Jay Bilas once compared the Wisconsin Badgers to the San Antonio Spurs, calling the Badgers “the Spurs of college basketball”.
After you watch the Badgers play you will understand why. The unselfishness that the team displays is a breath of fresh air and really gives the college game a true feeling of “team” ball.
Team ball has led Wisconsin to a 15-1 start overall and a 3-0 start to Big Ten play. Between winning games going away or in close fashion, along with a Big Ten that keeps changing around them, it has some wondering if the Badgers can take its 3-0 start and run the table in the Big Ten.
One of the biggest reasons to think this is a possibility is the old man at the helm of the program, the venerable Bo Ryan.
He is so old school that he stresses fundamentals in each practice. Skills like catching the ball, passing the ball, shooting the ball, and pump faking are all taught on a daily basis in Madison. These skills have shown to be pretty helpful as the Badgers have made 13 straight NCAA tourney appearances under Ryan and are in the midst of possibly his best season to date.
The Badgers routinely rank near the bottom nationally in fouls per game & turnovers per game while ranking highly in points per possession, free throw percentage, 3 point percentage, and rebounding margin.
UW is a truly unique college team, as they can match up with any style of play.
Want to play fast? OK, but be warned that the Badgers rank in the top 5 in offensive efficiency while valuing possessions more than most teams.
Want to play slow? That is fine with Bo Ryan as the Badgers put a premium on defensive rebounding and rarely foul which will force opponents to out shoot them from the field to have a chance to win.
The truth is that it doesn’t matter if the game has 55 possessions or 85 possessions, the Badgers don’t mind. Pick your poison. That has been the Badgers attitude for the past two seasons.
Last season the Badgers started to find their mojo late in the season in route to Bo Ryan’s first Final Four appearance at Wisconsin. With seven of the top 8 scorers back in Madison for the 2014-15 season, you could expect expectations to be as high as ever before in Madison.
The team has started the 2014-15 campaign 15-1, with 10 wins over the RPI top 100 and a 3-0 start to conference play.
The key to Wisconsin’s emergence as an elite college basketball team is thanks in part to center Frank Kaminsky’s amazing development. His ability to step away from the basket at 7-feet tall is extremely rare to see in the college game, and the UW offense spreads the floor to give him space to work with.
Kaminsky may be the biggest reason why Wisconsin is enjoying more success than usual but he is not the only reason.
The top seven in the Badgers’ rotation all have the ability to stretch the floor and knock down three pointers.
Shooting Guard Josh Gasser is a lethal shooter from deep as well as an All-B1G defender.
Point Guard Traevon Jackson is the most clutch player in college basketball according to Dan Dakich, ESPN commentator and color analyst.
Wing-man Sam Dekker is as talented as they come. A former 5-star recruit, the Wisconsin native stands at 6-9 and is still growing! Dekker has the ability to play and defend the 2, 3, or 4 for Wisconsin, his versatility keeps him on the court late in games for coach Ryan and he is also one of the most explosive high-risers in the country.
Nigel Hayes is the youngest of the Badgers starting 5, and he may end up being the best pro of the bunch.
At 6-8, Hayes has the ability to hit jump-shots with great consistency. He has a plethora of post-moves that he can call upon down on the block. Hayes also possesses silky smooth touch around the basket and is physically overpowering at times.
The Badger bench players are very valuable as well. Duje Dukan is a 6-9 forward who has a flamethrower for a shot. It doesn’t take much to get this man going from deep, as he is absolutely lethal.
Bronson Koenig is the backup point guard who flashes greatness at times but is still young. He is the least consistent of the Badger regulars but when he is on just step back and watch the show!
Vitto Brown is yet another 6-9 forward who can hit jump shots outside of the paint area with decent consistency. He is also a tenacious rebounder and defender who plays spot minutes for Bo Ryan to give the other post players a spell.
This Badgers team has the talent to accomplish something that a B1G team hasn’t done for nearly 40 years. The accomplishment? An undefeated conference record.
No Big Ten team has gone unblemished in conference play since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers, and in order for Wisconsin to do it, they would need to go 18-0 — meaning 9 wins at home and 9 wins on the road.
The Badgers have a chance to go unbeaten thanks mostly in part to the B1G being down as a whole paired with the Badgers having Bo Ryan’s best team in recent memory.
As stated above the Badgers are already off to a 3-0 start in conference play and have won both home contests (against Penn St and Purdue) while clearly not playing as well as they are capable of.
Obviously the Badgers cannot afford to continue giving up over 50% shooting to opponents at home early in games (PSU & Purdue) if they want a shot at going 18-0. The defense must travel on the road as well as the Badgers impressive work from the foul line after 3 games (25-31 vs Purdue).
With 15 games left to play the remaining schedule looks like this:
@ Penn St
@ (11) Maryland
@ (22) Ohio St
As long as the Badgers show up to play at home I think that it is safe to assume that the Badgers will go unbeaten at home. The question becomes how well will they fare in the remaining road games?
The games that pose real threats are:
@ Penn St
@ Ohio St
Individually these games are all very winnable and Wisconsin should be favored in every remaining B1G game. The problem is that as a collective whole, going 7-0 in these games will be extremely difficult and will most likely require some luck along the way (as most special seasons often do).
Michigan could get hot for 40 minutes, Iowa or Nebraska could take advantage of a 5 minute run aided by the home crowd, Penn St could surprise a lackadaisical Badger squad expecting an easy W, Maryland could catch lightning in a bottle for a possible top ten clash, Minnesota is always extremely difficult to defeat at the Barn, and Ohio St could be looking for a signature win to get the NCAA selection committee’s attention.
Wisconsin has a very talented team but even the most talented of players have “off” nights where they can’t buy a basket, but that is where the Badgers are different from most teams who have attempted to run the table in the Big Ten as of late.
Most teams are entirely dependent on their top scorers to score in order to be successful. The beauty of Wisconsin’s team is that they have seven players who have each scored at least 14 points and are capable of “going off” in any game. The offensive philosophy of sharing the ball and sacrificing individual stats for the greater good of the team is very difficult to defend at the college level.
The chances of the Badgers going 18-0 are still very slim overall. The real story is the fact that 18-0 is a real possibility if the Badgers can stay focused and play as well as they are capable of for 8 or 9 consecutive challenging games (still a lot to ask).
The road to 18-0 may very well develop into the most intriguing story-line of the B1G season, as the Badgers certainly appear to be head and shoulders above the competition.
The 4 game stretch of Nebraska, Iowa, at Michigan and at Iowa is most interesting to me at this point. If the Badgers can survive that stretch with an unblemished record with 10 games to play, watch out!
With 15 games to play I am predicting a 16-2 conference record which would put the Badgers at 28-3 overall heading into the B1G tourney. Two more wins in the B1G tourney would most likely lock up a 1 seed for the NCAA tournament and beyond, which is most important to Badgers fans anyways.
If Badgers fans could choose between an undefeated conference record or another Final Four appearance, I have a feeling that I know what they would choose…