Just two weeks ago it appeared the Wisconsin men’s basketball team’s (5-3 Big Ten, 16-5 overall) season was headed for disaster. With three straight losses, including a rare stretch of back-to-back home losses the Badger’s streak of 12 consecutive NCAA tournament births was in jeopardy. Fast forward just sixteen days later and Wisconsin suddenly finds itself only a half game out of first place in the conference after an impressive four-game Big Ten winning streak.
“So much of the schedule is who you play, when you play, who you played before, how many days off you get,” head coach Bo Ryan said.
Indeed the fickle nature of college basketball scheduling can sometimes either emphasize the struggles of a team, causing a team to quickly pile up loses, or trigger a win streak in a similar stretch if a team is hot.
“Because of the popularity and media coverage of college basketball, no sport is as controlled as college basketball,” Ryan said. “Some weeks you could be playing on Monday-Tuesday, or Tuesday-Thursday, Thursday-Sunday, or you could have nine days off.”
Right now the schedule is working for the Badgers, as a combination of hot shooting and improved defense has allowed Ryan’s group to pull out a string of quality conference wins, including impressive road wins over Purdue (4-3, 14-6) and Illinois (4-3, 15-5).
“Anytime you have an object that you are trying to put in a target, you will have some nights that are better than others,” Ryan said. “In basketball you have the defensive end, which can allow you to fight through slumps and give you a chance to win.”
Improved quality and consistency from All-American senior point guard Jordan Taylor has elevated the Badger’s play during the win streak. During conference play, Taylor has taken more control of the offense, which at different points has yielded mixed results. During the four-game winning streak, Taylor’s play has brought the team out of shooting slumps and has kept them in close games.
“Jordan is always going to find a way to make the team more successful; which is what all players will do. It’s just he’s better at it,” Ryan said.
The Badgers look to continue their streak this week against No. 17 Indiana (4-4, 16-4) who come in as a surprising contender for the Big Ten title after finishing in the conference’s bottom tier for two consecutive seasons. After posting wins against the likes of No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Ohio State, the first time in Indiana’s prestigious basketball history that the basketball team beat a No. 1 and a No. 2 team in the same season, many are projecting Indiana to make a run deep into March. The credit goes to Indiana head coach Tom Crean, who has been able to attract talent back to Indiana with the likes of freshmen forward sensation Cody Zeller (15.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg). Combining young talent with the veteran presence that has learned Crean’s system has gotten the Hoosiers back into college basketball’s elite programs.
“There’s a lot of the same players, they have the experience and have played in the toughest environments,” Ryan said. “90 percent of [Indiana] players have been there for a long time. Everyone in the conference expected them to be good this year.”
Finding a way to contain Zeller will be key for Wisconsin. In addition, limiting Indiana offensively as a team will be key, as the Hoosiers shoot 50 percent from the field, which is sixth in the nation. The Badgers are up for the challenge, as they lead the conference in opponent field goal percentage. Wisconsin has been especially stifling from behind the arc, as it is allowing opponents to only shoot 26 percent from three-point range.
“There are a lot of things that go into that. Like other teams we look at a scouting report and try to stay consistent with our roles,” Ryan said. “There’s no magic formula, just a lot of hard work from our players who try to limit our opponent’s looks.”
Let's hope the Badgers can return to the NCAA tournament and make some waves. GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!