There’s been so much made of how good the Big Ten is this year, and I’m not here to refute that.
Indiana has proven all season long that they are one of the best teams in the country, if not the best team. And that game Tuesday night between Indiana and Michigan State? One of the best we’ve seen in college basketball this season.
Likewise, Michigan has proven they are a top tier team not only in the conference, but in the country as well, with a roster that can compete with anyone.
But who is that other team sitting at the top of the pack in the Big Ten?
The Wisconsin Badgers.
And love them or hate them, Bo Ryan’s Badgers are for real.
Wisconsin has taken its lumps along the way, but the Selection Committee isn’t going to fault them for losses to Florida, Creighton, and Marquette, as well as conference losses to Michigan State, Ohio State, and Minnesota. The Badgers have also lost to two teams (Iowa and Virginia) that are probably not tournament teams right now but that could easily work their way in over the next few weeks.
On the plus side, Wisconsin has shown a flair for the dramatic (Ben Brust’s buzzer-beater against Michigan) and the ability to win in hostile territory (upsetting Indiana at Assembly Hall). And over their past two games, the Badgers have really stepped their game up, pummeling then-No. 13 Ohio State 71-49 before handling a road contest at Northwestern 69-41 Wednesday night.
The Bo Ryan-era Wisconsin teams have been known for their slower pace, swing offense, and sound man-to-man defense. It’s not a complex style. But run correctly, the Badgers have proven that it can work.
You can credit this system for Wisconsin’s success this year, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, but it’s the personnel that Wisconsin has this season that is going to make it a very tough out in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
With the way the swing offense works, the five players on the floor need to be interchangeable, relatively speaking.
All five players on the floor at any given time this year can stretch the floor and shoot from 3, including 6-foot-10 senior center Jared Berggren. With guards like Brust, Traevon Jackson, and George Marshall, swing men like Ryan Evans, Mike Breusewitz, and Sam Dekker, and bigs like Berggren and Frank Kaminsky, the Badgers have the ability to make the swing offense possible. Seven of those eight regulars have hit at least 10 3-pointers this season, with Brust, Dekker and Marshall all hovering around 40 percent.
The swing has been successful in Madison for many years, but there’s something about this year’s team that makes Wisconsin less…boring.
Rather than working down the shot clock looking for an open three, the Badgers have taken many opportunities this year to punch their opponents in the (figurative) mouth with a dunk or other big-momentum play. Whether it’s Berggren throwing it down with authority on Victor Oladipo in the win at Indiana, or Dekker bringing down the hammer against Illinois, or Evans’ monster putback slam against Ohio State, this isn’t the bland Wisconsin team you may have seen in years past.
I’m not saying Wisconsin is a legitimate national title contender, but it would not surprise me to see them win the Big Ten tournament and make an Elite Eight run. They’ve got the right mix of swagger and substance that is going to make them a tough out every game from here forward.