Thursday, March 31, 2011

Time for Spring Football

Despite losing a former Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year to the NFL, you won’t find much anxiety aimed at the Wisconsin football team’s running game for the upcoming season.
As John Clay prepares for the next stage in his career, the long bloodline of great Wisconsin running backs continues to produce its thoroughbreds, and the backfield is once again primed to be the offense’s strength.
Two-thirds of the famed “Three-Headed Monster” that was Wisconsin’s running attack last season returns for more this spring, along with a new face and a forgotten one.
Junior Montee Ball and sophomore James White — who together churned out 2,008 of the 3,060 total yards of the “Monster” — are now joined by redshirt freshman Jeffrey Lewis and rejoined by redshirt senior Zach Brown.
Clay, however, is not the only member of the running back family freshly departed from the Badgers. John Settle, the running backs coach for the last five years, ended his tenure at Madison by accepting the same job with the Carolina Panthers in the NFL.
Thomas Hammock, a former running back at Northern Illinois and running backs coach at Minnesota, replaces Settle as the running back patriarch. According to all four of Wisconsin’s running backs, Hammock brings a much less laid-back approach to coaching than his predecessor.
“A lot more punishment man, a lot more punishment,” Lewis said of Hammock’s style.
And under Hammock, all four players are looking to improve their game in various ways this spring.
Let's hope the Badgers can return to a BCS Bowl Game.  GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Badgers out of NCAA Tournament

In the Badgers first two possessions Thursday night, what seemed like reason for optimism actually served as a grim foreshadowing of what was to come.
On each of UW's first two trips, Wisconsin worked the ball into the post and got good looks from senior forward Jon Leuer. He missed each, but usually going inside ensures some level of consistency.
Not on this night.
Wisconsin fell behind early and looked flustered throughout. It was a bad shooting night from its two top scorers until late in the second half, but Butler opened up a commanding lead and held on late to top UW 61-54 and end the Badgers' season.
The Bulldogs will face Florida Saturday night for a trip to the Final Four. 
Wisconsin caught fire late and trimmed what was a 20-point gap to just four with 1:38 remaining when junior guard Jordan Taylor hit a three. The junior finished the night with 22 points on 6-19 shooting (3-10 three-point attempts).
However, before the late-game frenzy, UW's offense was lethargic at best.  
Leuer frequently caught the ball in the post, but where the First Team All-Big Ten performer usually converts on a near-automatic basis, he found unfriendly results with Butler.
The Orono, Minn. native finished the game with an ugly 1-12 mark from the field (1-6 on three-point attempts) and three points.
"Overall, if you look at a shot chart, I like most of the shots we got," Ryan said. "At some point, you just have to make some of them."
Leuer certainly was not alone in his struggles, though.
In one stretch that spanned the final portion of the first half and beginning of the second half, Wisconsin went 10:05 without a field goal.
"We touched the ball in the post four out of five times [to start the second half] and came up with nothing," Ryan said.
Junior point guard Jordan Taylor—who struggled shooting in a 2-of-16 performance last Saturday against Kansas State—added carelessness with the basketball to shooting woes against Butler.
The point guard, despite his astounding numbers when it comes to protecting the ball—he entered the game leading the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.18—was credited with two turnovers in the first half and generally forced the issue on the offensive end.
"We made [poor] plays that are uncharacteristic of how we play," Leuer said. "We tried to force some things offensively … and just did some things [we] normally don't."
Butler capitalized nearly every time UW stumbled and led 33-24 at the half, largely because the Bulldogs outscored UW 15-1 in points off turnovers.
As uncharacteristic as the cough-ups were for Taylor, he also missed four free throws in the first half. Coming into the season, Taylor converted his free throws at an 85 percent clip.
The junior finished the night with 22 points on 6-19 shooting.
The Bulldogs got exceptional play from senior forward Matt Howard, who finished with 20 points. In addition to scoring, he grabbed 12 big rebounds (three offensive) and seemed to track down the ball whenever the situation required it. Howard scored inside and outside and aptly closed out on Wisconsin shooters like senior forward Keaton Nankivil, who scored nine points in his final game as a Badger.
"We just needed to put a few more minutes together here tonight so we could keep dancing," Ryan said. "Unfortunately, the music stopped playing."
As a team, UW shot just 30.4 percent from the field (17-56) and 24.1 percent from beyond the arc (7-29)
The Badgers exceeded expectations this whole this season. Needless to say, though, Thursday's performance fell short.
Let's hope that next year they can go farther.  GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Badgers advance to Sweet 16

Having to come from behind yet again, the Badgers looked very much at home in erasing a six-point deficit over the final eight minutes to grab a 70-65 win over Kansas State (23-11).
In order to move on to the Sweet 16 next weekend in New Orleans, UW (25-8) had to overcome a poor shooting night for junior guard Jordan Taylor (2-of-16 from the field) while also matching the points that Kansas State senior guard Jacob Pullen put up on seemingly every possession. Pullen finished with 38, but the loss means that his career performance will also be his last in a Wildcat uniform.
Though Pullen clearly came out victorious in what many media types had billed "Jacob vs. Jordan," Jordan will be the one in uniform for Thursday's regional semifinal.
"The scoreboard on the bottom of the TV doesn't say Jordan vs. Jacob," Taylor said after the game. "It says Wisconsin vs. Kansas State, and we won."
With Taylor unable to get going on the offensive end, it was up to the supporting cast to keep the Badgers' season alive.
Senior forward Tim Jarmusz had eight points on 3-3 shooting. Freshman guard Josh Gasser collected 11 points on 3-4 shooting from the field, adding seven rebounds and four free throws in the process, the last two of those icing the game with 1.1 seconds to play.
"We just made plays," senior forward Jon Leuer said. "Everybody stepped up, right down the line."
But perhaps the biggest contribution came from sophomore forward Mike Bruesewitz. No longer known simply as the team redhead, the hero of the Feb. 12 victory over No. 1 Ohio State came through again. In only his second game since suffering what, at the time, appeared to be a serious knee injury in the Big Ten Tournament, Bruesewitz gave UW 11 points and six rebounds. None of those points were bigger than the three that came with just over 90 seconds to play, giving the Badgers the lead for good.
"He's done it against Ohio State and he did it again tonight," Taylor said. "He's one of the toughest kids I've known and he's a heck of a teammate."
After relying on the production of Taylor and Leuer for much of the season, the supporting cast seems to have found its footing just in time for a tournament run. Ultimately, the 15 bench points, not to mention the 19 from Gasser and Jarmusz, proved to be the difference with UW's two first team All-Big Ten performers just 8-of-26 combined from the field.
"I think guys are realizing that we need to be confident," Bruesewitz said. "Confidence is a big thing in March."
While the shooting stats seem to indicate a night of frustration for Taylor, he was able to control possession throughout the game and make plays down the stretch that were crucial in getting UW out on the left side of the scoreboard.
"His 6-to-0 assist to turnover ratio says that he stayed focused when he was having a rough time scoring," UW head coach Bo Ryan said. "He's a taskmaster of his own skills and his own abilities and he's not going to throw the rest of it away simply because some things have gotten away from him."
Taylor controlled the Wisconsin offensive and kept his leadership role, eventually making a big play of his own by blocking Pullen's attempt at a game-tying three-point shot.
"I was just trying to do something to slow him down and play my part in the win," Taylor said. "And that happened to be it."
Despite some who have criticized Wisconsin's style for its lack of excitement, the Badgers are in the Sweet 16 and remain alive for a title run.
"We come out and play hard every day," Taylor said. "If people think we're boring, there are a lot of channels on TV they can watch."
"We just try to be on the left-hand side when the buzzer sounds," Ryan said.
Ultimately, the Badgers did just that in both games in Tucson and earned their way into a regional date in New Orleans against No. 8-seed Butler Thursday.
It sure would be nice if the Badgers can make to the Final Four.  GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Badgers may have to go without Bruesewitz

Mike Bruesewitz took part in a limited practice Tuesday but the sophomore forward's availability for the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team's opening game in the NCAA tournament remains in question.
"He remains day-to-day, but its (sic) a positive step," the school announced via the official UW men's basketball Twitter page.
Bruesewitz sustained a sprained right knee in Friday's loss to Penn State in a Big Ten Conference tournament game.
The Badgers (23-8), who drew the fourth seed in the Southeast Region, will face 13th-seeded Belmont (30-4) on Thursday at 6:27 p.m., a game that will be televised by TruTV.
Let's hope Bucky is playing on Saturday.  GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Badgers Looking Forward to Big Ten Tournament

Well, that certainly was not how Wisconsin men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan wanted his team to end the regular season.
The Badgers head to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament this weekend, fresh off a 28-point shellacking compliments of No. 1 Ohio State on Sunday. The Badgers were helpless against the scalding Ohio State shooters, most notably senior Jon Diebler, who scored 27 points and made all but one of his eight three-point shots.
“He’s on fire, he’s really comfortable. He hit 10 against Penn State [earlier in the week]. We did a hell of a job, we held him to seven,” Ryan joked in his press conference Monday.
All kidding aside, Diebler led the Buckeyes to the best single-game three-point shooting percentage in NCAA history Sunday (minimum of 10 attempts), going 14 for 15 as a team. Ryan attributed their nearly flawless play to the lack of pressure the Buckeyes felt. Purdue, second in the Big Ten and nipping at the Buckeyes’ heels for the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, were upset by Iowa the day before, giving the Buckeyes sole possession of the regular season conference championship.
“They were like, ‘Hey, there won’t be any tie.’ They let it all hang out,” Ryan said.
If it’s looking for redemption, Wisconsin has a chance at a rubber match against Ohio State in this weekend’s Big Ten Tournament. If the Badgers and Buckeyes each win their first two games, they will play each other on Sunday for a third time this season, with the Big Ten Tournament Championship on the line.
Perhaps more importantly, the Badgers could improve their seeding in the NCAA tournament, which begins the following Thursday. The Badgers are projected by ESPN to earn either a 3-seed or a 4-seed in the field of 68, depending on the selection committee’s opinion of the team.
Ryan, however, does not like to play the guessing game that goes with seeding the tournament.
“I gave up a long time ago trying to figure out how those things are done,” Ryan said. “So I don’t know, to speculate probably wouldn’t do any good.”
The Badgers do know they have the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, due to their 13-5 conference record.
Wisconsin’s first game of the tournament will be Friday night at Conseco Fieldhouse, and the Badgers will play the winner of the game between Penn State and Indiana. The Badgers have played extremely well against both teams, winning 13 of the last 14 against the Nittany Lions and eight straight against the Hoosiers.
Ryan also talked about the upperclassman leadership for the Badgers, especially junior point guard Jordan Taylor, who has had a phenomenal season.
Taylor, who averaged over 20 points per game in Big Ten games and led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, is one of 11 finalists for the Cousy Award, which is given annually to the best point guard in the country.
Ryan had nothing but praise for his standout point guard, believing he deserved his all-first team Big Ten honors.
“You would hope a guy like that would be unanimous, because I don’t know if any guy in the league did more for their team than he did,” Ryan said. “We’re looking at assists. We’re looking at defense; he should be on the all-defensive team. He’s just had that kind of season where he’s made things happen for his teammates and himself. He put us where we are. He’s earned it.”
Let's hope that the Badgers can start a roll now that it is tournament time.  GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Badgers are losing confidence

It's no secret that the No. 18 Wisconsin men's hockey team has fallen on hard times. The Badgers are 0-5-1 since their bye week, and have been steadily dropping in the national polls and conference standings all month. A month ago, home ice in the WCHA playoffs and a berth in the NCAA tournament seemed a certainty. These days, not so much.
With the way the past month has gone for the Badgers you would expect the confidence level in the locker room to be dampened, but Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said that what his team is going through right now isn't all that unexpected.
"The confidence level isn't what it has been at other times during the year, I would be lying if I said anything different," Eaves said. "But by the same token what we're going through is what most teams will go through at some point in a season."
For those looking for precedent in this situation, Eaves pointed to the 2006 national champion team, who went through a similar situation as this year's squad.
"Relating it to the story about '06 when we lost [former goaltender] Brian Elliott. Brian came back and we lost two games against Mankato and we were kind of going through the same thing," he said. "We were able to gather ourselves then, win the next series and get on a roll."
"Our hope is that we can do the same with this group," Eaves added.
"They are a young group that has played very well at times. They know they can beat anybody. It's been a tough stretch but we have to gather ourselves like the '06 team did and see if we can get ourselves on a roll."
Eaves refused to label the Badgers' current situation as desperate or crisis-like, instead choosing to remain optimistic by seeing it as a chance for this young team to grow and come together.
"Sometimes when you go through things like this what seems like a negative becomes a positive," Eaves said after Saturday's 7-3 loss to St. Cloud State. "It's how you handle these moments and how you try to right your ship. This is a big growth opportunity for this team."
For Eaves, choosing to be negative in the face of adversity doesn't result in positive results moving forward.
"I don't think being negative in any situation has any benefits," he said. "We can be truthful with one another, we're not going to skirt issues. It's about perspective, and the perspective of the coaching staff and our captains is one of moving forward and figuring this out together, doing the things we need to do and get going again."
A good analogy for what this team is going through, and how it will end positively, is marriage, according to Eaves.
"The value of marriage in real life goes up when you go through hard times," he said. "The value of a team concept becomes more real when you go through hard times. This is part of us becoming closer as a team. It's a good thing to go through and we hope to see the benefits as soon as this weekend."
Let's hope the Badgers can turn it around in time.  GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!