Friday, March 11, 2011

March Madness

The 2010-'11 men's basketball campaign has thus far stuck to the Bo Ryan script. Ryan took a team picked to finish in the middle of the Big Ten standings and wound up continuing his streak of now 10 seasons of top-four finishes top four in the conference.
Heading into the conference tournament in Indianapolis this weekend, the expectations are high for a Wisconsin team that carries the third seed in the tournament.
Despite coming into the postseason winning eight of the last 10, the Badgers know that regular season success does not guarantee  a tournament run. Take one look at the way the 2009-'10 campaign finished (second round loss to Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament and second round loss to Cornell in the NCAA Tournament) and that fact should be fairly well established.
"Last year was a different year, a different team," freshman guard Josh Gasser said. "This is what we've worked toward, to win a Big Ten title and go to the Final Four."
Still, for every point of criticism that could be made against Ryan's program and its lack of a Final Four run, it is hard to argue with two conference tournament titles, four Big Ten championship game appearances and 12 NCAA Tournament victories, three more than the Wisconsin program had in the 96 years prior to hiring Ryan.
First team All-Big Ten selections Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer have combined for 37.1 points per game this season, second most in the Big Ten and sixth in the nation. Add in the fact that Taylor is currently on pace for an NCAA record with his 4.26 assist to turnover ratio, and it seems that the talent is certainly there for a postseason run.
As much as the blowout loss to Ohio State on Sunday brings back thoughts of the Cornell loss, it is difficult to compare last year's team with a Badger squad this season who is on pace to set NCAA records for free throw percentage (82.7 percent), turnovers per game (7.47) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.79), all while carrying the nation's second most efficient offense (1.19 points per possession) and ninth best scoring defense (59.1 points per game).
Simply put, the Wisconsin system is built for tournament play.
"It's what our system is predicated off of. Taking care of the ball and not giving the other team easy opportunities, easy run-outs and defensively just being sound," Leuer said. "Obviously you have to hit shots but if you play good defense and rebound, you're going to have a chance to win any game."
With a favorable matchup set for Friday (Wisconsin will face the winner of Thursday's Penn State-Indiana game), the stars are starting to align for what the Badgers hope is a long run into the postseason.
"We are going down there to win the thing," Leuer said. "We wanted to win the Big Ten regular season and obviously we didn't get a chance to do that but now we have a new opportunity in front of us."
It would be awesome if the Badgers could win the Big Ten Tournament.  GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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