I’ve come to really admire Wisconsin basketball. Perhaps it is because I see them as an overachieving program. More likely it is the fact that I marvel at their incredible defense and ability to dictate the pace of a game to their advantage (sound familiar) more than any team I know. At the heart of it, though, is the fact that Wisconsin is the best kept secret in college basketball. The Badgers have perfected the magic of protecting their homecourt as well as any team in the nation during the Bo Ryan era (They’ve won 92% of their home games since he became head coach in 2001-02 and that includes B1G!).
As a former basketball player, I was a guy who made his “living” on defense. I marvel at this Badgers team (18-8,9-4) as they are doing it against conference foes that are top ten teams. You can make a case that this year is the best the B1G has been since the early 1990s. Wisconsin was projected to be “down” by the media standards, yet, every time I looked at the standings, there was Wisconsin, the lone un-ranked team in the B1G’s upper tier. The Badgers are now ranked (#19/#17) and come to Welsh-Ryan Arena (8pm ct, BTN) in our lone regular season match-up. In a year when every game seems to be against a ranked team, the schedulers bailed us out of extending our losing streak in the Kohl Center. During the recent string of unprecedented four straight NIT appearances, Northwestern had done a decent job of protecting the home floor. However, this year, we’ve been poor at Welsh-Ryan with the exception of the Minnesota, Purdue and one half of the Indiana game.
I’m envious of the Badgers. They’ve got an incredible fan base, a lunch pail work ethic and a consistency in hoops that is really admirable. I look at their roster and see guys like Ben Brust, who is playing great, and was headed down the path of becoming a Northwestern Wildcat before a player got kicked off the Badgers opening up a spot for him. I see Dave Sobolewski’s big high school teammate, Frank Kaminsky, a 6-11 sophomore who is growing in productivity every game. I see a roster of primarily Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota natives that comprise a tough out in the NCAA Tournament. And, I’d love nothing more to see them get knocked off tonight.
It should be fascinating to see how the ‘Cats respond at home after their no-show performance on Sunday. You’ve got to believe the team was embarassed and is ready to roll, and in theory, give its most determined effort of the B1G season tonight. Ultimately, this will come down to who controls the tempo and style of play more. Wisconsin defends the three traditionally as well as anyone in the nation. They rarely turn the ball over and they have bigs that can pound us down low. Will Carmody go 2-3 and force Brust and company to beat us from beyond the arc like we did at Ohio State ( a team the Badgers absolutely just crushed in the same way Illinois beat us)? You can bet the Badgers will be trying to force the ball in to the hands of our bigs, as they have a decided advantage if they take away the three. It should be a good chess match.
Social Media Time
I’ll be attending the Social Media Night pregame festivities at 6pm at the Ryan Field Stadium Club. Wildcat alum and ESPN sports business reporter (and Purple Mafia Member) Darren Rovell will be a keynote speaker at the Wildcats’ social media night. Registration is currently closed for the festivities, but I hope to see many of you there!