Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Badgers to play Michigan

The No. 12 Wisconsin men's basketball team will hit the road Wednesday to take on a red hot Michigan team in Ann Arbor. Winners of five out of their last six, the Wolverines (7-8 Big Ten, 17-11 overall) have gotten themselves squarely back onto the bubble, now competing for fourth place in the Big Ten with Illinois, Michigan State, Penn State and Minnesota.
While Michigan opened Big Ten play losing six of its first seven conference games, including a 23-point loss to Purdue and a 19-point drubbing to a struggling Indiana squad, the recent turnaround has them currently playing some of its best basketball of the year. It seems Michigan is poised to give the Badgers a challenge much like similarly streaky teams in Penn State and Iowa, both of whom welcomed UW to their home arena precisely when they were playing their best basketball of the season.
The Wolverines surprised many by winning their first game in East Lansing since 1997, the young team has turned things around and in the process has begun a long climb up the Big Ten standings.  Now coming off a come-from-behind road victory against Iowa, the Wolverines are as confident as they have been all season.
"We're more focused on trying to stop teams," Michigan freshman forward Jordan Morgan said of the added defensive intensity. "[We're] playing with more energy and taking teams out of their rhythm."
The sharp shooting backcourt of sophomore guard Darius Morris and freshman guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. have lead the Wolverines in their recent surge.
"Morris seems like he's been a little more consistent, and that's pretty important when you've got the ball in your hands as much as he does," UW head coach Bo Ryan said.
"He's being smart about the shots he takes and he knows the times when we need big shots," Morgan said of Hardaway, who notched a career-high 30 points in the Wolverines 75-72 overtime win at Iowa. "He's got a lot of confidence and his confidence is growing with every good game he has."
Despite the confidence building in Michigan's dangerous backcourt, the frontcourt will likely have their hands full Wednesday night.
The Badger's senior frontcourt duo Keaton Nankivil and Jon Leuer stand at a respective 6'8" and 6'10". In comparison, Michigan's frontcourt Morgan and junior forward Zack Novak are just 6'8" and 6'4" respectively. The Badgers will not only have a size advantage in the paint; Wisconsin will also have a crucial advantage in the experience column.
After shooting just 20 percent from the field in Wisconsin's previous three games, Nankivil erupted Sunday against Penn State. He nailed all five of his three-point attempts on his way to 22 points.
"Their pick-and-roll situation is tough to guard because they'll pop," Morgan added. "They've got a lot of guys who can shoot it, so that puts us in a lot of recovery situations."
If the Badgers hope to come out of Ann Arbor will a win, they will need to take advantage of those recovery situations and shoot the ball well from range, something they have thus far been unable to do on the road.
Let's hope that Bucky can keep it rolling.  GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Badgers Beat #1 Ohio State

In Saturday's clear-cut marquee match-up, the No. 14 Wisconsin men's basketball team stunned top-ranked and previously unbeaten Ohio State (21-1 Big Ten, 24-1 overall) by finishing the game on a 39-20 run to pick up a 71-67 victory.
With the victory, Wisconsin becomes just the eighth school to take down a top-ranked team in both football and basketball during the same school year, and just the second to do so against the same school (Florida pulled the trick against Ohio State in 2006-‘07).
Sophomore forward Mike Bruesewitz might have made the play of the game with a clutch three in the final minute, but junior guard Jordan Taylor left little doubt about player of the game honors.  After struggling to just six first-half points, Taylor shined in the second half, leading the Badger comeback with 21 second half points including 10 over a three minute stretch that ultimately saw UW erase a 15 point deficit with a 15-0 run.
"We just had to toughen up," Taylor said. "They made a run and we knew we had a run in us."
If there were any doubters about Taylor's rightful place as one of the nation's best, this 27-point, seven assist,  four-rebound performance should silence them now.
"What he did there," UW head coach Bo Ryan said. "I don't think there's too many players in the country, not just this year but all time, who've done that, especially against the number one team."
What shined through in Saturday's win was the resiliency that, by all accounts, defines this year's Wisconsin squad. The Badgers not only overcame a double-digit deficit against the top team in the nation, but did so just three days after battling their way to an overtime victory in Iowa City against the struggling Hawkeyes.
"To do what they did and have those kind of legs and arms, to have Ohio State get the lead they got and then get the lead ourselves," Ryan added. "I don't know what else you can say about these guys about how tough they are."
As many expected, the crowd played a huge role in bringing down the Buckeyes. While a Buckeye run early in the second half seemed to knock the crowd out of it, Taylor responded with back-to-back threes to cut the lead to seven with 11:22 left. More importantly, however, he brought the raucous crowd back onto their feet.
"He came down and gave us back-to-back threes and got us right back into it," senior forward Jon Leuer said. "From there, we had the momentum, you could just feel the energy in the building."
Averaging over 18 points a game coming into Saturday, Leuer struggled against a physical Ohio State front line that held the Naismith Award candidate to just 12 points and six rebounds on 5 of 14 shooting.
Even with Taylor's career day, Leuer's struggles made the contributions from Bruesewitz and freshman guard Josh Gasser all the more crucial in the Badgers' 17th straight home victory.
"We talked about having [Bruesewitz] be the guy who beats us," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said after the game. "And today, he did."
In addition to Bruesewitz's 12 crucial points off the bench (capped off by the aforementioned three-pointed), Gasser once again stepped up when needed most, going for 11 points and seven rebounds. Not counted in those stats, though, was a pivotal tip late in the ballgame that allowed Leuer to secure an offensive rebound and maintain possession.
"He makes those kinds of plays all the time that you might not see in the box score," Leuer said. "But he's the kind of kid who's hard-nosed and sticks his face into the ball."
Despite the late drama, the energy of the crowd suggested very few of the 17,000 plus that packed the Kohl Center would have imagined the comeback possible when the Buckeye lead stood at 47-32. But somehow, someway, the Badgers found a way to win with their backs against the wall, completing just the sixth comeback of 15 points or more in program history.
While the Badgers are certainly going to celebrate the win, they already have an eye on a road test against Purdue coming up Wednesday night.
 "This was a huge win for us to keep moving forward but we're not done yet," Leuer added. "We feel like we still have a lot of work left to do and we're just trying to get better every day so we can be playing our best basketball down the stretch."
It looks like Bucky is getting hot at the right time.  Can you say Final Four????
 GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Badgers Looking to Beat Hawkeyes

Bo Ryan and Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery have plenty in common. In addition to both being at the helm of their representativeBig Ten men's basketball programs, Ryan and McCaffery are also both proud Pennsylvania natives.
McCaffery grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., nearly 300 miles away from Ryan's hometown of Chester. Despite this distance, Ryan has gotten to know McCaffery quite well both as an athlete and coach.
"[Fran] was a heck of a player, tough competitor—kind of a playground guy too," Ryan said. "He's a very competitive guy so coaching seems to fit him."
McCaffery's Hawkeyes (3-8 in Big Ten, 10-13 overall) are coming off back-to-back Big Ten wins, and will be looking for their first three-game winning streak of the season when UW visits Carver-Hawkeye Arena Wednesday night.
Hovering around the .500 mark, the Hawkeyes have been a Jekyll and Hyde team, especially on the defensive end of the floor. In Iowa's ten victories this year, their opponents are averaging 53.1 points and shooting 35 percent from the field, including 24 percent from three. However, the Hawkeyes are also 0-12 when opponents shoot a better field goal percentage and 0-9 when out-rebounded.
Still, Iowa has won two straight games and is certainly peaking just in time for the Badgers' arrival.
"In scheduling, it's always about when you play a team and where you play them," Ryan said. "And if there's a team playing with more confidence than Iowa I don't know who that would be, other than Ohio State."
The all-time series between Iowa and UW is tied at 76-76, although the Hawkeyes hold the advantage at home 48-25.
Despite winning four of six in Iowa City, this time around won't be as easy whenlooking at Iowa's 10-13 record.
"You ask a lot of coaches; they would tell you they would much rather have played Iowa a month ago," said Ryan. "But that happens a lot in our league."
That said, the Badgers are playing with a bit of confidence of their own. UW has won five of six, with two of those victories coming against teams then ranked in the AP Top 20.
Junior guard Jordan Taylor and senior forward Jon Leuer, arguably the best duo in the Big Ten, have no doubt led the recent charge. The tandem is averaging a conference-best 39.6 combined points per game, and Taylor owns the nation's best assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.9.
Despite Taylor's emergence as one of the elite guards in the nation, he was absent from Monday's Cousy Award finalists, given annually to the nation's top point guard, another indication of just how under-the-radar the Bloomington, Minn. native has gone this season.
But Coach Ryan noted that while the ten finalists are all deserving of the honor, his focus has always been on the team and its maturity throughout the season.
"I never worried about what lists anybody's on or what awards or anything else," Ryan said. "I'm still one of those old coaches that never gives out any individual awards at any of our functions because I always thought it had Wisconsin on the front of the jersey."
Through it all, Ryan knows this disappointment will not deter Taylor from remaining one of the league's top performers.
"Jordan will be okay," Ryan said with a smirk. "He'll recover from that."
With a confident Iowa team up next on the docket, he'll have to recover quickly if the Badgers hope to continue their winning ways and head back home on a good note.
Badger Basketball looks like they are on a roll.  GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!