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-- It's March Madness once again and that can only mean one thing: another edition of #Fieldof68
. Follow along as we chronicle the Badgers
journey through the 2014 NCAA Tournament, leading up to Wisconsin's first-round match-up against the American Eagles at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Sixty-eight teams in the tournament, that means 68 inside-access tweets about Wisconsin from @BadgerMBB all the way up to Thursday morning's tip between the Badgers and Eagles.
Ben Brust, Josh Gasser, Frank Kaminsky and head coach Bo Ryan met with the media on Wednesday in advance of the Badgers' game Thursday morning against American. The complete transcript from their sessions can be found here: ASAP Sports
Here are some of the highlights:Josh Gasser on playing in Milwaukee:
"It's awesome. It just means that you did something special during the
year to get rewarded to play close to home. And it's great for my
family, these guy's family, to be semi close. Just to be able to
experience NCAA Tournament atmosphere is awesome for my family and
friends and other people as well. It's kind of a home-court advantage in a way, but, at the same time,
once the clock starts, once you get between the lines, it's all what we
do and we control that."Frank Kaminsky on his high growth spurt in high school:
"I got into high school at 6' 2" and left high school at 6' 10". I had a
lot of growing to do both physically and mentally.
Sometimes I would just be running down the court and trip over my own
feet because I was just getting awkward. And I think just growing into
my body took a little bit of time because I did kind of have a later
growth spurt than most people."
Ben Brust on Coach Ryan winning 700 games and earning national respect:
"It's very special to be a part of that, and I think the number 700 just
shows if you're getting that many wins, you're doing a lot of things
right. As players we'd be smart to listen to a guy who has won that
many games because he's successful for a reason. You don't get 700 wins
with luck. He's doing something right, and, you know, Coach doesn't
care what other people think. He's the type of guy who wants to get
stuff done and get it done the right way, and we're just looking to
continue what we can do."Coach Ryan on his philosophy:
always tell young coaches when they're asking for advice, 'take
a job at a place where you can coach for five years or 50 years.' Because if you take a job and you're always looking left, right, behind
you, in front of you, if you're always looking in different directions,
you're not going to do as good a job with the people who believed you in
the first place and hired you. So, if you're hired to do a job, for a nickel, give them a dime's
worth. That's been my philosophy that I learned from my parents. I'm
sure they learned from their parents."Coach Ryan on Nigel Hayes' humor:
"I got a guy that beats me, and old line is obviously 'the early bird
catches the worm.' As we're done with our video session, Nigel always
tries to beat me to the court. I said, "good, Nigel, the early bird
catches the worm."
"Coach, the second mouse always gets the cheese."
The day before the first game of the NCAA tournament has become sort of old hat for the Wisconsin Badgers. For 16 straight years, UW has been taking part in press conferences, open locker rooms and public practices. Today was a little different though.
-- Photo Gallery
With the Badgers stationed in Milwaukee, the fan and media interest is at an all-time high. As shown in the picture above, even the Marquette locker room wasn't quite spacious enough to contain all the media hoping to get a word with the Badgers. And what is normally just a handful of fans on on a weekday afternoon, turned into a couple hundred in the stands as the Badgers took the floor at 1:30 p.m.
The fans that did come out were treated to an inside look at pretty much what happens every day at a normal Badgers practice. Start off with some full court passing, then some shooting drills. The highlight, as always, was the half-court shooting contest to end practice. Bronson Koenig made the first, Evan Anderson tied it up and Zak Showalter won it at the end. A Sam Dekker dunk sent the crowd home happy. Thanks to everyone who came out today!
In the Wisconsin men's basketball record book, the bio information on junior center Evan Anderson begins with the following words: "Humble and hard-working Wisconsin product."
That is an excellent description of the 6-foot-10, 245-pounder from Stanley. Perhaps it helps explain why Anderson's teammates get so excited when the big man checks into the lineup and makes a few things happen.
The former standout from Eau Claire North has played in about half of the Badgers' games this season, averaging a bit more than three minutes per outing. Last Saturday at Purdue, Anderson logged seven minutes. Seven very important minutes, in the Badgers' 14-point victory. His teammates loved it.
"He got mobbed more than anybody after the game," said UW associate head coach Greg Gard. "They understand not only that seven minutes he contributed, but how he has had to work to get to that point."
"It was great to be able to go out there and help my teammates," added Anderson. "It was really important to me."
"I was able to box out (A.J.) Hammons. I believe that was his third foul (it was). That was a key to have him on the bench the rest of the first half."
I think the players and coaches appreciate Anderson so much because they know this game is anything but easy. At times, he can be very tough on himself. So a few weeks ago, when Anderson got some run late in the game against Illinois and nailed a three-point shot against the Illini, players popped out of their chairs to cheer him on.
When he gets on the floor in the guts of a game and does a lot of the little things well, it means even more.
"I thought he did a great job of staying within himself," said Gard. "He just went in, set good screens, was physical. He did a great job of blocking out and getting the over-the-back call on the third foul (on Hammons).
"He has bought into the program. He has never complained. He keeps working."
While nobody wants to get too carried away about one game, perhaps last Saturday's effort at Mackey Arena can serve as a confidence boost for Anderson. This is his fourth year in the program, and he believes experience can help him help the program.
"Being here and doing every little thing that we do," he said. "We spend a lot of time behind the scenes that people don't see. Lifting, running, all that in the summer. The experience is just great ... and we put in a lot of work."
And when that work is rewarded, it tends to make a good competitor want to keep grinding away. Nobody has questioned Anderson's competitive nature. Enough players have run into one of his haymaker screens in practice to know he can be a tough man to move. Rest assured Anderson's teammates were more than happy to see an opponent get a taste of what the Badgers deal with every day in practice.
Like most teams in the country, the Badgers would love to see continued growth off the bench. Freshmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are doing a very solid job. Recently fellow freshman Vitto Brown started to get some work with the regular rotation. Duje Dukan has shown he is capable of providing a boost as well.
Yet there is always room for more competition. While nobody is making any bold predictions, it was fun to see Evan Anderson get in the mix. As the always difficult Big Ten season rolls on, there is no doubt coach Bo Ryan will happily accept some more depth. You just never know when it will be needed.
With the Badgers off until Saturday, Dec. 28, hoops fans have a little waiting to do before their unbeaten squad takes its talents back to the hardwood.
But the current members of the UW team aren't the only Badgers making noise this winter. Wisconsin basketball alums
around the world are shining for their respective teams, from the NBA to the Euro League. Here's a look at a few of the former Badgers and the work they've been doing in the pro ranks.
JON LEUER | MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES | NBA
Leuer has been enjoying the best stretch of his young career during the month of December. He opened the month pouring in a career-high 23 points, shooting 10-for-13 from the field to go along with nine rebounds in 30 minutes of action against the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 3. Prior to his two-point, five-rebound performance on Dec. 21, just his second single-digit scoring output of month, Leuer was averaging 15.3 points and 7.2 boards per game. The Orono, Minn., native recorded his first career double-double on Dec. 9 vs. Orlando, scoring 16 points and adding 12 rebounds. Leuer went on to score in double figures in six of his next seven games, taking advantage of an increase in minutes in just his third season in the pros, his second with the Grizzlies.
RYAN EVANS | SIOUX FALLS SKYFORCE | NBA D-LEAGUE
Through nine games in the NBA Developmental League, Evans is fourth on the SkyForce in scoring at 13.0 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. The Phoenix, Ariz., native tallied a career-high 29 points and 12 rebounds in just the third regular-season game of the season, shooting 11-of-20 from the field and 6-of-8 from beyond the arc. Evans went on to score in double figures in two of Sioux Falls' next three games, dropping 22 points and 14 points in consecutive games earlier this month.
JARED BERGGREN | TELENET BC OOSTENDE (BELGIUM) | EUROLEAGUE
In his first season overseas, Berggren has been inserted into the starting lineup for Oostende, averaging 11.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 71.7 percent from the field this season. The former second-team All-Big Ten performer has reached double figures five times this season, tallying 26 points on 10-of-12 shooting on Dec. 4. Berggren followed that up with a 23-point, eight-rebound outing on a 10-of-11 performance from the field.
JORDAN TAYLOR | VIRTUS ROMA (ITALY) | EUROLEAGUE
Taylor is averaging just over 10 points per game for Virtus Roma this season, adding 3.3 assists and 1.6 rebounds per game. The two-time AP All-American at UW poured in a season-best 23 points in 35 minutes of action on Dec. 18. Taylor shot 10-of-12 from the free throw stripe, while adding four steals, three rebounds and three assists. He has also tallied scoring totals of 22, 19 and 15 points, reaching double digits in scoring nine times this season.
BRIAN BUTCH | BAKERSFIELD JAM | NBA D-LEAGUE
Butch has earned the starting nod in 11 of 12 games this season for the Bakersfield Jam, averaging 13.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. The former All-Big Ten performer has reached double figures in nine games this season, dropping 32 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks back in late November. Butch has earned six double-doubles this season, and has recorded 15 or more rebounds three times this season.
TREVON HUGHES | TBB TRIER (GERMANY) | BBL
The former Badgers point guard is averaging 15.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in Germany. Hughes, a 2013 Latvian Basketball League All-Star has reached double figures in 10 of 13 games this season, including a 30-point performance in 31 minutes of action on Oct. 12. Hughes also poured in 29 points and five assists in a Nov. 2 contest.
GREG STIEMSMA | NEW ORLEANS PELICANS | NBA
Stiemsma appeared in all eight games to start the season for the Pelicans but suffered a sprained left MCL in mid-November and has not returned to the lineup since. The former Minnesota T'Wolves center was averaging 2.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and a block per game prior to suffering the injury.
BADGERS IN PRO BASKETBALL IN 2013-14
||Telenet BC Oostende (EuroLeague)
||Bakersfield Jam (NBA D-League)
||Xion Dukes Klosterneuburg
||Dallas Mavericks (NBA)
||TBB Trier (BBL)
||Reno Bighorns (NBA D-League)
||New Orleans, La.
||New Orleans Pelicans (NBA)
||Virtus Roma (EuroLeague)
||Lukoil Academic Sofia
OK, I thought the Wisconsin men's basketball team had a chance to be good, but I will admit that the team's 12-0 start has me a bit surprised.
The victory last Saturday against Eastern Kentucky established the school's modern-era record, previously held by Stu Jackson's Badgers of the 1993-94 season. That group, led by players such as Michael Finley, Tracy Webster and Rashard Griffith, rolled through its first 11 games, breaking the 100-point mark four times.
Actually, the Badgers opened with consecutive games in triple digits. They started with a 106-84 thumping of Milwaukee. That was some payback for the Panthers beating Wisconsin the year before at the UW Field House.
Game two was in Los Angeles, where the Badgers rolled Loyola Marymount 103-67. That was the same evening as the Wisconsin-Michigan State football game in Tokyo. Maybe you remember -- there was a Rose Bowl bid at stake for Barry Alvarez's squad.
As the second half of the hoops tilt was progressing, even Stu wanted updates from Japan, so we helped him as best we could. It turned out to be a very good night for Badgers fans.
As impressive as the streak was 20 years ago -- and remember that team ended a 47-year NCAA tournament drought -- to me this season's start is even better.
Bo Ryan's bunch has navigated a very challenging schedule. Right away the Badgers faced St. John's, Florida and Green Bay. The Cancun Challenge was just that, as St. Louis and West Virginia provided stiff competition.
To say the least, the Virginia game was a grinder, and the annual battle with Marquette is never easy.
But, so far, the Badgers are unbeaten, and they have accomplished their record in a variety of ways.
While they are averaging just two more possessions per game than last season, it sure seems as though the Badgers are playing faster. Perhaps that is because the ball is going through the basket at a much better clip. Last year's team shot just 42 percent from the floor. The present squad is hitting 47 percent of its shots.
A major difference is at the free throw line. A staple of many of Bo Ryan's best teams -- at Wisconsin, Platteville or anywhere else -- is the ability to make more free throws than their opponents attempt.
At the 12-game mark, the Badgers have knocked down 196 throws, while opponents have ATTEMPTED just 166.
Last year's team shot just 63 percent from the foul line. It's at nearly 74 percent so far this season.
As Bo often says, it is amazing how good an offense looks when the shots are going down.
To this point in the season, the Badgers have been terrific at sharing the ball. The scoring balance is impressive. True freshmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig have proven they belong on the floor.
Frank Kaminsky has to be one of the nation's most improved players, and the return of Josh Gasser has helped in areas that will not show up in a box score.
The fact is every player has had a significant role, including those who are redshirting. To say the least, they have made for some very competitive practices.
I have been throwing out a lot of compliments so far, but I think the best part of this team is that it knows it can continue to get better.
Talent, work ethic and the willingness to keep learning. That is a good combination, and it is making the Badgers a very enjoyable team to watch.
It makes fans very eager for the games to resume on Dec. 28.
Unlike college football, where the coaches and Harris polls carry a ton of weight, the national polls in college hoops can help generate conversation and add hype to any number of games. Beyond that, the polls have little if anything to do with positioning teams for post season play.
But if you are a Badgers fan, it still is fun to see your team ranked sixth in this week's USA Today Coaches Poll and fourth in the Associated Press Top 25.
The team is off to its best start since Stu Jackson's squad began the 1993-94 season with 11 straight wins. What makes this year's effort even more impressive is the schedule it has had to navigate. Wisconsin started the week with five wins against teams ranked in the RPI top 50. No other team had more than two against that caliber of competition.
Yes, it is enjoyable to talk about the Badgers' current status in the polls. Head coach Bo Ryan gets it, but he will not get caught up in it. Never has. Never will.
"I don't pay attention to them (ratings), but I know other people do," said Ryan. "I think some people pay attention to them to a fault.
"I have always been honest with people. If you were to ask me today who is ranked where -- who is in front of us, who is behind us -- I could not tell you."
While some might find that difficult to believe, Ryan is nothing if not consistent. I remember many years ago asking him about his team being in the top 25. He said he had no idea where the Badgers were ranked. His focus is on helping his team get better and preparing for the next game.
Maybe that sounds boring. Then again, his teams win most of the time, and what is so boring about that?
Another thing to consider. When Ryan was leading UW-Platteville to title after title, the Pioneers were ranked No. 1 or No. 2 or a regular basis.
"If we have that number on our ranking, they (the opponents) wanna get us. So shhhhhh -- keep the ratings down," said the smiling head coach.
The Badgers' better-than-many-expected start included a milestone win for Ryan last Wednesday at Virginia. It was the 300th at Wisconsin for the 13th-year UW mentor. He became the ninth coach in conference history to hit that number at a Big Ten institution. The short list includes legends such as Bob Knight, Gene Keady, Tom Izzo and Lou Henson.
Many of Ryan's old friends and former teammates from Chester, Pa., and Wilkes College were in attendance for Wisconsin's hard-fought victory to get the coach into the "300 Club." It was good timing for such a gathering.
"I think the most important thing about that number is to think of all the players and all the people involved," he said.
"I think of the young men, the commitments they have made. How dedicated they were to getting in shape, doing the hills, doing all the work in the weight room. And all the coaches and the personnel that surround the basketball program. That makes the number."
The good news for the Badgers and their fans is the number continues to climb. In the meantime, while the head man appreciates all of those games where his team ended up on the "left hand side," he continues to focus on "next."
MADISON, Wis. -- Bo Ryan admitted Monday at his weekly news conference that he never pays attention to rankings and will not bring it up with his team this week or any week for that matter.
But that won't stop us from acknowledging the fact that Wisconsin has climbed to No. 4 in the latest AP rankings, its highest position since the 2006-07 season.
"This team's attention will be on the clips from Saturday and the UWM scouting report," Ryan said. "That's all we'll talk about. Now what they talk about in the locker room or on campus or anything else, I just hope they understand that they've done some things that put them in this position."
This "position" is rarefied air for the Badgers.
In the history of the AP poll, which began in 1949, Wisconsin is spending just its 13th week in the top five. In fact, prior to this week's appearance the only other time the Badgers climbed this high in the rankings was a 12-week run from Dec. 18, 2006 to March 5, 2007.
| Limited tickets are available for the Badgers' final three non-conference games.
- More Information
That 2006-07 team reached the No. 1 spot in the Feb. 19, 2007 AP poll. A position that Wisconsin did not hold for long Ryan joked with reporters.
"That lasted a long time," he said. "Seven days."
Upon reaching the top ranking, the 2006-07 Badgers dropped a pair of road contests at No. 2 Ohio State and at Michigan State. That team would go on to finish 30-6 and earn a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament before falling to UNLV in the second round.
At 10-0, this year's team has climbed from a preseason ranking of No. 20 up to No. 4 in six weeks. Now, it will likely deal with a sizeable target on its back. Something Ryan thinks the team is prepared for.
"Because of the leadership that we have, I think the right things are being said in the locker room and the right direction is being given out on the court with the players, with the upperclassmen. Even though it's not a real old group at all, there are guys that have been around. They've knocked off in years past teams that were highly ranked. So they know highly ranked teams are just as vulnerable as anybody else."
Wisconsin has three non-conference games remaining - all at home - beginning with in-state rival Milwaukee on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
CANCUN, Mexico -- Wisconsin's Sam Dekker took the question in an all-encompassing vein after the Badgers held off West Virginia, 70-63, Wednesday night to capture the Cancun Challenge in Rivera Maya, Mexico.
What was the difference tonight, Sam?
"Us staying solid," he said. "We started playing our game and that got us the early lead. We went up 30-13 and they battled back. They (the Mountaineers) are a good shooting team.
"We just had to weather the storm and that's what we've been doing so far this season (during a 8-0 start) and if we continue to do that it will be the difference in a lot of ball games."
But what was the difference tonight, Sam - in Sam - what was the difference in your game?
"Me playing confident," he said. "I came out early kind of looking for my shot. On my first touch I hit that turnaround jumper and that felt good, so I kept attacking."
West Virginia started a frontline of 6-9 Devin Williams, 6-9 Nathan Adrian and 6-10 Kevin Noreen. The Mountaineers opened in a man-to-man defense and Williams, a freshman, drew Dekker.
"They put a big guy on me and I just wanted to keep taking him in the hole," Dekker said, "and that kind of propelled me to stay active. I waited for my moments and when I saw openings, I attacked."
Dekker, at times, was dominant. In the first half, he had 10 points and eight rebounds in 15 minutes. That matched his career high in rebounds. Dekker had eight against Marquette last season.
For more context, he had nine rebounds in the previous three games combined. His previous high this season had been seven, which he collected twice - against St. John's and Green Bay.
"They're always on me about how I've got to rebound more," Dekker acknowledged. "I have to be more active and more aggressive and use my length to get those boards and I was able to do that."
Dekker finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds, his first career double-double. It was more in line with the lofty expectations for Dekker who had stellar high school and AAU resumes.
On what made the difference in Dekker's game against West Virginia, UW point guard Traevon Jackson said, "He had the instinct on when to take over the game."
In this case, it was from the on-set - and then again - over the last five minutes.
"He didn't care about messing up, he didn't care about what he did wrong," said Jackson, adding that everything was predicated on focusing "on the next play" or the next possession.
"That's what we need Sam to do for us to be the team that we want to be. He's such a competitor and he's hard on himself a lot."
Did Dekker feel like he had been putting too much pressure on himself, maybe pressing?
"Pressing? No, I don't think so," Dekker said. "I just think teams were playing some good 'D' on me and I wasn't hitting the open shot.
"But you can't get down on yourself. You have to come out and play every possession. Our coaches preach that and I know they have confidence in me."
The confidence was rewarded after West Virginia came roaring back in the second half on the strength of a quicker three-guard line-up and a zone defense that caused problems for the Badgers.
Dekker responded with some 3-point daggers. When the Mountaineers closed within five points, 56-51, he hit a triple with 4:51 left. He got another at 2:54 and yet another at 1:23.
"I was working the baseline and the high post area against their zone," Dekker said, "but Trae (Jackson) was doing a great job of driving and kicking and I was able to hit those '3s."
Jackson ended up with seven assists against West Virginia.
"When we moved the ball," Jackson said, "we got wide open shots."
His shot wasn't falling, though. Jackson was 1-of-9 from the field.
"At the end of the day, I've got to hit shots," he said. "True shooters shoot the same way every time, no matter where they're at. I got away from that when I missed a couple.
"Luckily my teammates were hitting and I was able to find them."
Jackson, like Dekker, has a tendency to be too hard on himself. Not only did Jackson have seven assists and just one turnover in 35 minutes, he had a career-high 10 rebounds.
"Look at his stat line," Dekker said. "That's a true point guard right there. He didn't shoot the ball very well, but he did things when we needed him and he was a difference-maker on the court."
Jackson couldn't remember the last time that he reached double-digits in rebounds. But he rationalized his board work by saying, "I can't be a liability on the floor, I've got to do something."
Jackson and Dekker were named to the All-Tournament team in Cancun after the Badgers knocked off St. Louis and West Virginia. Dekker was selected as the Most Valuable player.
"It's cool," said Dekker. "But I've said it before: when your team does well, individual accolades will come. We worked together as a team and I was blessed to be this situation and get this award."
From game to game, Dekker and Jackson agreed, it seems like someone different is doing something positive to help this team win. It speaks to the unselfishness of the players, young and old.
"We jell, we get along off the court really well, we're all best friends," observed junior guard Josh Gasser who missed all of last season after undergoing ACL surgery.
"When we're on the court, it's just fun for. We're playing together and when you've got a group of unselfish guys who really want to win - and have common goals - good things can happen."
What is their team strength?
"Our versatility at both ends of the court," said Gasser. "We've got guys who can play inside and out on offense and defense. That poses matchup problems for other teams.
"We can put together a lot of different combinations on the court. It's definitely a positive. And that's where the unselfishness comes in."
To the extent, Gasser suggested, that no one cares who scores.
"One night Frank (Kaminsky) will go off; another night it will be Sam or someone else," he said. "We have a different guy every night who can really carry the load.
"It all starts with Traevon (as the point guard) and the leadership and energy that a lot of us bring to the game. If you try to stop one guy, others will step up and pick him up."
The winning formula will be put to the test with the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at Virginia on Wednesday followed by Saturday's always intense intra-state rivalry with Marquette at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers are 8-0 for the first time in 20 years. Dekker won't turn 20 until May. Maybe it's the youth in the locker room. But nobody is satisfied.
"We can always get better," Jackson said.
Tuesday evening, Frank Kaminsky entered the Kohl Center boasting a career average of 3.2 points per game and a total of 26 points scored on the season. The UW junior exited the Kohl Center that night with a school record and whole lot of fame.
Thanks to his 43-point outburst in a 103-85 win over North Dakota, Kaminsky set the UW single-game record, a mark that had stood since 1965. He also set off a firestorm of chatter, headlining everything from ESPN's SportsCenter to trending worldwide on Twitter.
A few of Tuesday's tweets:
With each of his six 3-pointers and 16 total baskets, Kaminsky's celebrity status rose, as did his place in history. Let's examine that:
- Kaminsky's 43 points are the most scored by a Division I player this season.
- Kaminsky's 43 points equals the mark set by Illinois' Brandon Paul against Ohio State on 1/20/12 as the most by a Big Ten player since 1996-97. In fact, the Big Ten has produced only four 40-point games in the last 18 seasons.
- Over the last 15 years, Kaminsky and Central Michigan's Chris Kaman are the only 7-footers to score 40 points in a game.
- Kaminsky is one of just four Division I players since 1996-97 to score 43 points and shoot at least 84.0 percent from the field in a game.
- Kaminsky is one of four players to score at least 43 points against a Division 1 opponent in 28 minutes or less since 1996-97. The last player to do it was Davidson's Stephen Curry (43 points in 27 minutes vs. Appalachian State, 2009).