Great (Badger) Expectations
There seems to be an air of disappointment regarding the performance of the UW basketball team so far this season. Perhaps it’s because fans thought the team would immediately build upon last season’s 31 win campaign or maybe coach Bo Ryan’s successful run in Madison has created a sense of entitlement among the Badger faithful. Whatever the reasons, the expectations for this team appear to be at an unrealistic level for this early in the season. Even in taking a highly regarded Texas squad down to the wire, some of the game accounts I read lamented the Badgers lack of a ‘signature victory’.
True, the Badgers have come up short in games against Connecticut, Marquette and Texas but, with the exception of the UConn game in which they faded late, they’ve been competitive in every game. Considering that there are up to 5 players in the regular rotation that barely played last year, it would be illogical to assume that these Badgers would become an elite team right off the bat. Holdovers Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil, and Kevin Gullikson should only get better with more court time. And Rob Wilson and Jordan Taylor, while obviously talented, are still freshmen learning their way.
Having said that, this year’s team faces some difficulties in comparison to last year’s edition. The losses of Michael Flowers and Brian Butch may be harder to overcome that it would seem on the surface. Starting guard Jason Bohannon is a limited player in relation to Flowers, a superior defender and all around player who was well versed in Ryan’s preferred style of play. And Nankivil still needs to get stronger and learn to finish; he’s also not the consistent scoring threat that Butch became by the end of his Badger career. Forwards Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft simply aren’t capable of carrying the team the way Alando Tucker did at times at UW. Wisconsin also suffers when point guard Trevon Hughes tries to do too much by himself, as he did at the end of last night’s game against Texas, instead of staying within the confines of the offense.
Ryan’s genius resides in a system that gets the most out of his players; history suggests that his teams generally improve as the season progresses. Given the experience level of the current Badgers, that would seem to be especially true this year. The Badgers may not win the Big Ten(11) this year, but they should remain in the upper half of the conference. And there’s no shame in that.