College Basketball Nation: Bo Ryan
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Ndamukong Suh sat courtside and shot T-shirts into the crowd, because, hey, this is Nebraska, and there's never a break from football.
But rarely has the cash cow appeared so secondary as on Sunday, when the upstart basketball team toppled No. 9 Wisconsin 77-68 to close the regular season and likely punch Nebraska's ticket to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998.
“I told the guys in the locker room,” second-year coach Tim Miles said, “That’s what college basketball should be about. The exhilaration that you’re feeling, that we’re all feeling, that our fans are feeling, that’s the way it should be.”
Yes, this is new territory here. Students lined up outside Pinnacle Bank Arena, the school’s gleaming new home, at 5 a.m. and flooded the floor at the final buzzer, engulfing Miles and his band of overachievers.
In between, reserve guard Mike Peltz proposed to his girlfriend, Shelby Campbell, during pregame Senior Day festivities. Slashing wings Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields scored 26 points apiece as the Cornhuskers won for the 10th time in 12 games to improve to 19-11 and 11-7 in the Big Ten.
They earned the fourth seed in the league tournament this week and will play Ohio State or Purdue on Friday in Indianapolis.
“No. 1 seed for what?” coach Bo Ryan said. “We’re the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament; that’s the only thing I know.”
Ryan was smarting after the defeat in front of a frenzied, school-record crowd of 15,998. The energy in the building Sunday exceeded anything experienced at Nebraska in the past two decades -- maybe ever.
But Ryan said the crowd mattered little to his players.
“These guys have all played in pretty big places,” he said. “This is the Big Ten.”
Make no mistake, the noise played a factor. It crescendoed early as senior Ray Gallegos buried a 3 from the corner to give the Huskers a 13-6 lead after less than five minutes.
After Wisconsin chipped away, as it led 35-34 at the break and by seven points one minute into the second half, the roof rattled when Gallegos hit his next shot from long range to give Nebraska the lead again at 53-52.
Shields’ ensuing jam in transition capped a 7-0 run and forced Ryan to call timeout, though the noise muted the officials’ whistles. When Petteway scored from close range two minutes to later to put the Huskers on top 60-53, the crowd and the Huskers sensed victory.
“I don’t know if you guys see it, but it’s a lot of fun out there,” Petteway said.
Shields and Petteway attacked the rim consistently, but Nebraska did not attempt a free throw in the first half. After halftime, the Huskers hit 19 of 25 from the line, including 11 from Petteway, the Big Ten’s leading scorer who sat for five minutes in the first half with two early fouls.
The Huskers held Wisconsin to 34.4 percent shooting (11 of 32) in the second half and 20 points during the decisive 17-minute stretch after the Badgers’ surge out of the locker room.
“We had to calm down and take a breath,” Petteway said.
So they stand on the brink of a breakthrough at Nebraska, which has endured two failed coaching stints and a lifetime of hurt since it last played on the sport’s biggest stage.
Asked if the Huskers belong, Ryan didn’t hesitate.
“There’s not even a question in my mind,” the 13th-year Wisconsin coach said.
The Huskers agree after a final five-day stretch in which they won at Indiana and took down the Badgers.
Most impressive, perhaps, about Sunday is that everyone here knew what it meant. The fans who stood in line understood the importance of Sunday. The Huskers knew the stakes. And still, they delivered.
“I think anybody who would be on the committee and watch that game would think, ‘Hey they’re pretty good,’” Miles said.
Nebraska is 0-6 all-time in the NCAA tournament. Miles doesn’t want to hear about the past though. He arrived just two years ago, fresh off a tournament appearance as coach at Colorado State. None of his players endured the past 15 seasons.
History means nothing to them.
“Don’t put that crap on me,” the coach said. “This is my program. We don’t carry any baggage. Everywhere I’ve been, we’ve been surrounded by great people and we win, and we’re going to keep doing it. So all that curse crap, all of the hexing and vexing and all that [stuff] that goes with it is exactly that, and you can print it, because I ignore that.
“That’s not us. That doesn’t exist. That does not exist.”
For the first time in a long time at Nebraska, he was right.
The Badgers were stalled, stuck and now going to be late getting back to Madison.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan considered having the players walk across the tarmac to the plane, but the bitter cold made the decision for him. He wasn't cruel.
The moral for Ryan late Wednesday night into Thursday morning was that not everything is going well right now but things are hardly bleak.
The Badgers won 16 in a row before a Big Ten losing streak extended to three in Minneapolis. Purdue is up next Saturday, a team that the Badgers were miles ahead of two weeks ago in perception, ranking and playing progress. But the Boilermakers host the Badgers sporting an identical 3-3 Big Ten record.
"That's why I never got real excited about 16 wins," Ryan said. "In the conference, there are so many things that get erased. Everyone was saying we're the oldest team in the world. We're not. We're pretty young."
Purdue will be ready for Wisconsin after losing an overtime game at Northwestern, a matchup that the Boilermakers had multiple chances to win. The Boilermakers have been a gritty bunch, mimicking Matt Painter's charge.
Ryan looked for one area that has become a concern for him during the losing streak -- front-court defense.
"There are reads we have to make defensively," Ryan said. "That's where we're behind."
Ryan says he fully expects Purdue will get after them defensively, which means the Badgers will have to be even more mindful of their possessions.
"Defensively we've got to have guys step up more," Ryan said. "They know it. It's no secret. I'm not going to lambaste the players. It can be corrected collectively."
The Badgers must get more from the bench, too. Winning on the road at Purdue will only happen if there is some depth and variety of scoring. Ryan says he needs more than Nigel Hayes contributing in any significant manner.
"We don't have another guy who is giving us scoring [other than Hayes] off the bench," Ryan said. "We usually have two. We don't have that second scorer off the bench."
So did the 16-game win streak mask issues? The Badgers legitimately had quality wins over Florida at home, at Virginia and over Saint Louis in Mexico. Wisconsin held on for dear life to beat Iowa. But the magic has been lost in road losses at Indiana and Minnesota and at home against Michigan.
The Badgers don't have to go to Michigan State. But that might not matter in the Big Ten title chase if they don't win a game like Saturday's in West Lafayette.
"If you play 18 games and could pick and choose and move them around, you could win 10 straight games," Ryan said. "But you could also lose eight straight. The schedule always plays out."
There was a dark period for the Golden Eagles near the turn of the millennium (Marquette missed the NCAA tournament from 1998 through 2001), but they rebooted under Tom Crean and Buzz Williams. The Badgers haven’t missed the Big Dance or a 20-win season under Bo Ryan.
But Marquette still owns a 55-64 record in the series, as the two programs prepare for another intrastate battle on Saturday.
This year, Buzz needs the win more than Bo. Marquette is approaching desperation in its quest for the resume-boosting nonconference victories that will pay off on Selection Sunday.
A series of mishaps in holiday tournaments diminished the Big East’s buzz. The conference’s contenders failed in recent nonconference matchups that would have enhanced their respective NCAA tournament hopes/seeds.
Marquette was pegged as the preseason favorite to win the new Big East. And the Golden Eagles are certainly talented enough to fulfill that prophecy. But they’re struggling right now after losing to Arizona State and San Diego State in two of their last four games.
And they’ll face their toughest and most significant test when they meet the Badgers over the weekend. Both squads feature defenses ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 20 for adjusted efficiency.
Wisconsin’s offense has improved (14th in adjusted offensive efficiency) this year, but Marquette can’t find consistent scorers.
The Golden Eagles, 103rd in adjusted offensive efficiency compared to 25th last season, are still searching for offensive continuity following the departures of Vander Blue, Trent Lockett and Junior Cadougan (30.3 PPG combined).
How will they score? On Saturday? In the games after that? During the conference season?
Solving that riddle against a Badgers squad that gave up just 38 points in a win over Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Wednesday will be difficult.
The Golden Eagles won’t have a prayer unless they spread the load.
Jamil Wilson (10.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG) and Davante Gardner (14.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG) have done the bulk of the offensive work this season. But they’ve been inconsistent, too. Williams needs more offensive production from a unit that features multiple freshmen. And he needs his team’s stars to be go-to players every night.
This might be the team’s last chance for a meaningful nonconference win.
Saturday’s game might not be a must-win for Marquette. But it’s close.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- It wasn’t the offensive dominance it’s showcased so far this season, but Wisconsin managed to keep its undefeated record -- and secure Bo Ryan’s 300th win with the Badgers -- with a 48-38 victory over Virginia on Wednesday night.
The Badgers (9-0) entered the night averaging 76.8 points per game with a 48 percent field goal percentage and leading the Big Ten in shooting from behind the arc (43.6 percent). But inside John Paul Jones Arena against Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense, Wisconsin shot 28.8 percent and managed 5 of 23 shots from behind the arc (21.7 percent).
Wisconsin's leading scorer, redshirt junior Josh Gasser, scored 11 points -- the only player on either team to score in double figures.
Still, Wisconsin’s unusually low offensive numbers bested UVa’s poor field goal percentage (23.4 percent, fourth-lowest in school history) and three-point shooting (9.1 percent) -- the Wahoos managed one 3 the entire night -- in a deliberately paced battle between two defensive-minded teams. UVa’s 38 points were the lowest scored in the Tony Bennett era and second-fewest in the shot-clock era (since 1986). Their leading scorer on the night, Mike Tobey, managed seven points.
“They were more patient tonight than I have seen them all year,” Bennett said afterward of Wisconsin. “Our defense was set and we made them work, but they are not going to beat themselves. We have some warts, as every team does, and when all of the guys go cold at once, it’s hard. Our depth was not what it has been so far.”
As Virginia started missing shots, the Cavalier players demonstrated their frustration at missed opportunities. After an offensive foul call against him in the first half, Darion Atkins went to the bench, visibly upset at himself. Toward the end of the first half, Tobey missed a shot under the basket and clapped his hands in frustration. In the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Wahoos managed only one basket before Tobey scored at the 11:13 mark, the crowd cheering in relief. UVa made only one shot outside of the paint the entire game.
Coming off their victory in the Cancun Challenge Championship, the Badgers showed patience in moving the ball, rotating and finding a way to score in a game that had four ties and six lead changes. They often worked the shot clock down to the final five seconds, taking hurried shots under the basket or behind the arc.
With less than 10 minutes remaining, the Cavaliers went on a run, twice cutting the Badgers’ lead to seven points and then to five with less than two minutes to play. But Virginia’s offensive energy couldn’t hold, stymied by shots not falling and a solid Badgers defense. Wisconsin held the Cavaliers’ leading scorer on the season, Joe Harris, to two points -- 1-of-10 shooting -- in 33 minutes.
“[Joe Harris] is a great player. I just tried my best out there and not give him any easy looks and fight through screens,” said Gasser, who matched up against Harris.
Both defenses forced the other club into hurried shots as time expired (the cries of “air ball” continued throughout the night) yet Wisconsin remained steady, led by the strong inside presence of big men Frank Kaminsky and sophomore Sam Dekker, who was named to the preseason watch list for the 2013-14 Naismith Trophy and the Wooden Award Watch List. Kaminsky grabbed 12 rebounds, the only player on either team to total double figures in rebounding (both Kaminsky and Dekker were 0-for-4 from behind the arc), and Dekker was 4-for-4 from the stripe.
“It was frustrating offensively things just weren’t working for us out there,” said senior forward Akil Mitchell, who was one of the stars in UVa’s 60-54 win over the Badgers in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge last year but managed five points on Wednesday. The Cavaliers’ most efficient offense came from the stripe, where they scored 15 points, shooting 78.9 percent, including 12-of-14 in the second half.
Like their other offensive stats, Wisconsin’s free throw shooting wasn’t indicative of its season averages thus far. The Badgers entered the night shooting 73.5 percent from the stripe but turned in a performance similar to last year’s average (63.4 percent), finishing the night at 65 percent.
The 86 combined points from both teams are the fewest in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game to date. Wisconsin’s low-scoring victory helped bring a little parity to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, where ACC teams dominated on Tuesday night. The teams are now 2-2 against each other all time, including a 1998 matchup when Tony Bennett's father, Dick Bennett, was Wisconsin's head coach.
“There are games sometimes, both ways, we both shot it poorly and not because we are inefficient offenses,” Ryan said. “Look at our offenses coming in and we played some pretty good teams. These kind of games happen and you just have to survive.”
The undefeated Badgers, off to their best start since the 1993-94 season, head back home to face Marquette this weekend, while Virginia will travel to Wisconsin to play Wisconsin-Green Bay.
We're not even a full three weeks into the college basketball season and it's possible we've already seen the offensive performance of the season.
And no, I'm not talking about Marcus Smart.
On Tuesday night, a vastly different player on a vastly different team -- Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky -- introduced himself to America. You could forgive America for doing that thing where you pretend to remember meeting someone before, because you don't remember them, but they give you the "Yeah, we met at that thing. Good to see you!" and force you to verbally audible from "Nice to meet you" to "Nice to see you again!" just in the nick of time.
Kaminsky's final tally: 43 points on 16-of-19 shooting, 6-of-6 from 3, 5-of-6 from the free throw line, with three rebounds and a steal thrown in, because hey, why not?
Simply put, you don't get more efficient than that. Well, that's not technically true; I guess you can get more efficient if you can make all 19 of your shots and don't miss that lone free throw. (Bill Walton at UCLA comes to mind.) But you get the point: On Tuesday night against North Dakota, Kaminsky set the Wisconsin single-game scoring record of 43 on just 19 shots, and that fact alone makes it immensely unlikely anyone will surpass him for sheer individual scoring brilliance all season long.
Just as unlikely: Wisconsin scored 103 points in a 40-minute game of basketball. You know the knock on the Badgers by now: slow, obsessively careful, methodical almost to a fault. That style has served Bo Ryan well in his years at Wisconsin -- and rightfully so -- but it has made 100-point games in the Kohl Center as rare as mild winter days outside it.
Tuesday night was a rare exception. Not only were the Badgers clinically efficient -- they averaged 1.45 points per trip -- they pushed the pace (for them) up beyond the 70-possession mark. Don't expect that too often this season. Wisconsin will always be Wisconsin; North Dakota is, with all due respect, not a very good opponent -- hardly about which you would responsibly make sweeping conclusions.
But the flexibility the Badgers showed in speeding things up Tuesday night does speak to a larger point. This spring, Wisconsin lost three reliable seniors to graduation. It returned a stellar sophomore breakout candidate (Sam Dekker), a senior guard returning from injury (Josh Gasser), a reliable backcourt option (Ben Brust) and, to the casual eye, not a whole lot else. But this is what Ryan does: He keeps players waiting in the wings. In 2012-13, Kaminsky was an interesting stretch forward type, perfect for Ryan's swing motion, but he was excess to the team's needs. He scored 133 points all of last season.
He will score far more than that in 2013-14, and Wisconsin will still be good -- probably very good. Probably better than it was a season ago. How Ryan manages to do that year in and year out is a longer story and one for another day.
For Tuesday night, the story was Kaminsky and his offensive performance of a lifetime or, at the very least, the 2013-14 season. If you're waiting for something better, you're going to be waiting for quite some time.
In recent years, the Big Ten has boasted an assembly of athletes who have boosted the league to the top of college basketball’s conference rankings.
Players who could’ve turned pro returned and granted the league a lineup of experienced players who carried their respective squads for multiple seasons. Evan Turner, Trey Burke, Cody Zeller, Draymond Green, Deshaun Thomas, Jared Sullinger, JaJuan Johnson, Tim Hardaway Jr. and others had opportunities to sign NBA contracts a year or two earlier than they did. Instead, they stayed and strengthened their teams and subsequently, the entire conference.
Prior to changes at Minnesota and Northwestern this past offseason, only four of the 12 Big Ten schools (Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Penn State) had changed head coaches in the previous five seasons. That continuity has fueled immense success for a league that has earned 20 total bids in the last three NCAA tournaments.
There are, however, more questions now.
Other than Michigan State, the Big Ten’s membership enters the season possessing promise but also dealing with a rare uncertainty. Michigan and Ohio State return elite talent, but you can’t ignore what both lost from last season. Indiana could blossom behind some youngsters, but how many teams improve after a pair of top-five picks turn pro? A fleet of seniors have left Madison. Iowa is still a “maybe” to many.
Illinois and Purdue? They’ll either surprise or spend the year at the bottom of the league.
Even with four teams cracking the Associated Press’ Top 25 preseason poll, the Big Ten is somewhat of a mystery as this weekend’s tipoff to the 2013-14 season approaches. Still, there’s plenty of hope for many squads in this league.
There’s just a lot we don’t know (yet) about the Big Ten.
Michigan: The answer is no. No, the Wolverines won’t replace Wooden Award winner Burke no matter how productive Derrick Walton Jr. is in his freshman season. But John Beilein’s pillars -- Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary -- and his stellar recruits should give Michigan a serious shot at the Big Ten crown.
Ohio State: Somehow, Aaron Craft is still eligible and available to squash the dreams of perimeter players throughout the country. Without Deshaun Thomas, the Buckeyes will probably spread the ball around more than they did last season. But LaQuinton Ross -- assuming we see the same player who lit up the Big Dance a few months ago -- might be the star Thad Matta needs to make a postseason run and snatch another Big Ten crown.
The (Possible) Contenders
Indiana: If exhibitions are to be believed, then Yogi Ferrell has become a more dangerous threat from the field since registering a 45.4 effective field goal percentage last season. That matters, but not as much as the maturation of the rest of the roster does (will). How much production will Noah Vonleh and a bunch of inexperienced youngsters give Tom Crean? We’ll find out soon.
Wisconsin: Say it with me three times: “I will not doubt Wisconsin, I will not doubt Wisconsin, I will not doubt Wisconsin.” Once again, however, there are a few reasons to doubt the Badgers, simply because they’re entering the season without a trio of seniors (Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren) who made a major difference last season, and they’re depending on a point guard who's returning from a serious knee injury (Josh Gasser). Sam Dekker and Co. will probably maintain Bo Ryan’s streak of 20-win seasons (10 in a row) and top-four finishes in the Big Ten.
Iowa: The rebuilding phase is over, folks. The Hawkeyes return every meaningful player from a team that won 25 games and finished 9-9 in conference play during the 2012-13 season. It’s time for Iowa to finally make some noise in the Big Ten race and get back to the NCAA tourney. Fran McCaffery has the pieces to achieve both.
Purdue: The last thing Matt Painter needed was a bout of early drama involving young star A.J. Hammons. But that’s exactly what he’s facing after Hammons was recently suspended for three games after violating team rules. If Hammons gets his act together -- it’s always if with him -- the Boilermakers could sneak into the at-large mix.
Illinois: Same for John Groce’s squad. Groce adds eight new faces to the program. This is a much different team compared to the one that reached the NCAA tournament last year. But if Groce can help transfer Rayvonte Rice become the star he was at Drake two seasons ago, Illinois might make a case for another berth.
Minnesota: Richard Pitino has his father’s last name and hair, but nothing resembling the players Rick Pitino used to win the national title with Louisville in April.
Northwestern: Chris Collins is already making strides in recruiting, but he doesn’t have the beef inside to compete in the Big Ten yet.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have a new arena, but Tim Miles’ squad has the same problems.
Penn State: Tim Frazier will have to carry a very heavy load. Again.
1. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon is for one transfer rule: either everyone sits or no one sits out a year. Turgeon also said it might have helped Dez Wells if he had sat out last season instead of playing immediately after transferring from Xavier. Wells will have to be the leader on this team. Meanwhile, Turgeon wants to play one game a year at the Terps' former home, Cole Field House. The Terps will host a Midnight Madness-type of event there Oct. 18. But Turgeon would like to set up a game at Cole Field House in late December in future years … Turgeon said he never talks about recruiting to the Big Ten since the Terps are going from one elite league to another.
2. UConn coach Kevin Ollie said Tyler Olander's suspension still is in place after his DUI charge was dropped (still dealing with a guilty plea of driving without a license). Ollie said he couldn't commit as to whether or not Olander would be allowed to practice Friday when the Huskies take the court. Olander still has to prove to Ollie that he can handle himself in a mature manner before he can be reinstated … The Huskies are still awaiting on the eligibility of freshman Kentan Facey. Ollie said he has no idea if he'll be cleared to play this season.
3. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said Josh Gasser hasn't been cleared yet to practice, but he's hopeful the lead guard will be in the next week or so as he comes back from an ACL injury that sidelined him last year. Ryan sees no reason why Gasser and Traevon Jackson can't coexist as two playmakers. Ryan, like Turgeon, is for either all transfers to have to sit or no one sits. He wants uniformity of the rules … Boise State coach Leon Rice said the Broncos are embracing the attention as a possible MWC top two finisher. The Broncos return eight of nine scorers back and Rice said the Broncos are the only NCAA tournament team from last season that returns all five starters.
2. Virginia coach Tony Bennett said he was indifferent as to whom the Cavaliers end the ACC regular-season schedule with when Maryland is off to the Big Ten in 2014-15. The Cavaliers have traditionally ended with the Terps and do so again this season, meeting in College Park. It should be a critical game for two teams with tournament aspirations. Bennett mentioned Virginia Tech as a possibility but wasn't married to it considering the Cavs and Hokies always play twice and those games can generate fan interest regardless of when they're on the schedule. The Cavs have three Big Monday games in the inaugural year of the event for the ACC: at Duke (Jan. 13), vs. North Carolina (Jan. 20) and vs. Maryland (Feb. 10). Virginia has a loaded nonconference slate, too, with games against James Madison (NCAA tourney team last season) Nov. 8, VCU (Nov. 12), Davidson in Charlotte (Nov. 16), vs. upstart SMU in Corpus Christi (Texas) on Nov. 29, Wisconsin (Dec. 4), at Green Bay (Dec. 7), Northern Iowa (Dec. 21) and at Tennessee (Dec. 30). Bennett said senior forward Akil Mitchell, who broke his hand, should be ready to go for practice. And there is no issue with senior Joe Harris, who missed the World University Games with a foot injury. Sophomore Mike Tobey might have had the best summer by making the gold-medal winning U-19 team in Prague, in which Bennett was an assistant coach.
3. My thoughts and prayers go out to Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who lost his father Butch, who was 89, last week after he had been put in hospice in Florida. Bo and Butch were staples at the Final Four, nearly every year. I saw them almost always together in and around events at the Final Four. Bo's devotion to his father was touching. He doted on his dad, getting great pleasure in introducing him to everyone he would come into contact with at the event. The two looked alike and had similar mannerisms. Butch got Bo interested in the game and, like his son, was never short on words. Bo called as he was racing down to see his father in his final moments. He spoke so lovingly and glowingly about his father and what he meant to him. Bo was able to cherish moments like the Final Four with him even during his hectic schedule. Butch became a part of the college basketball community and around the Wisconsin program. He will be sorely missed.
1. Arizona State: The Sun Devils went to China and according to the staff had a tremendous cultural bonding experience. The post-trip buzz was about how well the three freshmen played, according to associate head coach Eric Musselman. That means ASU expects to get production out of wing Egor Koulechov, Chance Murray and Calaen Robinson, who is listed as a sophomore but didn't play last season. The Sun Devils were in search of a backup point guard on the trip and likely found two in Murray and Robinson. ASU desperately needs more options and depth to be an NCAA tournament team. The Sun Devils figured out they've got to incorporate more touches for JC transfer Shaquielle McKissic and Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall. They will be led by point guard Jahii Carson (with an assist from forward Jordan Bachynski), but Carson can’t do it alone. Musselman said the staff was impressed by the young core, but "Carson has stepped up his game both on and off the court skill-wise and with leadership.''
2. Wisconsin: Coach Bo Ryan said he realized "Canadian basketball is much better than people realized, better than it's been.'' He said the Badgers learned how to play with more tempo and movement. The freshmen picked up the drills and the style in which the Badgers will play. He said the management of Josh Gasser's minutes was critical, since the point guard who sat out last season with a torn ACL must be ready to go for the start of the season. Gasser will share the position with Traevon Jackson. "Josh is still tentative and that's to be understood. He's not quite there yet,'' said Ryan. "But he shot it pretty well. This trip gave him a chance to do a lot of shooting.'' Ryan said the Badgers showed they have more depth on the perimeter. He said working with a 24-second shot clock was beneficial to handle late-game situations. The Badgers definitely played to the fast-paced game, giving up 95 points in a loss to Carleton to start the trip and 92 in a win over Ottawa. Expect those defensive scoring numbers to be much lower once the Badgers get into the season with a traditional 35-second shot clock. Wisconsin has to get the defensive numbers down with a brutal nonconference schedule with games against St. John's in South Dakota, Florida, at Green Bay, Saint Louis (and then ODU or West Virginia) in Cancun, at Virginia and Marquette. The Badgers did get a Big Ten "break" with three of the first five conference games at home.
3. Clemson: Coach Brad Brownell said the Tigers will shoot much better this season than last after the 10-day trip to Italy. Clemson averaged 95 points on the four-game trip. "We still don't know how our young post players will react under real pressure,'' said Brownell. The only two posts who played on the trip were Landry Nnoko (11 blocks and 11.5 rebounds) and Josh Smith (13 boards a game). Jaron Blossomgame still wasn't healthy enough to play after offseason surgery and JC transfer Ibrahim Djambo and freshman big man Sidy Djitte of Senegal didn't go on the trip. "Everyone on the perimeter is a year older and just better than last year,'' said Brownell. That helps. This team will still rely heavily on K.J. McDaniels, who was scoring at a clip of 15 points, grabbing nine boards and blocking a total of 12 shots. McDaniels had to play more because of the thinning forward crew. Spokesperson Philip Sikes had a complete report on the trip and noted the improved play of Damarcus Harrison, who was in shape, Jordan Roper for his consistency and Devin Coleman for getting through the games and travel after returning from a torn Achilles.
2. Give Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan credit (and St. John's Steve Lavin for agreeing to do it) for staying true to a former player and current staffer in Joe Krabbenhoft. His dad, Kelby, the CEO for Sanford Health, is behind the new Sanford Pentagon basketball facility in Sioux Falls, S.D. Wisconsin plays St. John's in South Dakota to open the season Nov. 8 (Minnesota will play Milwaukee in an NBA preseason game on Oct. 10). "We wanted to help showcase the building and expose people to what a great facility it is,'' said Ryan. "And Steve agreed to play it. It's a great neutral-court game. It's going to be really good for us to get a neutral-court game like that against an athletic St. John's team.'' The Badgers have an aggressive schedule with home games against Florida, Marquette, a road game at Virginia, Old Dominion in Cancun, Mexico, and this opener against St. John's (as well as going to Green Bay). Ryan said the Badgers will skip a year in a return game to Cal, settling on going to Berkeley in 2014-15.
3. The NIT Season Tip-Off is the last early season tournament to produce its brackets. NIT officials said the bracket isn't complete. The four "hosts" are Arizona, Duke, Rutgers and Alabama. The NIT is the only remaining neutral-bound tournament where the hosts have to earn their way to the semifinals. The other similar tournaments pre-determine the semifinalists. While the semifinals are still up for debate, you can lock in that Duke and Arizona will be on opposite sides of the bracket ... The University of New Orleans reported that there was a game in Asia after the 1982 Virginia-Houston game. From UNO, the Privateers played Georgia and UAB in Dec. of 1987 in Tokyo. Regardless, the Georgetown-Oregon game in South Korea at Camp Humphreys will be the first regular-season opener on Asian soil ... Congrats to former NBA and college player Chris Herren on five years of sobriety. Herren has been a huge success in his post-sober life of educating high school, college and professional teams about the hazards of any drug and alcohol addiction.
But this is also a subjective process, where beauty is in the eye of the computers and still, the beholder. The country will never see eye-to-eye with the decisions made and no matter how many mock brackets the NCAA holds, plenty will still think the fix is on.
Of course, that’s frankly the beauty of Selection Sunday. If it were easy and boring, we wouldn’t be talking about it.
In the next few days we’ll be able to critique the committee’s job more thoroughly, but for now here are a few bracket first impressions:
A field day for conspiracy theorists
The NCAA tournament selection committee chair this year is Mike Bobinski, who is the athletic director (at least until next month when he takes over at Georgia Tech) at Xavier. And, Xavier is in the Atlantic 10 (at least until this week when the Musketeers join the Big East).
The A-10 received five bids (more than the ACC and the SEC): Saint Louis, the league's conference tournament champion, earned a No. 4 seed, VCU a 5, Butler a 6, Temple a 9 and bubble-dwelling La Salle a 13.
Out West, meanwhile, the Pac-12 also received five bids. Except the league’s conference champion, Oregon, was a 12-seed while Arizona and UCLA came in as 6-seeds, Colorado earned a 10 and Cal another 12.
So was this Bobinski strong-arming the committee to give his league its due?
I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case, as the process truly is set up to avoid such personal favoritism.
So why did we want to be the overall No. 1 seed?
That’s what Louisville has to be thinking right now.
The Cardinals earned the distinction on merit, winning the Big East Tournament in a steamroller of an effort against Syracuse. But Louisville’s reward is a date in the Midwest Region, which apparently was set up by the masochistic dentist who is sidelining on the selection committee.
Yes it’s a nice, easy drive for fans from Louisville to Indianapolis, but they might want to bring some sedatives with them.
The team I believe is the best in the country and the committee tabbed the best in the country has the most difficult road to Atlanta.
In their second game the Cardinals will either get Missouri or Colorado State, two of the best rebounding teams in the country.
Survive that and it’s on to a possible Sweet 16 date with Saint Louis, a team that can match Louisville’s defensive intensity (albeit in a different way) head to head, a team that none other than coach Brad Stevens said could win the whole thing.
Make that, Cards, and congratulations -- you might get Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski in the Elite Eight.
Neither of them know anything about getting to a Final Four, right?
OK, here’s what the committee did right
Enough with the questionable calls, it's time to throw a few rose petals.
Middle Tennessee State, Boise State, La Salle and Saint Mary’s are in the tournament, and that’s a good thing.
Maybe not if you’re a Tennessee or Kentucky fan, but oh well, tough break.
The big-league teams have plenty of chances to prove their worth. Their conferences are set up as NCAA tournament auditions, with brand-name games and RPI-grabbing opportunities weekly. Conjuring up a nonconference schedule isn’t terribly difficult, either.
Try being Middle Tennessee State. You think anyone wants to go to Murfreesboro to play? No. Frankly not too many would be willing hospitable hosts to the Blue Raiders, either. What’s there to gain but a bad loss?
Ditto Boise State. Idaho isn’t on most blueblood’s charter flight patterns.
So what are they to do? How about the best they can, and hope they’re recognized for it.
This year, at least, the committee did just that.
The cruelty of March
Poor Shaka Smart.
When ESPN set up Akron and VCU in a BracketBuster game in 2011, both he and Zips head coach Keith Dambrot prayed it would be the last time.
So much for that.
In Auburn Hills, Mich., Smart and Dambrot will go head-to-head once more and this time it’s a legit bracket buster.
The two are coaching best friends. Smart considers Dambrot a mentor. The two spent three years together at Akron, and Smart was Dambrot’s right-hand man after he was named head coach. Dambrot was even in Smart’s wedding.
Now one will have to beat the other.
“It will be strange for sure," Smart said via text message.
- Michigan’s Trey Burke versus South Dakota’s Nate Wolters in the first round, that’s a nice little point guard matchup.
- Word to the wise for Duke fans. Seven years ago, Albany was a No. 16 seed in Philadelphia and scared the pants off of top-seeded Connecticut for a half, leading by 12 at the break. The Great Danes are back in Philly as a 15 seed, set to face the Blue Devils.
- If Florida and Georgetown meet in the Sweet 16, will they move the game from Washington D.C. to a battleship to make up the cancelled game from November?
- Butler versus Bucknell? Really? We have to pick one? That’s mean.
- How many times will Villanova and North Carolina have to answer questions about the last time they met -- at the 2009 Detroit Final Four? Forget the fact that both teams are considerably, um, different this time around.
- Can someone please set up an on-camera conversation about court decorum and attitude between Bo Ryan and Marshall Henderson?
After the Louisville-Indiana rivalry officially was killed off, Rick Pitino and Tom Crean gave fans -- both local and national -- a little hope when they floated the idea of playing one another next season. It would be a terrific game between two national powers that sit only a short ride from one another.
We very well could get an earlier date.
The two teams that started the season as Nos. 1 and 2 in both polls may be rolling downhill toward a meeting in Atlanta.
It wasn’t just his decline from a 73 percent clip his junior season to a 40 percent mark his senior year. It was the unpleasant feeling that seized his body every time he reached the charity stripe. It was the free throws that completely missed the rim. It was the embarrassment stemming from a problem he just couldn’t fix.
As the slump persisted, Evans lost confidence.
So coach Bo Ryan decided to pitch a few unconventional ideas to the veteran after Wisconsin’s loss at Minnesota on Valentine’s Day.
“Well, it was A, B or C,” Ryan said. “A was the jump shot, Hal Greer-style. Hal Greer [an NBA star in the 1960s] had a little jump [shot]. It wasn't quite as accentuated, for the older people in the room, as Ryan's is. Ryan's is his game jump shot. Hal had a little jumper, mini-jumper. B was Harlem Globetrotter, kick the ball in. Dropkick. You drop it down; you kick it up. And third was underhanded.
"So it was A, B or C. Ryan chose A. He's OK with it. His numbers are up.”
“[Ryan] gave me the courage to go up here and try something new,” Evans said. “I think it's been effective to this point. I'm no longer shooting 40 percent. So I mean, it's a good thing right now, and I'm going to stick with it for now.”
On Saturday, he led the Badgers to their 12th consecutive win over the Hoosiers, 68-56. Evans finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks, 4 turnovers and a steal. Jared Berggren added 11 points and three blocks. Ben Brust scored 12 points, and Sam Dekker finished with 11 points.
Evans helped the Badgers corral Victor Oladipo (4-for-12, 10 points), and he helped Wisconsin maintain its edge, even as Indiana charged in the final minutes.
Wisconsin fans cheered whenever he made a free throw. Twice in four tries.
The switch is an extension of the principles that guide Wisconsin’s program. The Badgers have a strong sense of their vulnerability. They’re not the type of team that can give one guy the ball and expect him to make plays without help. Wisconsin needs everyone.
One missed defensive assignment, one poor pass or one botched free throw could change the outcome of a game and the entire season. And the Badgers know it. So Evans tweaked his free throws to boost his team’s chances of overcoming its weaknesses.
Yet the Badgers are aware of their opponents’ limits too.
On Saturday afternoon, they understood they were playing Indiana, not the Chicago Bulls who had won multiple NBA titles in this building. They weren’t intimidated.
Not by Oladipo or Cody Zeller (Berggren’s defensive effort against the future lottery pick changed the game) or the NBA scouts who traveled to Chicago to see them play.
“It’s just the dynamics of our team. We can beat anybody, and we can be beaten by anybody,” said Traevon Jackson. “But when we play together, I think that we’re really tough to beat. And when we hit our shots and we do our defensive assignments and rebound, we’re a tough team.”
The Badgers closed the first half with an 18-9 run that allowed them to snatch the lead (34-31). The two teams were tight until Dekker recorded seven unanswered points (two layups and a 3-pointer) to give his team a 50-43 lead with 11:11 to play.
The Hoosiers responded with a 6-0 rally of their own. But Wisconsin’s defense wouldn’t budge.
Berggren blocked both Zeller and Oladipo in the final minutes of the game. Tom Crean’s squad went nearly five minutes (10:02 to 5:04) without a field goal down the stretch.
“[It] just means we have a bunch of guys that want to play and play hard. Kind of how college basketball has gone this whole year,” said Mike Bruesewitz. “I think we have had numerous times a change in No. 1, and I think it's going to make for a great NCAA tournament because I don't think a whole lot of 1-seeds are going to be making the Final Four. If they do, it's great, but it's a wide-open thing, and anybody can beat anybody on any night. We have to make sure we bring our A-game; otherwise we might be one of those teams.”
Indiana’s losing streak to Wisconsin was the least of Crean’s concerns.
The only thing the Hoosiers wanted in Chicago -- other than a Big Ten tournament title, of course -- was a chance to prove to the NCAA tournament selection committee that they deserve a No. 1 seed and a slot in the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis.
It’s no longer a guarantee after their third loss in six games. And the riddle that hails from Madison could be the culprit if they’re disappointed on Selection Sunday.
“My mindset is you try to win every game and take the next one as it comes, and certainly we would have liked to have won it,” Crean said. “But it doesn't undo what we have done to this point. It doesn't undo any of that. We have had an excellent season. There's room for growth; there's no doubt about that. But we would have liked to have played better today, no question.”
The Badgers rarely discussed the postseason implications of their run to Sunday’s Big Ten tournament title game. They were more focused on showering and preparing to watch game film.
As players rose from their seats and reporters gradually left the locker room, Evans continued to answer questions about his free throw shooting technique.
He said coaches have sent him text messages to thank him for a form that their teams have adopted. He even joked about the jump shot free throw becoming a “movement.”
The awkwardness of it all? Evans isn’t worried about it.
“I don’t care what people are thinking too much,” he said. “If I care what people are thinking too much, I wouldn’t be out there shooting jump shots. But I don’t. It’s about knocking them down. It’s about getting wins. And that’s what we’re doing at this point. So I feel great.”
His Badgers aren’t anchored by NBA prospects and five-star recruits. Their layup lines rarely feature the acrobatic dunks that draw gasps from the crowd.
One of his best players, Ryan Evans, sports a high-top fade and takes jump shots at the free throw line because he’s been so shaky from the charity stripe this season. Then there’s the guy with the impossible name and the funny carrot-top haircut (Mike Bruesewitz).
Per RecruitingNation, point guard Traevon Jackson was a two-star recruit from Westerville, Ohio, when Ryan signed him. Jared Berggren is … big. Wisconsin’s former starting point guard, Josh Gasser, tore an anterior cruciate ligament before the season.
And that didn’t stop Ryan from winning 20 games for the 10th time at Wisconsin and earning Big Ten Coach of the Year honors.
“When the guys come in, I take those little stars you lick, and I take them and I put four or five stars on each locker. ‘Hey, you're a five-star guy. You're a four-star guy,’” Ryan joked. “You know, it's what that star shines like when you're finished with your career. So I'm always looking for guys who are willing to come in, work hard, have talent, and it's about us, not individuals. But individuals can thrive. If you're good, you can get to do a lot of things. So I don't want to sell my players short. I've got good players who are much better as a result of playing together.”
He continues to defy every misperception, stereotype and false assumption about his program. That’s because Ryan focuses on winning. And his players follow his example.
“We’re not really concerned about what other people think. Clearly,” Bruesewitz said. “If I did, I wouldn’t have this ridiculous haircut. And I don’t think he would recruit some of the guys. We’ve got some ugly dudes on this team, so if he cared what other people thought I don’t think he’d recruit some of us.”
Ryan and the Badgers proved -- again -- that they’re among the country’s top programs when they secured their second victory over the Wolverines in 2012-13.
They shot 17 percent from the field in the first half. Then the offense unclogged its drain and flowed. Wisconsin went 17-for-28 and scored 51 points after halftime.
Evans (12 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and a steal) attacked the rim. Wisconsin’s shooters, including Bruesewitz (2-for-4 from the 3-point line, 8 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals), found their range. Jackson (16 points and a steal) helped the Badgers frustrate Trey Burke (8-for-22, 19 points), a top candidate for national player of the year.
After the Badgers secured a 56-45 lead on a Ben Brust 3-pointer with 6:03 to play, Michigan scored nine unanswered points to cut Wisconsin’s lead to two on Burke’s layup with 3:37 to go.
But the Badgers never deviated from their system. They maintained their gritty man-to-man defense. They remained aggressive on offense.
And they won after the Wolverines finished 2-for-7 from the field after that Burke layup.
Michigan has a minimum of three NBA prospects. Burke could be a lottery pick this summer. Glenn Robinson III was a five-star forward in the 2012 recruiting class, per ESPN.com. Tim Hardaway Jr., son of a former NBA All-Star, could be a first-round pick, too. But Wisconsin’s cohesiveness often trumps talent gaps in matchups.
“The old cliché: ‘Defense wins championships,’” Evans said. “We understand that here, and anything we can do to slow those guys down and get our shots is what's going to move us forward.”
Don’t pity Wisconsin.
Its 2012-13 campaign has proved that the Badgers’ skill, athleticism and potential are largely underrated. Evans is a physical forward with a solid post game. Bruesewitz can beat teams inside or outside. Berggren has a better block percentage (7.02) than Trevor Mbakwe, Cody Zeller and Adreian Payne, according to Ken Pomeroy. Jackson is fearless, so he’s never afraid of big shots.
“I think we have as much talent as anybody,” Evans said. “I can go between the legs. Sam [Dekker] can go between the legs.”
In the postgame news conference, Ryan seemed more interested in the soda in his left hand than explaining his legacy of success.
He has utilized the same formula and offered the same responses to the same questions.
He rarely signs five-star recruits. He believes in molding players over time. They always defend or they don’t play.
His swing offense is based on smart shots, not individual maneuvering.
With that philosophy, Ryan has never finished below fourth in the Big Ten. He has never missed the NCAA tournament since his tenure began with the 2001-02 season. He has won at least 19 games each season, too.
Albeit without the nation’s sexiest style.
“It doesn’t really matter what they say,” Jackson said. “As long as we stay together, it’s OK.”
In Saturday's semifinals, the Badgers will face another team that NBA front offices love. The Hoosiers feature Zeller and Victor Oladipo, who could join Burke in the lottery in June.
If “talent” is the best barometer, then Indiana will win.
But the Badgers have won 11 in a row against the Hoosiers. So perhaps it’s not.
“We got to get these guys down and get them some rest for tomorrow,” Ryan said.
Indiana should probably get to bed early, too.
2. Connecticut's Kevin Ollie should be the Big East coach of the year. But the national honor is likely going to Miami's Jim Larranaga, barring a late-season collapse. The Hurricanes started unranked and are headed for a No. 1 seed-type season -- the hoops version of what Notre Dame did in college football in going from unranked to the national title game. Wisconsin's Bo Ryan would have to be in the conversation as well, as should Indiana's Tom Crean. The freshman-of-the-year chase has to be one of the most competitive, featuring Kansas' Ben McLemore, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, UNLV's Anthony Bennett and Arizona State's Jahii Carson, among others.
3. Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon made a great point Thursday about low scoring in college basketball. Dixon said that teams attempting more 3-pointers has led to more zone defenses and using up more of the shot clock. Of course, he added that teams are defending better and more fouls aren't being called. There are a lot of theories out there about low scoring, but perhaps the most important might be the lack of some fundamental shooting.