 and fourth on career field goal attempts list with 65 ... third on school's career list for field goal percentage (.769) ... second in school history in career extra points (145), extra point attempts (148) and extra-point percentage (.979) ... first-team All-American, Lou Groza Award semifinalist and first-team All-Big Ten as a senior ... Lou Groza Award semifinalist and second-team All-Big Ten as a junior
Philip Welch (2008-11) Ranks second in school history in career field goals made (59), career points (384 - most by a kicker) and field goal percentage at (.776) ... third at UW with 76 career field goals attempted ... Big Ten leader in career extra points made with 207 ... holds school record with 211 extra points attempted and .981 extra point percentage ... three-time honorable mention All-Big Ten ... Lou Groza Award semifinalist and freshman All-American in 2008
Remember to vote early and often for the All-Bielema team either on Facebook or Twitter using #AllBielemaTeam (follow @BadgerFootball).
As the start of spring practice approaches, the reveal of the All-Bielema Team draws closer. Voting ends, appropriately enough, on Selection Sunday.
Fans can go to the Wisconsin Football Facebook page to log their votes. Polling began on Feb. 20 with quarterbacks and continues today with strong safety. There is one more defensive position to vote on tomorrow (free safety), before special teams takes over the weekend.
Nearly 6,000 votes have been logged so far on Facebook with hundreds of others on Twitter using #AllBielemaTeam. Among the closer position battles are:
Outside Linebacker You need two OLBs and while Mike Taylor looks to be a lock on one side, former teammates DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas are battling it out to see who gets the other spot.
Defensive tackle Like OLB, we need two DTs. Nick Hayden seems to be on solid footing but Patrick Butrym and Mike Newkirk are potential started next to him. They would form a solid three-man rotation.
Defensive end There's no doubt who the top vote-getter at this position would be but J.J. Watt needs a partner on the other side to avoid the double teams. O'Brien Schofield had a terrific senior season while Matt Shaughnessy was a four-year starter.
Right tackle Right now, two linemates are battling for the final spot on the offensive line, Ricky Wagner and Josh Oglesby. Oglesby started 25 games at RT over three seasons and was a first-team All-Big Ten choice as a senior while Wagner started 10 games in 2010 when Oglesby was hurt and earned honorable mention all-league honors.
By Anna Poulter-Hendrickson on March 7, 2012 10:34 AM
In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about stepping outside of your comfort zone to become great.
After three weekends on the road, we're 6-6, after going 2-1
on the weekend, posting wins over UConn and Charleston Southern, and a loss to
Kansas who was on a 14-game winning streak. Our last game of the weekend was
rained out. We'll travel west the next two weekends, flying to Nevada and
With the rain delays this weekend, we had time for a good
team chalk-talk on the road. The focus for this week is ownership,
accountability and urgency. As a staff, we're okay with where we're at. The
team is working hard and getting better every day. We're keeping our head above
water, winning some games and playing fine. The hard message for our team is
that none of us play sports aspiring towards mediocrity. No one shows up to the
field looking to split. We work hard and prepare in order to separate ourselves
from our peers, not to be status quo.
So, while we're not in the dumps, and not getting throttled
by other teams, we're very average. We're showing up to the field, putting in
the work and playing okay. The sense of urgency for all of us comes from
getting over the mediocre hump. Wisconsin softball is about building something
extraordinary. It's about making great plays on defense that inspire people;
it's about dominating from the mound, and having an electric offense. Badger
softball at its best is gritty, tenacious, fiery and exciting. We know that as
you build and grow a program, you can't be afraid to step outside your comfort
zone, take risks and do something special. Razzle Dazzle.
Our staff is excited to see the team catch fire soon. We
know this group has the ability to get things clicking on all cylinders,
creating some energy, excitement and momentum. We haven't found our groove yet,
which is fine. No one wants to peak in February. But, March is the time to make
great strides. Mentally tough teams take the lessons they learn early in the
season, they make the critical adjustments, stick with the game plan and start
playing quality softball.
The biggest jump we all face in life is the move from good
to great. Coach Schneider has spoken to the team many times about what it takes
to be a great program; the extra effort, the attitude, the approach and
swagger. We've challenged our team to work even harder, do extra, and emotionally
invest in the Badger softball family. We were so proud to hear that the team
ran its own captain's practice Sunday night after a long weekend of travel. We're
seeing leadership start to bud.
In yet another example of how competitive the Big Ten Conference has been this basketball season, Senior Day/Night was unkind to most. In the home finales, the home teams won four and lost eight. Among those losing their final home games were the three teams that ended up sharing the conference championship.
Hats off to the Badgers for being one of the four squads to hold serve, something they have done every year under head coach Bo Ryan. On Sunday, the 11th-year head coach also tied Hall of Famer Bud Foster with win No. 265 at Wisconsin. It was fun to witness the long and well-deserved ovation the fans at the Kohl Center gave him. It was obvious Ryan was touched by the response.
Speaking of well deserved, congratulations to Badgers guard Jordan Taylor for being named first-team All-Big Ten by the league's coaches. Honorable mention recognition goes to Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans, while Josh Gasser earned a spot on the All-Defensive Team. Also, senior Rob Wilson, who continues to play well, is Wisconsin's honoree for the Sportsmanship Award.
For better or for worse, I have been among the media voters for several years. It is rarely easy, and this year was one of the more difficult. I can't tell you how many times I moved a player from first team to second, then back again.
The easy calls were Draymond Green and Jared Sullinger, with Green my pick for player of the year. Then the decisions started to get a little more difficult. For the remaining three spots, you probably could make compelling arguments for seven or eight players. I chose to go with three players who have as much on their plate as anyone in the Big Ten -- Tim Frazier of Penn State, John Shurna of Northwestern and Taylor.
Shurna led the Big Ten in scoring, and while he certainly gets support from teammates such as Drew Crawford, Shurna is the one who generally seems to get the bulk of the attention from opposing teams.
Frazier plays for the last-place and worst-shooting team in the conference. Yet he finished second in scoring and led the league in assists. I repeat, he led the Big Ten in assists playing for the worst-shooting team in the conference. In addition, Frazier's ability to penetrate and hit that little tear drop over players nearly a foot taller is something to see.
Finally, I went with Taylor for how he has handled being the player wearing the bullseye all season.
Without Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil, Taylor is the man opponents target from tipoff to final buzzer. Coming off ball screens, he gets doubled. He gets bumped. He gets knocked to the floor. He then gets up and comes after you again.
Taylor probably could have taken 20 shots a game, and therefore would have averaged more than the 16.3 points per game he put up in Big Ten play. Instead, he elected to make every effort to get his teammates involved. Yet when needed, Taylor would put the team on his shoulders. And in crunch time, far more often than not, he delivered.
If I am putting together a Big Ten All-Star team, Jordan Taylor is going to be on it. Period. Case closed. End of story.
Having made my case, I have to admit it was extremely difficult, and to a point I felt foolish putting Purdue's Robbie Hummel and Michigan's Trey Burke on the second team. Hummel made the first team with both the coaches and the media, and how can you not feel good about his comeback from two major knee injuries? Talk about a player with a lot on his plate.
Burke has been tremendous for the Wolverines, and it is scary to think he is just a freshman. The same can be said of Indiana big man Cody Zeller.
My point here is the Big Ten is full of very good players and very good teams. Coaches, including Bo Ryan, have said this is the deepest the conference has been in a long time. Maybe the deepest it has ever been.
It has made for an enjoyable regular season. It figures to make for a hotly contested and highly entertaining Big Ten tournament. You might want to tune in. There is going to be one heck of a collection of college basketball teams gathering in Indianapolis this week.
On an abbreviated Christmas break, a few days off from practice, Wisconsin's Mike Bruesewitz and Jordan Taylor returned home to Minnesota: Bruesewitz to St. Paul and Taylor to Bloomington. So what constitutes a little R & R for Big Ten basketball players?
Bruesewitz and Taylor showed up at high school basketball game in St. Louis Park; not just any game, mind-you, but a showdown featuring Benilde-St. Margaret's, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 3A and Taylor's alma mater.
Bruesewitz sat with his former Sibley prep coach, Tom Dasovich, now at Minnetonka. At one point, Dasovich turned to Bruesewitz and observed, "Jordan is probably going to run for governor or president or some elected official's office because that's just his personality.''
Taylor meshed so well with everyone in this setting that it was like he had never left the student body, Bruesewitz recounted. Dasovitch, in fact, suggested that there are very few collegiate All-Americans that you could throw into a high school gym, and they'd handle themselves as well as Taylor.
"I really hadn't thought about it that way,'' Bruesewitz conceded. "When I look at Jordan, I really don't see an All-American; he works extremely hard and doesn't let that stuff to go this head. Now when I'm playing basketball with him, it's different: I obviously see that he's a great player.''
Taylor's impact can't be measured by mere statistics, though you can build an argument for his status among the elite point guards based solely on his assist-to-turnover ratio. "He's also probably the best team leader that I've ever been around,'' Bruesewitz said. "It's going to be weird to see him go.''
That admission was tough for Bruesewitz to swallow. Reflecting on Sunday's farewell appearance at the Kohl Center for Wisconsin's two seniors -- Taylor and Rob Wilson -- Bruesewitz said, "Each Senior Day gets harder and harder the longer that you're in the program.''
As a freshman, Bruesewitz spent just one year in the company of Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes but "they became friends and great teammates.'' As a sophomore, it was a little more difficult for Bruesewitz, who got to spend two years around Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz.
Bruesewitz had known Leuer, another Minnesota native, since his sophomore year in high school. Nankivil sat next to Bruesewitz in the Kohl Center locker room and "I got to know him really well,'' along with Jarmusz. "I considered them all to be really good friends,'' Bruesewitz said.
His friendship with Taylor and Wilson extends to three years and beyond (with Taylor). That's what is making this particular Senior Day so much more emotional for Bruesewitz. "It's just kind of sad, but I'm also happy at the same time because I got to experience a lot of things with these guys,'' he said.
Pondering how each graduating class has marked a passage in time, Bruesewitz said, "This year, it's three years with those guys (Taylor and Wilson) and then all of a sudden it's your turn next year.
"You have no idea how fast it goes until you're going through it and experience it.''
For context, his own special brand of context, Bruesewitz said, "Just last year I was wearing a big, poufy afro, and a year later, I'm on my third Senior Day.''
Just three years ago, Bruesewitz was on the scout team with Wilson, a Cleveland native. "We went through a lot of the same stuff together,'' said Bruesewitz, a junior. "Rob was kind of my guy; I'd stick around him a lot my freshman year. I'm going to miss him a lot.''
Although Wilson may not be as outgoing as Bruesewitz, the latter insisted, "He's quiet, but sometimes you can't get him to shut up. Rob has gotten a lot more vocal over the last three years. He's just a regular 'Joe' in the locker room. He'll start arguing with the rest of us.''
About the Indians? About the Browns? About the Cavaliers?
"Naaw, Cleveland is irrelevant in the sporting world,'' Bruesewitz teased.
There were likely times when Wilson felt that way, himself.
"There were times when he didn't play very much and I could kind of see on his face that he was down,'' Bruesewitz said. "I just tried to keep telling him, 'Keep working because there will be a time when the team is going to need you and you're going to need to step up.'
"I didn't know if he was always listening, but he didn't pack it in and he kept working hard. The last three games, Rob has been playing extremely well. We don't beat Ohio State without Rob, who knocked down those three big three (pointers) and played good defense.
"After the game, I gave him a big hug because he has worked his butt off.''
Bruesewitz has been attempting to heed some of his own advice -- "Get in the gym, keep working, keep getting shots up'' -- during a personally frustrating offensive slump. Since scoring 11 points against Ohio State in Madison on Feb. 4, he has scored 21 in the last six games combined.
"It feels like I haven't made a shot in about a month,'' he said. "But you just have to keep playing through this stuff - you have to keep thinking the next shot is going down, because it is. You have to keep getting up more shots before and after practice and eventually the ship will be righted.''
On Thursday, Bruesewitz had UW video coordinator Shariff Chambliss set up a camera in the practice gym, the Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion, and he had a manager retrieve and rebound his shots.
After seeing himself on tape, he concluded, "I found out I'm a much larger human being than I thought I was.''
A sense of humor helps when you're in a slump. After reviewing his shooting mechanics, Bruesewitz said, "Everything looked fine, I just needed to see myself making some shots.''
Sometimes that's all it takes to get back on track.
"I know I'm a good shooter,'' he said. "I spent a lot of hours this summer (shooting) and a lot of hours the summer before and the summer before that. One of these days, they'll start going down.''
While offensive players may get most of the glory, everyone knows "defense wins championships." And a good defense is only as good as its play in the trenches.
With that as background, voting for the All-Bielema Team d-line kicked off on Thursday with the glamour position of the group, defensive end. The choices consisted of a national award winner (J.J. Watt), two first-team All-Big Ten selections (Watt and O'Brien Schofield) and three NFL players (Watt, Schofield and Matt Shaughnessy). Included in there is a two-year starter who scored a critical touchdown in in the 2012 Rose Bowl (Louis Nzegwu).
Friday we move onto defensive tackle. It may be less glamorous than d-end but strength up the middle is the hallmark of any good defense. And dependability is a common trait among our four candidates.
The Defensive Tackle Candidates:
Patrick Butrym (2008-11) Honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2011 ... won UW's Tom Wiesner Award as a senior, given to a Wisconsin-born player for his contributions ... started all 27 games at defensive tackle as a junior and senior ... played in every one of the Badgers' 53 games in his four-year career ... finished with 79 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, four QB sacks, a forced fumble and an interception
Jason Chapman (2006-08) Two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten ... winner of UW's Jay Seiler Coaches Appreciation Award as a senior ... started 36 games over his final three seasons ... finished his career with 117 tackles, 15.0 TFLs, and 9.5 QB sacks
Nick Hayden (2006-07) Two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten ... winner of UW's Jay Seiler Coaches Appreciation Award as a senior ... started 39 consecutive games at d-tackle, including 26 as a junior and senior ... career totals if 132 tackles, 21.5 TFLs, 10 QB sacks and six fumble recoveries ... drafted in the sixth round of the NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers ... has played in 53 career NFL games with 28 starts
Mike Newkirk (2006-08) Second-team All-Big Ten as a senior ... played in all 52 of the Badgers' games in his four-year career ... started his final 26 games, 10 at defensive end and 16 at defensive tackle ... appeared in all 13 games as a sophomore as a backup DT ... career totals of 152 tackles, 29.0 TFLs, 10 QB sacks, two forced fumles and two fumble recoveries
Remember to vote early and often for the All-Bielema team either on Facebook or Twitter using #AllBielemaTeam (follow @BadgerFootball).