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The Voice: Syracuse just latest challenge awaiting Badgers

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgIn 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?