Few college basketball “experts” gave the 2009-10 University of Wisconsin basketball team much of a chance to make the NCAA Tournament, let alone even success in the Big Ten. As the year’s basketball preseason campaign kicked off, the Big Ten media predicted Wisconsin to finish seventh. How quickly they forget that any Bo Ryan led team will be strongly disciplined, play hard core defense, unselfish offense and not make many mistakes. The Badgers perfected the plan and exceeded most if all expectations finishing an impressive 13-5 in conference play and 23-7 overall. Poised with the Senior leadership of Trevon Hughes (15.4 PPG) and Jason Bohannon (12.0 PPG) with Juniors Jon Leuer (14.9 PPG) and Keaton Nankivil, the Badgers are now a lock for “The Dance”.
The turning point of the season came early during the Maui Invitational. After stunning Arizona and the next day performing poorly in an ugly 74-61 loss to Gonzaga, the Badgers began to click and easily defeated #21 Maryland. Returning home to the Kohl Center with momentum, the Badgers defeated #6 Duke 73-69 in a thrilling Big Ten-ACC Challenge match up. That was the springboard that put Wisconsin back on the national scene.
The Badgers experienced few letdowns all season, but just one week later after beating the Blue Devils, they lost to in state rival Wisconsin-Green Bay casting doubts once again. But six wins a row following the loss to the Phoenix including victories over Marquette and Ohio State put the Badgers back on track. In early January, undefeated #4 Purdue came to Madison to have their winning streak get thwarted by the Badgers. Junior sharp shooter Jon Leuer left the game with an injury that turned out to be a mild fracture. Losing a key player early in conference play would seem to doom the Badgers, but the team took the attitude of “Leuer is in foul trouble and out of the game” and went 7-2 in his absence. Now, it appears that the Badgers are firing on all cylinders poised for a run in the Tournament.
Wisconsin to most outside of the Badger Nation is one of those teams that appear as a mere nuisance. They lack a prolific scorer and “big guy” to dominate in the middle. The pace is slower and yet the Badgers always seem to find a way to wear their opponent down and win. But that is exactly how Bo Ryan and Badger fans like it. Despite a prolific winning dominance at home under Ryan,( 120-10 .923), Wisconsin has never made it out of the sweet sixteen in the NCAA Tournament under his leadership, but this year that could all change.
As a teen growing up in Madison, WI in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I attended and witnessed many brutal performances by the University of Wisconsin basketball team. The Badgers were usually fighting their way out of the bottom of the Big Ten, but that began to change in the late 1980’s under Steve Yoder. Later as a student at Wisconsin, I had the privilege to play in the UW Band and witness my team grow from terrible to more mediocre, cumulated by an NIT birth in 1989 that was the program’s first post season appearance since 1947. How things have changed. Now, I am a seasoned Wisconsin Alumnus eager with anticipation to predict Wisconsin rise and make it to the Elite Eight and who knows, maybe even more. Ironically, the same so called college basketball “experts” who picked Wisconsin seventh in the Big Ten agree.
Wisconsin at glance:
Overall Record: 23-7 (13-5 Big Ten, 4th place)
Record at home: 16-1
Record on neutral site: 2-1
Record on the road: 5-5
Significant wins: Arizona, Duke, Maryland, Marquette, Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan State, at Illinois
Tough loses: at UW-Green Bay, at Minnesota
Wisconsin will make the Final Four if: they continue hot 3 point shooting and don’t beat themselves.
Wisconsin will lose quickly in the tournament if: opponents neutralize the swing offense with an aggressive zone defense and out rebound the Badgers.