From the Student Section: Wisconsin BadgersPosted by rtmsf on December 19th, 2009
Contributing writer Kevin Chupka will periodically interview a rabid student fan about all things basketball on the court and in the stands… a view from the student section.
College basketball has its casual fans just like any other sport. There is one group however that elevates it above all else by taking “fandom” to new heights. A group tasked with truly being that sixth man on the court. Sure the alumni can open up wallets full of cash from the real world and they can drink their fancy imported beer but the lifeblood of any great team inside the many arenas of division one college basketball are the students. There are always exceptions (yours truly and Dick Vitale to name but two) but by and large students are the ones who live and breathe based on their team’s fortunes. And so I sought to find some of those rabid fans. The ones that paint their bare chests bright red or blue or orange. The ones that lead the student section in chants that lift up their team and dash the dreams of the other. In the weeks that follow we’ll get the dirt from inside the foxhole as we pick the brains of those who know their team best.
People like Michael Bleach, the beat writer for The Badger Herald, the paper of record at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The senior journalism major has his finger on the pulse of the basketball Badgers; and while he and many in town were still streaming into Camp Randall Stadium to cheer on the gridiron Badgers, Michael was also looking closely at a basketball team that the mainstream media saw clawing for notoriety in a strong Big Ten conference.
In a column previewing the season Michael wrote: “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.” Baffled he told me because “The team has no holes in the starting five — with everyone on the floor able to shoot from beyond the arc — and it is a Bo Ryan team, so you know they will play strong defense. They have two strong subs coming off the bench in Jordan Taylor (sixth man of the year candidate) and Ryan Evans (typical athletic, defense, hustling guy).”
The only caveat he says, is injury, admitting that the team’s depth only goes so far and replacing a fallen Badger may not be so easy. Losing two freshman prospects after they were caught stealing from a dorm certainly didn’t help matters and leaves the bench unreasonably thin. Despite all that, so far the season seems to be going the way Bleach predicted. Enduring, as Michael puts it, a “beastly game from Kyle Singler,” lights-out shooting helped Wisconsin slay the giant Blue Devil in the ACC / Big Ten Challenge. They also beat Arizona and Maryland and hung with a much improved Gonzaga team in the Maui Invitational despite losing a close one in the end. The hurdles left in Wisconsin’s way are not hard to see. Games against Michigan State and Purdue will need an A+ game from the Badgers if they expect to come out with wins. In Michael’s eyes, though, Wisconsin can run with just about any team on its schedule because “the Badgers can match up with anyone on any given night if their shots are falling.”
But just who is responsible for carrying the team? For Michael it’s a one-two punch. “The inside-outside combo of (Trevon) Hughes and (Jon) Leuer is what makes Wisconsin’s swing offense really swing.” And as Hughes has matured in Wisconsin’s system the team has only gotten better. “The way Hughes has improved the most is through his ability to take over in crunch time. We saw it last year against Florida State and this year in wins over Arizona and Duke. He isn’t a great ‘point guard’ — his assist-to-turnover ratio is fairly average — but he is a great guard for the swing offense. He is one of two players for UW who can consistently create his own shot late in the shot clock (with Jordan Taylor being the other), knock down open threes and he controls the tempo of the game well — he knows when to push it and when to slow it down.”
And while the team has its stars, one of the things that makes college basketball so exciting is that a player can improve so drastically from season to season. For Wisconsin fans the one player they’re waiting to explode onto the scene is Keaton Nankivil. Bleach says, “He is athletic (the best dunker on the team), can shoot the ball (I would say he has the best shot after Jason Bohannon) and seems to relish doing the dirty work. The only thing holding him back is a lack of confidence/assertiveness or whatever word you want to call it. He passes up open 3-pointers all the time which baffles me and rarely looks to score when has the ball in the post though he is more than capable.”
And at the end of the day, regardless of the teams they play and the players’ shooting percentages or A:TO ratios, Bleach say this one thing sums up the Badgers this and every year.
“They are a Bo Ryan team, and Bo Ryan teams do nothing but win.”