Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Attention: Beware of Ryan’s Badgers

It?s not always pretty. It doesn?t always make you jump out of your seat. You don?t see players limping off the court in fatigue, cramping, like you did in the Feb. 23 No. 1 Tennessee-No. 2 Memphis matchup. Fast break alley-oops are rarities, and windmill dunks are even more uncommon.

Big Ten basketball isn?t run-and-gun, shootout, fast-paced hoops. Every game is a chess match. And right now, the man who crouches in front of Wisconsin?s bench, scowling at referees is getting pretty used to saying, ?checkmate.?

Ten days ago I spoke with a childhood friend of mine who is currently the graduate assistant for a Big 12 basketball program ? I?ll keep his name and team undisclosed. I asked him what he thought about the Badgers, to which he replied, ?Probably the best-coached team in the country.?


It?s hard to disagree.

I can?t think of a current college coach who has gotten more out of his players than Bo Ryan has this season, because let?s face it; on paper, this team should not be in the Top 10.

Good thing games aren?t played on paper.

Ryan has got this team not only believing in him and his signature swing offense, but in themselves, evident in their performances on the court over the past few weeks.

This Badger squad is now playing with a swagger that was absent earlier in the season. And as we enter the month of madness, I have one message for teams who overlook the cardinal and white as a legitimate foe: Beware of Bo?s Badgers, the Big Ten Champions.

Although he hasn?t been the most consistent player on this Wisconsin team, the swagger I mentioned earlier is centered around senior forward Brian Butch. Butch has looked like an altogether new player since Ryan inserted him into the ?crunch time lineup? Feb. 13 in Bloomington. In that game, he scored nine points down the stretch against Big Ten Player of the Year frontrunner D.J. White, including the game-winning 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds to play. Butch is the emotional leader of the team, as evidenced by his excessive fist-pumping and frantic arm-waving ? which does get a little ridiculous at times ? after he knocks down big shots. Nonetheless, every successful team needs someone to rally the troops in big games, and for that reason, the Polar Bear is indispensable.

The phrase ?It ain?t pretty, but it?s effective? comes to mind when you think of senior center Greg Stiemsma. He?s not a dominant big man ? although you wouldn?t have guessed it Wednesday night. Unless you?re my friend Sarah, who asked if he was the best player on the team and subsequently predicted his career night. By no means does he have finesse, but he can contribute with the occasional big block, rebound or hook shot. Stiemsma adds depth and size to the UW frontline, so if Butch were to get in foul trouble, there?s a more-than-sufficient backup ready for action ? or they can play together, as we saw multiple times against Penn State.

This season Marcus Landry has become a serious problem for Big Ten opponents. He?s athletic around the basket and now comfortable with shooting the 3-ball. He can play the three, four or five position on the floor and really creates matchup problems for opposing teams.

Sophomore guards Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon have shown immeasurable amounts of improvements as this season has progressed. Hughes has learned to take care of the ball and control the tempo of the game instead of playing street ball, trying to force everything. That said, he can get to the rim and create his own shot better than anyone on this Badgers team.

Bohannon, in my mind, has gone from timid to confident in a matter of weeks. He now doesn?t hesitate before unloading from beyond the arc. He knows he can knock down that shot time and time again. And to think ? he has two years left in his UW career.

That leaves me with my co-MVPs of the 2007-08 Wisconsin Badgers: junior Joe Krabbenhoft and senior Michael Flowers.

Krabbenhoft literally does it all. He can?t jump the highest or run the fastest. Heck, his jump shot is only mediocre at best. But he?s the kind of guy who can have a line of two points, 10 rebounds (five offensive), four assists and two steals. He?s simply a winner.

?[Joe?s] the kind of guy everybody wants on their team,? Ryan said Monday. ?If I?m playing pickup, I?d pick Joe.?

I?d pick four Joes and Flowers.

To me, not only is Flowers the team MVP, but he?s also the most improved from last season. He?s probably the best shutdown defender I?ve ever witnessed in person. Spartans? sharpshooter Drew Neitzel couldn?t shake Flowers for the life of him last week in the Kohl Center, as he finished with a mere three points on an abysmal 1-10 shooting performance.

But to be honest, I already knew Flowers was a lockdown on defense; it?s been his offensive play this season that has impressed me the most. Flowers night in and night out attacks the rim, handles the point when Hughes is resting, knocks down 3-pointers and dishes out 2.7 assists per game, assets we rarely saw last season.

I just mentioned seven (eight including Ryan) individuals vital to this year?s Badgers? success. But they are purely that: individuals. What makes this team really special is that it truly is a team. They don?t have a superstar. Instead, they have balance. They hedge screens, fit through picks and play team defense. They?re patient on offense and make the extra pass to an open teammate. It?s been fun to watch this team mature throughout the course of the season because they really have improved tremendously.

For the record, I was at Super Bowl XXXVIII ? which ended on a last-second Adam Vinatieri field goal ? and Game One of the 2004 World Series at Fenway Park, and the energy and excitement present in the Kohl Center Wednesday night was comparable.

Like the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, these Badgers have peaked at the right time. They?re on cruise control, and it?s now March 7.

This team has the ingredients to make a significant postseason run. Are they poised to knock off one of the nation?s best?

I wouldn?t bet against it.

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