Part four of the Big Ten preview hops across the border to learn more about the hated Wisconsin Badgers, and asks important questions like who should we hate, and why? Hoops Marinara generously provided the following information:
FTB: Wisconsin has picked up quite the reputation for their border raiding ways. How are the Minnesotans coming along?
HM: Ah, where to begin … Jon Leuer is living up to his potential as a junior this year, providing a steady inside scoring compliment to Trevon Hughes. He is confident in his game, no longer hanging around the perimeter too much now that he has filled out his frame with some muscle. Leuer is truly one of the league’s most difficult matchups and currently leads the Badgers in scoring and rebounding.
Last year, Jordan Taylor (2008 Mr. Basketball) played a sizable portion of minutes compared to other freshmen under Bo Ryan. His shooting was atrocious, but you could see glimpses of a smart, confident floor general. He leads the team in assists this year and has become a better scorer, while cutting down on his fouls. Wisconsin fans are excited to have Taylor running the point the next two seasons.
Though Jared Berggren was the talk of the offseason workouts, he has not made the immediate impact in the Badger front court that I expected him to. I believe this has more to do with the solid play of the four forwards in front of him on the depth chart than being a knock on his progress. Playing time has been hard to come by for freshman Mike Bruesewitz, Minnesota’s AP POY last season. But his stellar effort against Arizona when everyone else seemed to be in foul trouble saved the day for Wisconsin. He earned his stripes that day as a Badger favorite with his hustle and toughness.
FTB: The last few years it was Joe Krabbenhoft, before that it was Brian Butch. Who is this year’s candidate for the player Gopher fans will love to hate?
HM: I don’t know, would you turn on one of your own? The two most likely to
fit your profile — white guys with buzz cuts — down the line would be Berggren or Bruesewitz. But honestly, I would say redshirt freshman Ryan Evans, who sports a classic flat top haircut. He will crash the boards, commit the occasional charging foul and try to dunk on you to mixed results. Evans has been the surprise of the year as far as cracking the rotation.
FTB: What did the Duke win mean for the program?
HM: It did a lot as far as giving the program much more national exposure. You
cannot underestimate the coverage a team gets when it plays Duke, let alone upsets them. But really it meant more for the Big Ten, since it was one of the best (if not the best) win for the Big Ten in the non-conference season and essentially ended the Big Ten/ACC Challenge drought. For Wisconsin it simply validated that the collective talent on this team was underestimated.
FTB: What happened with the loss at UW-GB? That seemed to come out of nowhere.
HM: A hungry opponent got hot from the outside on their home court. Wisconsin can pack it in with the best of them, but is not known for it’s pressure D, so the team is prone to drop one or two a year to a hot-shooting club (see: Davidson, 2008 NCAAs). I actually credit Wisconsin for even pushing that one to overtime. Only 2 or 3 guys showed up to play that night, so I guess you could say it was a Duke hangover.
FTB: The Gophers and Badgers play only once the next two seasons. Does this bother folks on your side of the border? Have your heard anything about potentially scheduling a non-conference game between the Gophers and Badgers next year?
HM: Ha, no I have not heard that rumor. The only thing that bothers me and other fans about the scheduling glitch is that Wisconsin has to wait an extra year to get another shot at Minnesota in the Kohl Center. Mentally, the whole community needs to cleanse the bitter taste of last year’s meltdown out of our mouths.
It is a shame that playing less often will deprive the league of another great rivalry. More regular meetings in the next two years could have really turned up the heat between the two programs, considering the rise of Tubby and the “Minnesota Badgers” on Bo’s roster.
FTB: Your predictions for Wisconsin’s conference record, NCAA tournament seed, Big Ten regular season champion, and Big Ten Tournament champion.
HM: In the conference, I still see Wisconsin as an 10 or 11-win team. I’ll go with 11-7 for now. Hopefully a win or two in the league tourney and a strong non-conference slate helps UW pick up a 6 or 7-seed as a 22-win team.
For conference champs, I can’t pick against Purdue right now, as long as Hummel is healthy. That group has paid its dues. I could see Michigan State running away with the tourney title though. The Spartans are just as talented now as they were coming into the season and Izzo’s teams peak at the right time.