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2006-2007 Wisconsin Badgers

by Chris Mackinder | March 10th, 2007

Team personality: The Badgers are a true example of a team (with a little Alando on the side). Outside of Alando Tucker, a top three candidate for National Player of the Year, the Badgers have a slew of role players that do all the dirty work and play within coach Bo Ryan’s system.

Ryan’s swing offense, which if you can imagine a telestrator on your screen, flip-flops the position of the frontcourt and backcourt on offense. So, instead of seeing Wisconsin’s big, home-grown monsters in the post, teams find the 6-foot-6 Tucker, the 6-2 Kammron Taylor and 6-7 Marcus Landry in the paint. Couple the oddity with the fact the team’s big men, 6-10 Jason Chappell and 6-11 Greg Stiemsma, are decent 3-point shooters and opposing teams always seem to be confused.

Biggest Games: As far as seeding for the NCAA Tournament is concerned, Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament championship game against Ohio State could be huge. A No. 1 seed—in addition to the Big Ten title—is on the line.

Through the season’s first 33 games, Wisconsin had plenty of big games and nearly all of them resulted in victories. The list of victims: Winthrop, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Illinois, and Michigan State. Not only can the Badgers grind out victories, they can do it against some of the best teams in the country.

Has to be on the floor:
Tucker. Without question, Tucker is the heart and soul of the Badgers and the type of player that makes Bo Ryan’s offense work like clockwork. A perfect example happened in the second half against Illinois on Saturday in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. After missing a 3-pointer and Stiemsma grabbed the rebound, Tucker cut to the hoop. He received a quick pass and got an easy layup. That isn’t exactly how Ryan runs his offense, but it is exactly the type of basket that personifies Wisconsin basketball.

Tucker isn’t just a National Player of the Year candidate because he’s the best player on a top 5 team. Tucker does it all. He scores (20.2 points per game). He rebounds (5.4 rebounds per game). He stretches the defense with his 3-point shooting ( 34.6 percent). He plays tight defense (0.9 steals per game) without fouling (1.2 fouls per game). And, those are only the things that you can put on a stat sheet. Tucker does all the little things that college basketball fanatics everywhere appreciate.

Last shot: Tucker is the obvious choice, since what team doesn’t want the ball in its National Player of the Year candidate’s hands in the waning seconds? But, now that he’s got his mojo back, Taylor is option 1A.

Despite a 1-for-8 shooting performance in the game’s first 39-plus minutes against Michigan State in the regular season finale, Taylor’s number was called with the game on the line. All Taylor did was drain a NBA-range 3-pointer to give the Badgers a 52-50 victory. In the games that have followed, Taylor scored 11 points (5-for-11 shooting) and 16 points (on 6-for-12 shooting).

When opposing teams double (or triple) team Tucker in the closing seconds, the Badgers won’t hesitate putting the rock in Taylor’s hands.

Impact newcomer: On a team stacked with veterans, Jason Bohannon is one rookie who can heat it up coming off the bench. Now, no one is giving the freshman guard the nickname “The Microwave”—that that will forever belong to Detroit Piston great Vinnie Johnson—but Bohannon, when he gets going, could be “The Toaster Oven.” For proof check out his 11-point game (3-for-3 from beyond the arc) against Ohio State in just 17 minutes.

Expecting the world of Bohannon would be crazy. He’s only scored in double figures four times with 11 being his career high. But, those six-, seven- and eight-point games are the ones that could make huge differences in the Big Dance.

Potential pitfall: While Wisconsin is a true “team,” they have one weakness: an over-reliance on Tucker. While he’s definitely a star who can change the outcome of a game, Tucker’s size and talent can only do so much (he’s no Greg Oden or Kevin Durant).

Wisconsin, like many other teams, needs to have a handful of options on offense that, when called upon, can deliver. In Wisconsin’s last five games, the Badgers have only topped the 60-point mark just once (in Friday’s 70-57 victory over Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals). The other games resulted in 55, 48, 52 and 53 points. Luckily, the defense was so strong in the latter two games that Wisconsin still pulled out victories. If the Badgers can’t find other offense options not named Tucker, 59 points or less might not be enough to win very many NCAA Tournament games.

How to reach the Final Four: Wisconsin’s one weakness not mentioned above is the loss of Brian Butch. “The Polar Bear,” as ESPN analyst Steve Lavin calls him, was a key part of the team before he suffered a gruesome elbow injury. He’s expected to miss the entire NCAA Tournament. But, since Butch has been out of the lineup, the Badgers have lost one game—the 49-48 loss to Ohio State, the game in which Butch was injured. Without him playing at all, Wisconsin is 3-0, so it seems the Badgers haven’t missed a beat.

To find themselves as one of the last four teams standing, the Badgers have to do what they have done all season: Protect the basketball, keep the tempo slow and methodical, and let Tucker be the star that he is.

The Badgers shouldn’t have any problems in the first two rounds. They’re just too good to be beat by a team seeded seventh or worse. Any tournament game that Wisconsin could lose will come down to the final minute and that is where Wisconsin will have to prove it belongs. If the first 33 games are any indication, the Badgers know they belong in Atlanta. Now they just have to win four games in 10 days to prove it.

–Chris Mackinder

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