Up on a pedestal with tailgating, gambling and calling for Donovan McNabb’s job, the fresh start of a new season brings out one of the most noble of sporting traditions for fans.
Namely, delusional optimism from hordes of fanatics who have bought into the preseason hype and believe this season could finally be “the year” for their team.
This is the part in the column where I should be mocking those suckers. I mean, how can anyone talk themselves into success for the Lions, JaMarcus Russell or the UFL? Fans this stupid are the reason we spiraled into a recession, right?
Unfortunately for this hypocrite, the team starting a new season right now is Bo Ryan’s Badgers, and I have been drinking the Kool-Aid on Bo long before I was drinking Keystone from a Solo cup. Simply put, I see big things for Wisconsin basketball in 2009-10.
So this is what it’s like to belong to a horde…
While I’m not normally a homer — at last count, I have taken 376 cheap shots at Bret Bielema in my column — Ryan’s bio shows off statistics Bill Clinton couldn’t even twist.
?At 94-38, Ryan has the best winning percentage of all time in Big Ten conference games. Bob Knight (whoever that is) comes in second place on that list.
?In eight seasons at UW, Ryan qualified for the NCAA Tournament every single time, reaching the Sweet 16 thrice and the Elite Eight once.
? The Badgers have won either the Big Ten season or Big Ten tournament title five times in eight years.
?Ryan was recorded on video doing the “Soulja Bo.”
Despite this mountain of evidence to trust Bo, the national media (AP Top 25) has determined the Badgers will finish behind Michigan State, Purdue, Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois and Minnesota.
Michigan State and Purdue I will give you.
As for the rest of the teams on that list, however, they haven’t invented a word strong enough for me to express my disbelief. I am colossally baffled.
Ryan’s teams have never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten in eight years of coaching. Unless my math is off, the Badgers have been slated to come in seventh at best.
There are two potential reasons for this gross oversight. Perhaps the AP voters believe the Big Ten will be the SEC of football and the AL East for baseball combined.
They have drastically underestimated Wisconsin once again.
The Badgers boast a pair of senior guards in Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon, who finished second and third, respectively, in scoring for UW. In college hoops, advanced guard play is crucial to controlling the pace of a game, something the Badgers got better at as the season progressed last year.
Both Bohannon and Hughes bring reliable shooting from outside and on the free throw line, while Hughes led Wisconsin in steals averaging 1.4 thefts per game.
As for the bigs, UW lost two key players from last season in graduated seniors Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft. Both players finished with strong careers, helping Wisconsin advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Krabbenhoft earned a special place in every fan’s heart with his hustle, defense and grit, while helping the UW offense as an underrated passer. Landry led the team in points per game and dunks that brought the alumni out of their seats.
All that being said, the loss of the two senior leaders could help the Badgers with the addition-by-subtraction method.
I know, I know, this must be blasphemy. Krabbenhoft has more stitches than I have brain cells, my loyal haters will say.
Still, when you get beyond emotion as a way of analyzing basketball, there were serious disadvantages to having Landry and Krabbenhoft fulfill the role of your top two players.
As the leading scorer for Wisconsin last season, Landry is the natural person to look to when you need a big basket in crunch time. Unfortunately, Landry’s offensive skill set — a power drop step and a turn around jumper at the baseline — weren’t exactly ideal for putting his team on his back.
Landry was most valuable when he was scoring off offensive rebounds, not as a guy you run the offense through.
With Krabbenhoft, they will hurt trying to replace his defense, rebounding and leadership. They will be glad to get his jump shot off the floor, however.
Ryan’s swing offense is predicated on big guys shooting threes and guards posting up to exploit smaller defenders — or little men who simply don’t know how to defend on the block. With Landry and Krabbenhoft combining to make only 41 3-pointers in 33 games, defenses could sag off them and clog up passing lanes.
This is where UW will be different this season. In starting juniors Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil inside, the Badgers can put five men on the floor who will be given the green light to bomb away from the outside.
I’m aware Leuer’s final numbers from beyond the arc were subpar (30 percent), but the 6-foot-10 junior can score from anywhere on the floor and led UW in scoring efficiency last season — averaging a point every 2.4 minutes.
And anyone who understands basketball knows he is primed for a breakout year.
The person to benefit most from the departed seniors, however, will be Nankivil. Playing only 14 minutes a game with workhorses in front of him, the Madison native did what any good backup does: defended, grabbed a rebound here and there and sank the few shots given to him. But as he flashed against Purdue, Nankivil has one of the prettiest jump shots on the team, connecting on 9-of-14 beyond the arc and 82 percent from the charity stripe for the season.
With Nankivil and Leuer in the starting five, Bo’s offense will swing once again.
The Big Ten may be deep and talented, but betting against Ryan has never turned out well.
Let me just say, “I told you so” four months early.
Michael is a senior majoring in journalism. Doubt the magical powers of Ryan? E-mail him at [email protected]