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Lucas at Large: Get to know Montana

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.''

Montana_Basketball.jpgTruth 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.

That's part of the big picture this week.

Lucas at Large: Badgers refocus on Michigan State

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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.)

UW vs Indiana-0166_crop.jpg"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.

The Voice: Big Ten provides challenging ballot

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgIn 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.

Lucas at Large: Bruesewitz braces for another Senior Day

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.''

120303_MBB_Taylor_Jordan.jpegTaylor'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.''

120303_MBB_Wilson_Rob.jpegAlthough 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.''

The Voice: Tough-minded Badgers will be tough out in tourney

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgWelcome to the Madness.

As the Big Ten season hits the final few days and more than a dozen other conference tournaments get going, let us just go ahead and welcome all those sports fans whose interest in college basketball picks up -- right about this time of year.

More than one week away from Selection Sunday, and already I have heard what has turned into an annual question. How far will the Badgers advance in the NCAA tournament?

Who knows? Can we at least wait for the tournament pairings?

Boring as it might sound, that is the best answer I can give. However, there are some signs that the Badgers once again could be a tough out in postseason play.

The effort last Sunday at Ohio State certainly gives fans reason to believe. After coming close against highly-ranked teams such as North Carolina, Marquette, Michigan State and the first matchup with the Buckeyes, Wisconsin broke through with a 63-60 victory in Columbus.

In sports, there are some games that you steal. This was not one of them. The Badgers won it. They won it with a big-league effort from Jared Berggren, Jordan Taylor and company. With Taylor, it is the latest chapter in a terrific career, but to see Berggren have success at both ends of the floor against OSU big man Jared Sullinger is encouraging. Yes, it is simply one game, but what a game it was.

How about the recent play of Rob Wilson? The senior can hear the clock ticking on his college basketball career, and he is playing as though he would like it to last several more weeks.

To make a long story short, it appears as though a certain All-America point guard is getting more and more help from players not named Jordan Taylor. In two of the previous three games prior to Tuesday night's 52-45 victory against Minnesota, Wisconsin had four players scoring in double figures. Against Ohio State there were three, with Wilson adding nine critical points off the bench.

It is no secret that opposing teams have tried to do everything possible to contain Taylor. Still, there are times when Taylor proves to be next to impossible to stop. Just ask the Gophers. However, on other nights, Taylor needs the other four on the floor to pick him up.  As the regular season comes to a close, the Badgers are showing they are capable of providing some balance.

"They're gonna have to," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "That is how you can get to keep playing. They are trying to be a more consistent unit, no matter who the five are on the court."

Against the Gophers, it was more a matter of Jordan needing to be Jordan. The senior guard knocked down 3 of 6 shots from 3-point range and then added 11 of 12 from the free throw line. Come tournament time, he may very well need to have a monster game --maybe more than one -- for Wisconsin to advance.

But perhaps the better chance for the Badgers would be if they are able to distribute the scoring.

On Tuesday, the Badgers finished a rather grueling stretch of playing three games in six days in three different cities. They won two of those, which assures the Badgers of a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament for the 12th-straight year.

And they are in line for a 14th-consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.

Some of the Badgers' games have been anything but pretty, but this streak of postseason appearances is a thing of beauty.
Bohannon_Zach_RW_2011-12 (3)_BLOG.jpgWisconsin freshman Jarrod Uthoff got a sneak preview Thursday night of the type of reception that he will likely receive in the near future at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

The noisy crowd (14,248) - which was bolstered by a special promotion (free admission to students) - serenaded UW guard Ben Brust with boos every time he touched the basketball.

Brust had originally signed a national letter of intent to attend Iowa. But the Big Ten granted him a release after the Hawkeyes fired Todd Lickliter - the coach to whom Brust had committed.

The circumstances are different for Uthoff, the reigning Mr. Basketball in Iowa. As a senior, Uthoff led the state in scoring as he averaged 26 points and 11 rebounds for Cedar Rapids Jefferson.

Uthoff had a sizeable contingent of family and friends at Thursday's game even though he never got off the bench for the Badgers. The 18-year-old Uthoff is redshirting this season.

"We think he's got a bright future and this has been a good year for Jarrod to improve and bang in practice against the guys that are ahead of him," said UW assistant coach Gary Close.

"He's added strength, which was a big reason why he redshirted in the first place."

The 6-foot-8 Uthoff has added 18 pounds and increased his weight to 210.

"We're putting money in the bank," said UW associate head coach Greg Gard, "and if you can leave it in there a little longer you're going to get a higher interest rate for that fifth year."

"Redshirting is never a mistake; it's very rare when you don't have a better fifth year than your first year," added Close. "Jarrod's game is coming around; you can see it every day in practice."

Working on the scout team against the starters, Uthoff has shown some offensive skills.

"He's pretty athletic and long," Close said. "He can shoot the 3 and score around the basket. If he can add some strength and different parts to his game, he has a chance to be a good player."

As redshirts, Uthoff and freshman point guard George Marshall have been able to go to school on what it takes to deliver a consistent performance level every day in practice.

"Along with the strength issues, that's the one thing freshmen have to comprehend and figure out," Gard said. "That's playing hard on every possession - every possession every day matters."

Among the Cedar Rapids metro high school programs, Uthoff is the first senior to be honored as Mr. Basketball in Iowa since 2006 when Linn-Mar's Jason Bohannon was so recognized.

Bohannon scored over 1,000 career points and played in the second most games (135) in school history during his four years at Wisconsin. Bohannon, like Brust, was booed at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

That same fate likely awaits Bohannon's younger brother, Zach Bohannon, who's sitting out the mandatory redshirt year after transferring from the Air Force Academy.

The 6-6, 210-pound Bohannon has two years of eligibility remaining.

"He's a smart and experienced player," Close said of ZBo. "Here's a guy who has played a lot of basketball at a high Division-1 level (Bohannon appeared in 39 games during his two years at Air Force).

"He can knock down shots - as all the Bohannon's can. He'll bang a little bit. He can pick-and-pop. He's a good passer and pretty versatile around the basket with his right or left hand."

Bohannon joined the UW program late last summer.

"One thing that will benefit him," Gard said, "is that he will have the spring and eight weeks in June and July to develop from a physical standpoint and reconfigure his body a little bit more."

That window, Gard pointed out, will also be valuable to incoming freshman Sam Dekker.

"He's physically starting to fill out and he already understands the importance of the weight room," Gard said. "He's not naïve or blinded by anything. He understands that he has to get stronger."

Last Tuesday night, Dekker scored 58 points in Sheboygan Lutheran's 80-73 win over Random Lake. He was 14-of-14 inside the arc, 5-of-10 on 3-pointers and 15-of-17 from the free throw line.

Dekker also had eight rebounds, five blocked shots and zero turnovers.

"A lot of guys can't get 58 points in a lay-up line much less in a basketball game," Close observed. "That's impressive and I don't care who you're playing against."

After watching Dekker play earlier this season, Close said, "He's a very versatile player in terms of being able to score in a lot of different ways. He's athletic, he plays hard and he's been well-coached.

"The fans here are going to love him."

Gard agreed about the dimension that Dekker can bring to the offense.

"He's a variety scorer," Gard said. "He can post. He'll rebound and go rim-to-rim with the ball. He's got great vision and he sees the whole floor. Plus, he's very unselfish."

What about transitioning from Sheboygan Lutheran's suspect competitive level to the Big Ten? Gard cited the experience Dekker has gained from playing against the best of the best in AAU basketball.

"He can more than hold his own," Gard said.

That's very true despite Dekker falling short of being named a McDonald's All-American.

"Maybe that's a benefit," Close said. "It's probably not fair because he certainly deserved it. But it's a chip that he can put on his shoulder as far as, 'Hey, I'm going to prove those people wrong.'

"Sam is that type of kid; he's very competitive. I think maybe in the long run it will help."

The Voice: Whatever the recipe, Badgers keep winning

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgWhile it is unlikely anyone associated with the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team will say it out loud, the Badgers appear to be in pretty decent shape for a 14th-consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.

Only Kansas, Duke and Michigan State have longer streaks. Meanwhile Texas, which like the Badgers has gone dancing for the last 13 years, would seem to have some work to do.

To be sure, the Longhorns could still make it, but they begin the week with a 7-8 conference record, and a ratings percentage index (RPI) of 59, according to

A couple of other traditional powers will need to win their conference tournaments to make the field. Pittsburgh is last in the Big East with a 4-11 record, while its RPI is 93. UCLA is 8-6 in the Pac-12, but has an RPI of 136.

In other words, dropping games to the Panthers and the Bruins, especially the latter, would be considered a bad loss. Imagine that.

The RPI is just one of several tools for the NCAA tournament selection committee, but clearly those numbers help demonstrate that Texas, Pitt and UCLA have had their struggles.

Meanwhile, the Badgers simply continue to win. On Sunday, Bo Ryan's bunch won its 20th game of year. That is six straight seasons of at least 20 victories, and the ninth in 11 years under Ryan. In the history of the program, the UW has 13 such seasons.

Perhaps even more telling is the fact that the Badgers can still finish in the top four of the Big Ten standings.

They would like to believe they can end up even higher, but for now, Wisconsin is a game-and-a-half ahead of fifth-place Indiana. If the Badgers hold on to that position, it would be the 11th-straight season of a fourth-place or better finish in the league.

Now that is impressive.  

Perhaps even more so this season. Yes, this team really struggles to score, but far more often than not, they defend. They protect the basketball. And they make free throws, especially late in games.

To this point of the season, that combination has helped the Badgers to the Big Ten's best road record.

With trips coming up to Iowa City and Columbus, that combo needs to be in play again.

Much has been made of Wisconsin's home record under Ryan, and much has been made of the Badgers' four Kohl Center losses this season. Understandable, but what many folks have missed is the success away from home.

Since Ryan became the head coach in Madison, no team in the Big Ten has been better outside of its own gym than the Badgers.

During that period, Wisconsin's 47 conference road wins is tied with Ohio State for the most in the league. Michigan State is next in line with 43.

The Badgers are not picky. They win here. They win there (stolen from Charlie Sheen).

Without a doubt, the Badgers would love to average more than the 60 points per game they manage in league play. But, if they score 52 and the opponent has 51, they will take it.

Especially at this stage of the season, when absolutely nothing is easy.

Against Penn State, the shots started to fall more frequently. Hopefully that is a sign of things to come.

However, if the offense starts scuffling again, the Badgers still can have a fighting chance, as long as the defense remains solid, they secure the basketball and they knock down pressure free throws.

That might end up being Wisconsin's winning recipe.

Of all the improbable achievements in Wisconsin athletics history, the 2001-02 Badger men's basketball team has to rank among the most remarkable.

With a roster featuring just one returning starter and only eight scholarship players, first-year head coach Bo Ryan watched his squad struggle to a 1-4 start. Incredibly, Ryan's team would spend the next four months battling back to earn a share of the school's first Big Ten championship in 55 years.

At halftime of Sunday's 65-55 win over Penn State, the University of the Wisconsin honored the 10-year anniversary of that 2002 Big Ten Championship team.

As seen in the video above, members of the team and staff were introduced Sunday to a standing ovation from a capacity Kohl Center crowd.

The 2001-02 Badgers won their final six conference games to finish the season with a 19-13 record, including an 11-5 mark in Big Ten play. Wisconsin earned a share of the Big Ten Conference title for the first time since 1947 and earned the league's No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. UW would advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament that year before falling to eventual national champion Maryland.

Ryan became the first-ever Badger coach to earn Big Ten Coach of the Year honors after leading UW to 19 wins, most ever for a first-year coach. He also became just the 10th coach in conference history to win a league title in his first season.


Lucas at Large: Breslin Center a baptism for Kaminsky

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Bloody but unbowed has been a cliche but apt metaphor for the Wisconsin-Michigan State series. Whenever these rivals meet, it seems, there's figuratively some blood spilt.

That doesn't include the occasional bad blood that has existed over the past decade.

After Thursday's slugfest, UW junior Jared Berggren was sporting five stitches under his chin. At one point, Berggren's blood had to be literally wiped off the court after the wound reopened.

Kaminsky_Frank_UWM_2011-12_Ament.jpgThere may be no better classroom in the Big Ten than the Breslin Center. After the 69-55 loss in East Lansing, Mich., Berggren conceded, "There's a lot to learn from."

Frank Kaminsky was in lockstep with Berggren's thinking.

"A game like this really teaches you what you need to improve on," said Kaminsky, the 6-foot-11, 230-pound freshman center from Lisle, Ill. "I'm going to take a lot away from this."

This was just another chapter in Kaminsky's orientation to the Big Ten. On this night, the teaching assistants were 6-9, 270-pound Derrick Nix and 6-10, 240-pound Adreian Payne.

"I learned how to fight back," Kaminsky said. "If they're pushing, you've got to push right back. You can't let down at any point in the game or they will take advantage of you.

"Everyone is big, everyone is strong. You have to neutralize their strength somehow. You've got to be smarter about the plays that you can go out there and make. That's what I'm learning right now."

There was one sequence where Nix was able to school Kaminsky on the low post. "They exploited me a little bit on defense," Kaminsky admitted. "I have to work harder."

Despite a baptism under fire to the raucous Izzone environment - not to mention dealing with MSU's imposing frontline, which also includes Draymond Green - Kaminsky did some good things.

While playing a Big Ten-high 12 minutes, Kaminsky grabbed a career-high six rebounds.

Speaking to the rebounding total which was split evenly (three each) between the offensive and defensive glass, UW associate head coach Greg Gard said, "I thought he was active that way."

Moreover, he noticed, "I don't think Frank was out of his element in any way."

On one possession, Gard said Kaminsky turned down a shot in transition that he needed to take. He also took a shot at the end of the clock when he could have kicked and gotten a better one.

His decision-making will improve with more experience, Gard implied.

But it's the physical part of the game that needs to be addressed during the off-season.

"Physically, he's adequate, but he's not where he needs to be," Gard said. "He needs another year of conditioning and weight lifting. He needs to change and reconfigure his body a little."

That's all part of getting a Big Ten education, particularly for a first-year player.

Nobody exposes you quicker than Michigan State, either.

"Enjoying and embracing the physical nature of the game is one thing that freshmen don't quite understand until they go through it a time or two," Gard said.

"Thursday's game will be a good reference point for Frank because now he has some understanding on why he needs to get stronger and the benefits that he can derive from it.

"We're so adamant about imposing your will and not backing down. That goes along with the fact we're always talking about playing physical without fouling; all the things that really good teams do.

"Maybe this knowledge will help him push through another set of squats in the weight room. Or maybe it will drive him to go a little harder when he's running the hill, whatever it may be."

Nix's steady development can be a case study for others in the conference. Since he weighed 340 pounds in high school, he has been reshaping his body. He's now down to 270.

Nix averaged only eight minutes of playing time his first two seasons with the Spartans. He's now up to 19, and he has become an integral contributor to the team's success around the rim.
What are the chances that the UW's Evan Anderson could play that role in the future? The 6-10, 260-pound Anderson, a redshirt freshman Eau Claire North, definitely has appealing size and strength.

"I think he's almost at the point where he can play right now and help," Gard said. "I really liked what I've seen. Not everything is perfect but he has a competitive fire about him.

"Evan has a little bit of a nasty edge. He just has to learn to polish up that nastiness to where he's not fouling all the time. But I don't see any reason why he can't come along the same path as Nix.

"He's a huge body and he loves to play physical. We need more of that."

During Wednesday night's practice at the Breslin Center, UW coach Bo Ryan was not satisfied with the work of his "bigs" so he pulled Anderson off the scout team and had him run with the starters.

"Some experience will do wonders for him," Gard said. "When he has been with me on the scout team, you can park him on the block and do some of the things Michigan State does (with Nix).

"There's no reason why he can't play for us down the road, if not sooner. He's never going to be light of foot or a leaper. But I see bigs across the country that aren't that way but they're effective.

"Hopefully we can get to the point with Evan where we can get him into the game for short spurts. It doesn't have to be eight minutes at a time - but a minute here and two minutes there."
That would apply, Gard suggested, "Whether he sinks or swims."

Which, he added, is the only way you learn how to swim.

Just ask Kaminsky who got his feet wet Thursday night in the shark tank.

Is Taylor still in the running for Big Ten Player of the Year?

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MBB_POY_sm.jpgAs the regular season winds down, the annual postseason award debates will ramp up all over college basketball. The Big Ten Player of the Year race is coming into focus, but the final six games could go a long way in deciding the winner.

As a preseason All-America and All-Big Ten selection, senior Jordan Taylor's name has been on the conference player of the year short list since November.

However, after seeing a dip in his scoring from last season, Taylor's name probably isn't at the top of anyone's list. But is it close?

Looking at the current player of the year lists from three writers who cover the Big Ten -- Sporting News' Mike DeCourcey,'s Myron Medcalf  and's Tom Dienhart -- each have Taylor third in the running behind Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and Michigan State's Draymond Green.

That sounds fair considering the raw numbers during conference play:
• Sullinger (18.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg)
• Green (14.6 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 3.5 apg)
• Taylor (17.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.3 apg)

Perhaps the overall conference race will play as big of a factor as any in the player of the year voting.

If Wisconsin (which sits 1.0 game out of first place behind the Buckeyes and Spartans) can finish as Big Ten champions, it would be pretty hard to argue that any player is more valuable to his team's success than Taylor.

Taylor and the Badgers have two head-to-head opportunities with MSU and OSU to prove their worth. That starts Thursday in East Lansing.