Seeing as the Big Ten Tournament starts tonight, it seemed only fitting to have a guest who is well-versed in Wisconsin Badgers basketball.  From Bucky’s 5 th Quarter, and previously Hoops Marinara, our guest this week is Phil Mitten.  Phil is B5Q’s primary Badgers’ hoops blogger and we’ll find out what he thinks of a possible Ohio State-UW re-match in the Big Ten Tournament, where the Badgers may end up seeded in the Big Dance and more on Jordan Taylor, Jon Leuer, Josh Gasser and others.

A little history lesson for our readers.  You started blogging at your own site Hoops Marinara and then moved over to Bucky’s 5th Quarter.  How’d you get started initially and what prompted the move to B5Q?

I started Hoops Marinara in the spring of 2007 as a talented Wisconsin team was reeling from Brian Butch’s elbow injury. Blogging was an opportunity to voice opinions about my favorite team online while avoiding petty message board spats. There were no blogs dedicated to Badger hoops and I had been a journalism major in college, so it seemed like a perfect fit.  When Adam approached me last summer about joining him at B5Q, I appreciated how dedicated and equally passionate he was about Wisconsin sports. It seemed like a great opportunity to do some even bigger together and the site has really exploded.

We’re coming off of a pretty disappointing, if not downright embarrassing, loss to Ohio State this past Sunday. What impact do you think this will have on the Badgers’ seeding for the NCAA Tournament?

That was a game Wisconsin was expected to lose for the most part, so I think the effect was minimal. Winning certainly would have given them a boost into the 2- or 3-seed range, with a small chance for more heading into the conference tournament, but I think the Badgers are a solid 4-seed at this point regardless of how unbearable Sunday’s game was. And it definitely was hideous.

What are the chances we’ll see a ‘rubber match’ between Wisconsin & Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament, most likely for the Championship if it happens. If that does occur, what chance do you give UW?

Wait, I thought Ohio State was disbanding the basketball team to focus on Tattoo-gate? Darn. Well, I will not be surprised if Wisconsin sees OSU again in the tournament final, but I would be a little shocked if they won a rubber match in Indy. The Buckeyes are so balanced. Jordan Taylor has to be more aggressive for UW to come away with a trophy, but scrappy guys like Aaron Craft and Lewis Jackson (Purdue) have given him trouble lately. Wisconsin will have to overcome both of those guys again to get it done.

For the past couple of years, the Badgers hoops team has started off the year unranked but then ended up in the top half of the rankings at the end of the season.  Why do you think those that vote in the rankings seem to underestimate the Badgers, and more likely, Bo Ryan in their pre-season rankings?

Because people are stupid. Since Bo Ryan does not have a flashy style or highly-rated recruits, voters outside of the Midwest don’t pay attention to what’s going on. I think the tide is turning though. You won’t find too many people leaving Ryan’s teams off their ballots anymore. Ranking teams before any games is a hard task by the way. I could not handle having a vote — I would spend waaaay too much time  on it.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of this season has been the play of freshman Josh Gasser. What kind of player will he be in future years? Is he Mike Kelley or Devin Harris or someone else?

You are looking at Michael Flowers 2.0. Flowers was a little more athletic, but both were high school quarterbacks and intense competitors. Gasser rebounds well already and has a good free throw stroke, so you know his outside shooting will develop consistency. Gasser has a high basketball IQ and the same intangibles as Flowers to make sneaky plays that win games. I always felt Flowers was underrated. I think Gasser is going to be a great leader after Taylor leaves.

Jordan Taylor has made most people forget Trevon Hughes with his play this year.  Do you think Taylor is NBA-ready and if so, do you see him leaving after this season?

There are still things for Taylor to improve on, like playing his best defense more consistently. What worries me about Taylor’s pro potential, though, is the same thing that makes him such a great college player. He makes so many tough shots thanks to his strength and the high release point on his jump shot. But in the NBA, the defender’s arms are six inches longer and they can jump higher, so a lot of those are going to be blocked. Plus, based on how NBA execs draft for athleticism and potential, I cannot see a realistic scenario in which Taylor leaves early. He is a kid who loves college and just happens to be incredible at basketball.

Speaking of the NBA, Jon Leuer should end up on an NBA team next year.  How do you think he’ll fare at the next level? 

I think Leuer can be a solid player in the league, probably as a scoring option off the bench. However, he will only do it if he gets stronger and adds a little nasty streak. Leuer gets pushed around too easily. Hopefully a good organization will take a chance on him in the late first round, but more likely he’ll go in the second. The league loves guys that height with his skill set.

Besides Leuer, the Badgers will also lose Keaton Nankivil next season. Who do you think will step up and fill the void left by the two Seniors?

Offensively, it’s going to be tough. Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans have to get more consistent, which requires big strides in Evans’ ballhandling. Both will see a big increase in minutes. Jared Berggren will step into the lineup at center as a junior and he definitely loves to fire up shots, so that’s a start. Defense is another story. Ryan likes to go small on D, so I think Evan Anderson is still a year away from contributing much. The wild card will be one of the two incoming freshmen, 6’8″ Jarrod Uthoff and 6’11″ Frank Kaminsky. I wouldn’t be surprised if one redshirts while the other plays his way into the rotation … just haven’t decided which one.

Who is your ‘unsung hero’ for this season’s Badgers team?

Nankivil. Over 46% on 3-pointers as a center? Sign me up. Nankivil’s shooting has been significantly better across the board this season and just the threat of him heating up outside has changed the way opponents prepare for Wisconsin. He is good at fronting the post defensively and has authoritatively erased his share of shots. Still, the fact that Nankivil doesn’t do any scoring inside probably overshadows his value to the team.

Call your shot, how far do you think UW gets in the The Big Dance?

The Badgers have to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, my financial livelihood depends on it. I don’t see a lower seed stopping this team’s offense.

…and now for the lighting round.

Your all-time favorite Badgers player is:

Alando Tucker

Your favorite Badgers blog to read that is not named Bucky’s 5th Quarter is:

If there were no Badgers, you would have a blog about:

Probably high school hoops

If you were a pro athlete, your sport & position would be:

Ping pong, straight up

Should I ever run into you at a bar, I should buy you a _____________ for taking the time to answer these questions.

Ketel One & Tonic

Thank you to Phil for being our guest this week.  You can read more of Phil’s thoughts and opinions over at Bucky’s 5 th Quarter and also make sure to follow him on Twitter as I’m sure he’ll have lots to say these next couple of weekends.

Would you like to be the guest for a Thursday Q & A? Let us know!


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