In exactly one month from now, the first round of the 2014 NCAA tournament will kick off. I know it may seem a little early to be predicting a team’s fate, but after the past week, you have to wonder how far can this Wisconsin basketball team go.
Bo Ryan has led the Badgers to 12 straight NCAA tournaments, but has never advanced past the elite eight. Every March, the murmurs of “this is the year” occur, and by April, they always turn into “next year’s the year.”
2014 has been special. Bo Ryan has UW firing on all cylinders. The Badgers now find themselves on a four-game winning streak, with their sights set on the Big Ten title.
Is that what Bo really wants though? He has already accomplished multiple championships in both the Big Ten tournament as well as the regular season. His ultimate goal has to be reaching the Final Four.
The pieces are there: a starting five of veterans who have succeeded in big moments and victories against some of the nation’s top teams. The Wisconsin Badgers have seen it all in a matter of three months. Now it’s time for them to make a run for an NCAA championship.
The Badgers have the make up of a championship-caliber team. I have narrowed down three major components of this Wisconsin team that could push them deep into March. Traits that you typically find in successful tournament teams.
The starting five for the Badgers have combined for 370 games played at this point. Remarkably, only Ben Brust will be leaving at season’s end. Each one of these players have made game-changing impacts this year. Their ability to work off one another leads to open shots and minimal turnovers.
Five games remain in the regular season and the mystery remains to who is the best player on this team? That’s what makes this Wisconsin team so special. Any one of these Badgers can step up at any time. They feed off one another, by knowing who to give the ball too or when to assert themselves.
On Sunday, the day belonged to Frank Kaminsky, who was unstoppable offensively. The seven foot junior recorded his first career double-double against Michigan. UW recognized that Kaminsky had the hot hand, so in the second half they set up play after play for the big man. He would go on to score 17 of his game high 25 points after intermission, leading Wisconsin out of Ann Arbor with a victory.
Come tournament time, teams will have a day or two to prepare for the Badgers. This will become a major advantage for Wisconsin. If a team decides to take away a certain player, there are five others who are more than prepared to seise the opportunity. Many teams may implode when adversity strikes, but this experienced group of Badgers know how to control a game. Wisconsin’s 8.2 turnovers a game ranks them second in the nation, proving there is no panic button.
You see it every year. A low seeded team turns red hot in the tournament, resulting in a string of upsets. Just look back to 2008, when Stephen Curry and the tenth seeded Davidson Wildcats rained down 12 three’s against Wisconsin.
Well this year’s group of Badgers can shoot with the best of them. Other than Nigel Hayes, every player on the court has range beyond the arc. Versus Michigan State, each starter made a three point field goal. As a unit, UW shoots 37 percent from deep, ranking them third in the Big Ten.
Opposing defenses will find themselves lost at times defending Bo Ryan’s swing offense. If any player is left open, they will shoot without hesitation. Even center Frank Kaminsky, who shoots 41 percent from deep. It’ll be tough keeping up with the Badgers if they can manage to catch fire in March.
Many would agree that defense was to blame during Wisconsin’s mid-season slump. Opponents were shooting tremendous percentages, giving no chance for the Badger’s offense to contend.
Wisconsin however, has shrugged off their struggles and gone right back to work. During this current four-game win streak, Badger opponents have only averaged 41 percent shooting. A tough interior keeps teams from scoring at ease. Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes have been able to push offenses out of the paint, forcing teams to take horrible shots. The two forwards will need to stay out of foul trouble. An early benching could doom the Badgers.
Come tournament time, stars begin to shine. Schools piggyback onto their best player and see how far he can take them. If this situation occurrs against Wisconsin, Bo Ryan will be well prepared. He’ll just assign his top defender, Josh Gasser to whoever posses the biggest threat.
Gasser has been a defensive maestro this season. He has hounded star after star, leaving teams panicking offensively. The past week alone, he squared up against scoring leaders Garry Harris, Andre Hollins, and Nik Staukas. The three averaged 13 points against Gasser. If Josh manages to have the same success as he has had against the Big Ten, the Badgers should feel comfortable facing any opponent.