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This week your friendly blogger will take a break from all things Badger football and focus on the basketball squad.
Yes, at times it has been a rough non-conference season. When you consider the season-ending knee injury to Josh Gasser, and Mike Bruesewitz being in and out of the lineup, the Badgers became a much younger team.
Given that, one might argue the Badgers have over-scheduled in the non-conference.
Take a look at the rest of the Big Ten. Five teams in the league played one true road game. One team will not have a true road tussle until conference play begins.
The Badgers are one of six Big Ten teams to play two games in what can be termed hostile environments. Four of the six were sent packing for one game as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The other two, Wisconsin and Illinois, simply scheduled a couple of trips on their own. Prior to winning the Maui Invitational, the Illini stopped in Honolulu to play Hawaii. Illinois also owns the Big Ten's most impressive road win to date after beating Gonzaga, 85-74.
It is fair to suggest that the Badgers' roadies at Florida and at Marquette are as tough as it gets in the Big Ten and probably beyond. While the results were not what Bo Ryan and company would prefer, it could end up making them stronger.
The Badgers are going through some growing pains, and everyone has a chance to observe them. The backcourt is young, and at times, can struggle. Most young players have their ups and downs, but fans should be encouraged by the upside of this group.
In the recent game against Green Bay, the Badgers recovered from a very bumpy start. Providing a spark was redshirt freshman George Marshall, who drilled a couple of 3-point shots. Traevon Jackson is showing signs of settling, as he was turnover-free and had two steals against the Phoenix. Those two continued to show progress last Saturday against Milwaukee.
And let's face it, there is a buzz when freshmen Sam Dekker and Zak Showalter step on the floor. They both continue to learn what Bo Ryan wants done and how he wants it done, but how do you not love the energy of these first-year players? You want to try to get to a loose ball before Showalter? Do so at your own risk.
As the head coach has stated, everyone needs to bring a little more to the table, both the veterans and the rookies. While Bruesewitz fights through a brutally frustrating stretch of injuries, fellow seniors Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren are fully aware of what they need to do. Both are proven players in this league, and no doubt, they are eager to crank up the volume as conference play approaches.
I guess I have been around Bo Ryan's teams long enough to know that what you see in November and December isn't necessarily what you see later in the season. His teams have a seemingly uncommon ability to improve. With the Big Ten looking to be as good as it has been in quite awhile, getting better is a necessity this winter.
This is where such a difficult pre-conference schedule can help. The venues in Gainesville and Milwaukee were loud, and there was little in the way of Badger Love in either location. The players have now been exposed to that type of atmosphere.
They will have faced Creighton, Virginia and yes, the state's other Division I schools. I include Green Bay and Milwaukee because you have to figure Wisconsin is a game they circle, and they always have a thorough scouting report on the Badgers.
The conference season will provide few, if any, so-called breathers. The Badgers' schedule through the last month-and-a-half could very well have them more prepared than most for what lies ahead.
History tells us it is worth watching to find out.
Defending the 3-point line
Wednesday night's top-25 match-up between Wisconsin and Florida is a case of strength vs. strength. Last season the Gators led the NCAA in made 3-pointers per game with an average of 9.5 per outing and shooting at rate of 38 percent. Florida's backcourt of Kenny Boyton (266) and Mike Rosario (187) have made a combined 453 3-pointers in their careers. To put that into perspective, UW's active leader in made triples is Ben Brust... with 62.
The good news is, Wisconsin ranked second in all of the NCAA in fewest 3-pointers allowed a year ago, surrendering just 3.6 per game and allowing opponents to made just 29 percent (11th in the country). In fact, only once did a UW opponent make at least nine 3-pointers in a game last season, and that was Iowa with 10.
Putting up a fence along the perimeter is pivotal vs. the Gators.
Two of the best BIG shooters
A one-on-one match-up to keep an eye on in this game is the battle between Florida's 6-foot-10 forward Erik Murphy and the Badgers' 6-foot-10 forward Jared Berggren. What you'll be watching is two of the best big-man shooters in all of college basketball.
Among players 6-foot-10 or taller, Murphy and Berggren finished first and third, respectively in made 3-pointers last season. Murphy knocked down 59-of-140 shots from downtown and Berggren connected on 42-of-121.
Tempo, tempo, tempo
Wednesday night's game figures to be a baptism by fire for Wisconsin's young backcourt. Florida is a team conditioned on pressure defense and forcing turnovers. And after seeing the cramped nature of the O'Connell Center (the O-Dome), I can understand why. The sidelines are so close to the court, they feel like extra defenders.
The Gators - who forced 19 turnovers in their season opener - forced 10 or more turnovers in 29 of their 37 games a year ago. In recent memory, protecting the ball has been a major strength of the Wisconsin program. In fact, over the last three seasons, the Badgers have finished No. 1, No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation in fewest turnovers per game.
But that was the Jordan Taylor era.
Now, redshirt freshman George Marshall and sophomore Treavon Jackson are thrust into the spotlight, and into the blender. How the young guys handle it will be of great interest.
When thinking about the tempo of this game, think about UW's game at North Carolina early in the season a year ago. The Tarheels wanted to play fast and loose and turn it into a high-possession game (at least 140 total possessions). Florida will have similar ambitions.
In Chapel Hill, the Badgers dictated the tempo and kept the game to just 123 total possessions. That kept Wisconsin in it until the end, when UNC pulled out the 60-57 win.
Look for a similar recipe in Gainesville if the Badgers are going to pull off the early-season upset.
For Badgers fans, it has the makings of a fun debate. What is more impressive, Ron Dayne's NCAA rushing record, or Montee Ball being on the brink of the NCAA record for touchdowns?
Going into Saturday's final home game against Ohio State, Ball has reached the end zone 77 times. Former Miami University star Travis Prentice holds the mark with 78, set between 1996-99. Along the way this fall, Ball has passed the likes of Mr. Dayne, as well as Cedric Benson and Ricky Williams, among others.
When the senior from Wentzville, Mo., takes the field on Saturday, Ball will be making his 29th career start. In other words, Ball has done most of his work in what amounts to two-and-a-half seasons.
Two years ago, when the Badgers beat then-No. 1 Ohio State, Ball had as many carries as you did -- none. For a brief time, he thought maybe he should move to linebacker.
I think this running back thing has turned out reasonably well for him.
This is an exciting time for Ball and his teammates. If Montee can break the record against the Buckeyes, great. If it happens next week, that's OK too. If it happens, fans and everyone else should appreciate Ball's amazing statistics that he put together in such a short period of time.
However, before I automatically say one NCAA record is better than the other, it is worth reminding ourselves when Ron Dayne was on the field, everyone in the stadium knew who was getting the football.
In the "Dayne Era," the Badgers were very much a running team. In Dayne's years, the most passing yards the Badgers produced was 2,042 in 1997. In Ball's time, the fewest yards through the air was in 2010, when Scott Tolzien and company threw for 2,593.
Last year, with Russell Wilson working his magic, the Badgers passed for 3,280 yards.
My point here is that, by and large, the UW offense has been much more balanced. Maybe not as much this season, but overall, during Montee's time, opposing defenses had to be quite concerned about the passing game.
When Ron played, it seemed as though the Badgers could publically announce -- "Hey (name the opponent), we are giving the ball to Ron, and he's going to run this way. Try to stop him." Probably not quite that simple, but you get the idea.
Also, keep in mind that in several games, Barry Alvarez pulled Dayne fairly early. It is not unreasonable to believe that Dayne could have added another 1,000 to 1,500 yards to his final rushing total.
The bottom line is both records are phenomenal, and both are individual marks requiring special performances from teammates. Dayne and Ball are both quick to credit their offensive lineman and everyone else who helped pave the way.
No doubt Ohio State has other ideas, but in a perfect world for Bucky Backers, Ball breaks the record on a game-winning score. Then UW fans can celebrate and further discuss which record is better.
* * * *
Now a quick note about a couple of early season basketball games where organizers had their hearts in the right place, but maybe needed a little better planning.
Last Friday, Ohio State and Marquette were scheduled to play on the deck of the USS Yorktown in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. Because of too much condensation on the floor, the game never started.
Also on Friday, the USS Bataan was the venue for the Florida-Georgetown tilt. They played one half, but because the floor became too slippery, so there was no second half.
Saluting the men and women of the armed forces via some college basketball games is a great idea, but maybe playing the games on big boats should be reconsidered.
Bo Ryan, at one time a sergeant in the United States Army, would love to play a game on an army base.
"Sergeant Ryan could coach the Badgers, against, well, maybe (Duke coach Mike) Krzyzewski," said the Badgers' boss. Krzyzewski was in the U.S. Army from 1969-74. Ryan served two years. I am guessing the number of Division I basketball coaches with military service would make for a short list.
Ryan has no interest in playing on boats, but hopefully at some point Bo can get his wish and honor the brave men and women who serve our country. Just make sure they play the game in a real gym.
Junior Zach Bohannon (Marion, Iowa) will be a season-long guest contributor for CBSSports.com. Here is his first blog entry.
By Zach Bohannon
There are seven letters, two words, and one phrase that no athlete, but more specifically, no basketball player, ever wants to hear over his entire career: Torn ACL.
It can bring that player to immediate tears. But as I found out on Saturday, it can bring many of his teammates to tears as well. This is my story from the perspective of a teammate who witnessed the knee of Josh Gasser, the starting point guard for the Wisconsin Badgers, buckle right before his eyes.
The scariest part of the whole play was how routine and seemingly innocent it really was. We were scrimmaging during a typical Saturday morning practice. Josh was on a fast break and planted his left foot. His knee gave out. It was that simple.
Athletes hear all the time, "Play every play like it's your last," but this was one of the moments that made me take a step back and understand what that statement truly meant. I was less than 10 feet behind him trailing the play. I heard the piercing scream come out of his mouth as he crumbled to the ground. I tried to keep him calm and said, "You're fine, take some deep breaths." However, Josh knew, and shot back sharply, "No, I'm not fine!"
Everyone in the gym fell quiet. Nothing could be said. We all saw our athletic trainer and team doctor immediately test out his left knee on the court. We all prayed for the best, though we knew we had no choice but to expect the worst.
As we saw Josh get helped off the floor, none of it seemed real. Josh was the last person you expected this to happen to. Josh seemingly had no kryptonite; he was indestructible to us. Our team tried to put the shock of what we had just seen behind us. After about an hour of more practicing, Coach [Bo] Ryan called us in and told us before we did our final shooting drill we would all have a chance to see Josh before he left for the hospital. As we filed in one by one to the training room, each one of us had a moment to spend with Josh. Many of us hardly said a word; it was a quick good luck with a handshake or a hug for most. It was a very somber moment because we all knew the magnitude of the earthquake that had just shaken our team.
As practice ended and my teammates went their separate ways, we all had a day of grieving for Josh. Not because of the basketball player he is, but more importantly, for who he is as a person and what he represents for our program and for the state of Wisconsin. He truly is, and always will be, the face of our program. I personally was sick to my stomach the rest of the day because Josh is the last kid you would ever want something so devastating to happen to. However, as Josh tweeted (@JPGasser21) on that night, "Wow thanks for the support everyone. Really tough time but I will be okay.. Our team won't skip a beat, trust me. #OnWisconsin."
Throughout the mystery of life, you can think all you want about what could have, should have, or would have been? However, the greatest success stories in sports are of teams and individuals who use adversity to their advantage and come roaring back unified like never before.
Our team started the process of unification on Sunday.
Of course we were all upset and it was hard to imagine playing without Josh, but at that moment, we all realized the past is now behind us and we, as a team, had no choice but to play the ball where it lies. I will be the first to admit that our ball is in the deep rough, but all it takes is one shot to knock us back onto the green. As long as we can keep this hole under control and the damage to a minimum, we will be rewarded on the next drive with the addition of Mike Bruesewitz. Mike, who most fans recall him as "carrot top," was another player lost a few weeks ago when he suffered a seven-inch laceration during practice. At the time of his injury, our team had no idea the severity of it. We are fortunate enough to know that he will be back on the floor battling with us soon.
Our success on the court as a team will not be dictated by a few minor setbacks this season. Josh, the floor general, might be out for the year, but Josh, the leader, will be with us every step of the way on our journey toward success. And I promise you, we will have success.
For all Badger fans out there, do not let your support falter or downgrade the season due to a couple of injuries. As Josh himself said, he will be "OK." He will be back next year, stronger than ever. But the moment is now for Wisconsin basketball. There are five seniors in our locker room who must be sent out the right way.
Yes, we have had a few bumps in the road thus far that have damaged us physically. But the heart and soul of our team will not be touched, regardless of whatever adversity that is thrown our way. Our team has no choice but to continue to get better and stronger each day as one. Our focus is on the present, as shall everyone else's be in their own lives. On, Wisconsin!
Watch sports long enough, and it can be easy to believe you have seen just about everything.
Then there was last Saturday, when the UW basketball team lost point guard Josh Gasser for the season with a torn ACL. A few hours later, the football team lost starting quarterback Joel Stave.
Never mind the fact the football game ended with a gut-wrenching loss to rival Michigan State. I am just wondering how many major college football and basketball programs lost a QB and a lead guard on the same day?
Before I go any further, it is unlikely any Maryland Terrapins followers will be shedding too many tears, at least when it comes to losing quarterbacks. The Terps have lost four -- count 'em, four -- signal callers this season. Word is the "next man in" will be either a converted linebacker or a converted tight end.
Then there is the case of South Carolina star running back Marcus Lattimore, who came back from a knee injury in 2011. During last Saturday's game with Tennessee, Lattimore hyperextended his right knee, damaging several ligaments. It is not a pretty video.
When these things happen, especially close to home, I find myself getting ticked off at the circumstances. It is a very real question to wonder how Stave and Gasser's injuries will affect the Badgers. But for now, I think about a promising quarterback who is hurt, and very tough junior guard who busted his tail the entire off season, only to find out he won't have a season -- at least this season.
Trust me, I understand there are a lot worse things that can happen to people. Unfortunately, lately, I have had the chance to see a lot of that up close. What I am talking about here is the sometimes cruel nature of sports, and how the fortunes of a team, and more specifically a player, can turn on a dime.
During this open week in the football schedule, coach Bret Bielema, his staff and his players will move forward. Everyone will do his part to support Danny O'Brien and Curt Phillips (think about what he has gone through in his career), and the Badgers will continue to prepare each day for the stretch drive of the regular season. They do so knowing a trip to Indianapolis is still in their hands.
As for basketball, Bo Ryan has proven to be a master of dealing with adversity. He is hardly a rookie at this stuff. His first year as Wisconsin's head man, Ryan lost promising guard Latrell Fleming because of a heart condition, and big man Andreas Helmigk to a knee injury. A couple of years later, Alando Tucker's season was cut short because of a broken foot. Late in the 2007 season, Brian Butch dislocated his elbow. A few years later, Jon Leuer missed half of the Big Ten season because of a broken wrist.
Watch sports long enough and it is wise to understand that sometimes things happen that seem unfair.
A few days ago, Badger fans were excited about an improving football team and its young quarterback. The basketball backers already knew about Josh Gasser, and were eager to see him play the point.
By Saturday night, the mood had changed. Yes, I too am curious at how the two teams will respond. History tells me they will have no shortage of resolve.
But above all else, I just wish the best for the injured players. Yes, they know the risks involved, and now they are going through the lousy part of athletics. I look forward to watching them get back in the arena, so they can once again experience the far more enjoyable side of sports.
The Wisconsin men's basketball team didn't end up playing basketball with President Barack Obama Thursday (they still might down the road), but it wasn't for lack of effort by junior Zach Bohannon.
The Badgers did end up getting a private meet-and-greet with the president before Obama addressed a crowd on campus.
While connections from freshman George Marshall sealed the deal to meet Obama, Bohannon's full-court press via Twitter got the ball rolling. Here is a sampling of some of Bohannon's nearly 100 Tweets aimed at Obama and his staff.
the men's hoops season looming and Wisconsin fans in anticipation of yet
another season of Badger basketball, a handful of former UW hoopsters are
beginning their journey at the next level.
NBA training camp officially tipped off Tuesday, and all five former Badgers in the NBA are suiting up with new squads in 2012-13.
Devin Harris - Atlanta Hawks
2011-12 Stats: 11.3 PPG, 5.0 APG, 1.0 SPG
Harris begins the 2012-13 season with his fourth NBA team and will be expected to take over the reins at the point following the abrupt trade of all-star Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets. The 2004 Big Ten Player of the Year joins a relatively young roster that includes only seven players with five or more years of NBA experience but has the luxury of one of the more explosive front courts in the entire NBA with Josh Smith and Al Horford at the forward and center positions, respectively. Harris is no stranger to the spotlight and will be asked to anchor a squad that has been on the brink of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals each of the past three seasons.
- VIDEO: Harris at Hawks' media day
Alando Tucker -
2011-12 Stats: 14.5 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.7
APG (Texas Legends -NBDL)
After eclipsing Michael Finley as UW's all-time leading scorer and earning AP
First-Team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year honors in 2007, Tucker entered
the NBA Draft and was selected 29th overall by the Phoenix Suns. The Illinois
native signed with one other NBA squad (Minnesota T'Wolves) before bouncing
around various NBDL and overseas franchises. Tucker will now begin his NBA
journey with the Milwaukee Bucks, where he will aim to make an impression on a
team that has been plagued by inexperience at the small forward position in recent
Greg Stiemsma -
2011-12 Stats: 2.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.6
The T'Wolves were a force last season, nearly making the playoffs for the first
time since 2003. Steisma begins a new chapter with Minnesota in 2012 after
earning his way onto the Boston Celtics roster last year, and earning valuable
minutes and the respect of the coaching staff and teammates, including future
Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett. The Randolph, Wisconsin, natives' persistent
mindset paid off with a free agent offer sheet from the T'Wolves who will
expect Stiemsma to bring the same defensive intensity and shot-blocking ability
that made him a fan-favorite in Boston.
- VIDEO: 1-on-1 with Stiemsma
Jon Leuer - Cleveland
2011-12 Stats: 4.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG, .508
After being drafted by the Bucks in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft and
spending the lockout-shortened 2012 NBA season in Milwaukee, Leuer will begin
his sophomore campaign with the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers. Leuer showed
flashes of stardom in his rookie season, appearing in 46 of 60 games played and
tallying season-highs of 19 points (Chicago - 1/27/12) and nine rebounds (L.A.
Clippers - 1/27/12), and will be expected to play a vital role on a young, yet
resurging Cavs squad that is led by 2012 Rookie of Year, Kyrie Irving, at the
point guard position.
Brian Butch - Utah Jazz
2011-12 Stats: 15.3 PPG, 9.8 RPG (Bakersfield Jam-NBDL)
After a stint with the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2012 Summer League, Butch's
resilience has landed him a spot on the Jazz's NBA training camp roster. The Polar
Bear last spent time in the NBA during the 2010-11 season, signing a 10-day
contract with the Denver Nuggets. Butch is battling back from the latest in a
long line of injuries and looking to make the final roster on a Jazz team that
has just one other NBA veteran (Al Jefferson) taller than 6-feet-10.
Ten additional former Badgers have signed contracts to play professionally overseas for the 2012-13 season.
|Badgers Playing Professionally Overseas
||Xion Dukes Klosterneuburg
||TED Kolejliler Ankara
||Neckar Riesen Ludwigsburg
||Ydra Asfalistiki ENAD|
As the calender gets set to turn to October, official preseason basketball polls will start to roll in. The Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook gets the prize for being first.
Wisconsin checks in at No. 23 in the Blue Ribbon poll, one of four Big Ten teams in the top 25. Indiana is their preseason favorite, followed by Michigan at No. 5, Michigan State at No. 7, Ohio State at No. 17.
In all, the Badgers are scheduled to play eight games against teams in the Blue Ribbon Top 25, including six games against top-10 teams - Indiana (1), Michigan (5), two vs. Michigan State (7), Florida (8) and Creighton (10).Blue Ribbon preseason Top 25:
4. NC State
7. Michigan State
9. North Carolina
11. Saint Louis
17. Ohio State
21. Notre Dame
This Friday evening, the University of Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame will add six new members -- Jim Haluska, Jim Haines, Lawrence Johnson, Karen Lunda, Cory Raymer and Dick Bennett.
In Varsity magazine a couple of weeks ago, Mike Lucas took us down memory lane with Raymer, the All-America center who helped the Badgers to their first-ever Rose Bowl victory, as well as with Coach Bennett, who no doubt is best known for leading the Badgers on the magical run to the 2000 Final Four.
In addition to being a great player, Raymer was a reporter's dream. Maybe the best way to describe Cory Raymer is by saying he was John Moffitt before we ever heard of John Moffitt. During a media day, some photographers were gathering players for various photos. Raymer emerged from the tunnel and heard his name. The center responded "I answer to anything with 'dumb' in front of it."
Raymer was dumb like a fox.
The media loved Bennett, as well. He liked to tell fans that he could show Barry Alvarez's football team how to pass, while Coach Alvarez's boys could teach the basketball squad how to run.
But never confuse their sense of humor with their competitive nature. No doubt the desire to maximize his or her potential is what drove each member in the Class of 2012.
Wrestler Jim Haines overcame a knee injury and competed in the 1976 Olympic Summer Games. The following season at Wisconsin, Haines became an NCAA champion by beating Big Ten rival Mike McArthur of Minnesota.
Former coach Duane Kleven says Haines had a combination of toughness and smarts that made him extra special, referring to him as a "mental giant." When his wrestling days were done, Haines became a coach -- of girls' softball at Pepin High School. He led his team to two state titles.
With this year marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX, one could make a strong argument that Karen Lunda is one of the more important athletes in UW history. Lunda lettered both in field hockey and soccer. While attending Madison West High School, she also played tennis, softball and competed in speed skating.
After starring in field hockey in her first three years at UW, the school dropped the program, so she turned her attention to the new varsity sport on campus, soccer.
In 1981, Lunda became the first Badger women's soccer All-American. More than three decades later, she remains the UW single-season leader in goals (22), assists (18) and total points (62). Her coach, Craig Webb, believes if Karen Lunda played soccer today, she would be an Olympic gold medalist.
Lawrence Johnson also was a two-sport athlete. A Big Ten champion in four events in track, Johnson was an All-America defensive back for the Badgers in 1978. His coaches said he played man coverage better than anyone on the team, and opposing coaches must have agreed. Johnson's interception total was modest, in large part because quarterbacks would tend not to test him.
Johnson also likes to tell the story of how, in his freshman year, there was a 100-yard dash after a practice. Before the race, his new football teammates must have had little if any knowledge of Johnson's speed. Halfway through the race, they found out. Simply put, Lawrence Johnson was more than a track star who could play football, or vice-versa. He simply was a star in both sports.
Today, Badger football fans are well aware of transfer quarterbacks, but the story might not be as new as you think.
In 1950, Jim Haluska enrolled at Michigan. In time, he decided that Ann Arbor was not for him, so the Racine native returned to his home state. In 1952, he went from being the fifth-string quarterback to the starter. A few months later, Haluska led the league in completion percentage, and the Badgers were Rose Bowl-bound for the first time in school history.
Each inductee should be very proud to be a UW Athletic Hall of Famer. That elite group grows to 190 members. What already is a good "team" is about to get even better.
The U.S. men's basketball team is well on its way to gold in the 2012 Summer Olympics and has sparked debate about how it would stack up with the 'Dream Team' from the 1992 games.
UWBadgers.com writer Mike Lucas took a whack at putting together what a Badgers 'Dream Team' would look like from the Bo Ryan era (2001-2012, current players excluded). His task was to come up with a 12-man "team," not necessarily the best 12 players from the last decade.
Here is what he came up with. Who would you pick?