BADGERS: Half Full or Half Empty?
Now that the Badger basketball team has concluded it’s Big(11)Ten season, I have started to consider their future.
Not their future in the NCAA tournament. If you’ve watched the team this season, then you should already have a pretty good handle on how that’s going to go. Being the Badgers, they will give anyone they play a battle. They will also ultimately be done in by the shortcomings that have plagued them all year. The lack of “go to player” has left them vulnerable to scoring droughts at critical times. The absence of a true post player has hurt them on both offense with their inability to “finish” around the basket and on the other end where they lack a last line of defense. They still struggle with pressure and the Ohio St. loss reminded us that they continue to have trouble attacking zone defenses because their shooting is inconsistent at best. Much will depend on who they’re matched up against, of course, but to expect anything more than even one win in the NCAA tournament is decidedly unrealistic.
None of the above is intended as a knock on the Badgers. I believe that coach Bo Ryan may have done his best coaching job given what he had to work with; getting as much out of his team as any Badger fan had a right to expect. An objective observer would likely marvel that the Badgers managed to finish in fourth place in an unusually deep conference. The season could easily have drifted into oblivion with the six game losing streak in the middle. The team showed a lot of character and deserves a great deal of credit for turning things around and securing a tournament bid.
The question that has entered my mind is, where does the program go from here? In order to return to contention for the conference title, one of the Badgers remaining players is going to have to develop into an offensive force akin to what Devin Harris or Alando Tucker was in the past. They have at least a couple of candidates there but either will have to overcome limitations. Trevon Hughes has that attitude but is often limited by his relatively small stature and questionable decision making, though that area has improved in the latter part of this season. Perhaps a better choice here would be forward Jon Leuer, who’s skill set could allow him to take his game to the next level if he gains strength and stops thinking like the guard that he used to be. A third possibility could be guard Jordan Taylor, who has shown flashes this year of what he could become. But Taylor will likely be blocked from a prominent role as long as Hughes is there. It’s also clear that one of the Badgers big men will have to provide a defensive presence if they hope to compete in the rugged Big(11)Ten.
One thing that is certain is that Ryan’s job won’t be getting any easier. New coaches hired in the last couple of years have breathed life into previously dormant programs, greatly increasing the level of competition and the depth of the conference. Tubby Smith at Minnesota has already proven to be trouble on the court and a thorn in Ryan’s recruiting side. Matt Painter at Purdue, John Behlein at Michigan, and Bill Carmody at Northwestern have already taken their programs up a notch from where they were. And that doesn’t even include what former Marquette coach Tom Crean figures to bring at Indiana. Given all these factors, the Badgers will be hard pressed to continue the success they’ve previously enjoyed. If they hope to return to Big(11)Ten prominence, Bo will have to step his game up as well.