Watching Wisconsin this season, one gets the feeling that the Badgers could shut it down right now and cancel the rest of their regular season schedule, get some rest, get a good start on second semester homework, eat some brats on State Street, and then begin playing again in March and still be a favorite to make a Final Four run.
Of course, the season is a journey and not just an end, but from the start, Wisconsin has looked like the national championship contender it has been touted as. The Badgers are experienced, skilled, tall, well-schooled, and loaded with shooters. Most important, they are consistent, making them primed for a second straight trip to the national semifinals and a chance to take care of some unfinished business from last year.
Wisconsin showed its strength again Monday night with a 69-54 win at California. The Golden Bears came in with a 10-1 record, home court advantage and an underrated toughness shown in their ability to pull out close games, but the Badgers never gave them the chance to do it in this one. Wisconsin took control with a run late in the first half, led 32-20 at halftime, and that was pretty much the end of it.
Nigel Hayes is one of the most improved players in the country. Already a pleasant surprise last year as a freshman, Hayes has become a true inside-outside force, and he owned this game with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Added with Frank Kaminsky (14 points in this one) and Sam Dekker (14 more), plus a guard (Traveon Jackson) who is not afraid to take a big shot, the Badgers have weapons galore that make them incredibly tough to keep under wraps. Mix in the way they take care of the ball (less than nine turnovers a game), typically sticky defense and a coach in Bo Ryan with few peers, and you have a very well-rounded team.
Wisconsin is not a perfect team, as shown in its loss to Duke a couple weeks ago. The Badgers aren’t terribly deep and occasionally aren’t all they can be defensively. There’s no guarantee that they’ll make a Final Four, or even a Sweet 16. But they are as ready to make the Final Four as almost any team in the country. That’s the case now, and barring a rash of injuries will still be the case in March.
Monday’s action: Another night with a number of surprises, near surprises, and a plenty of significant games
- Kansas got destroyed by Kentucky, which at the time was seen as more of a statement about the Wildcats. UK has done nothing to diminish its standing, but it should be noted that the Jayhawks now have been drubbed by Temple, 77-52 last night. Big win for the Owls and the American Athletic Conference.
- Another night, another Big 10 team being upset. This time it was Purdue again, as the Boilermakers fell at home to Gardner-Webb 89-84. At this point, this should not be that big of an upset, as the Runnin’ Bulldogs are making wins like this a regular occurrence.
- The Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii is underway, and the semifinals will be George Washington against Colorado and Wichita State against homestanding Hawaii. GW and Colorado convincingly handled Ohio U. and DePaul, respectively, the Shockers ran away from Loyola Marymount 80-53 and the Rainbow Warriors knocked off Nebraska 66-58 early in the morning for the mainland. The Cornhuskers’ struggles continue.
- West Virginia drilled Wofford 77-44. The Terriers are a good team, but couldn’t handle the WVU press.
- St. John’s pulled away late to defeat Long Beach State 66-49. Chris Obekpa and Phil Greene IV scored 16 points each. This is a team that is developing a number of guys who can provide the points to go with an already strong defense.
- Notre Dame is still on a roll after easily handling Northern Illinois 91-66. Also impressive was Ohio State in dismantling Miami (Ohio) 93-55.
- LSU was impressive again in blowing out College of Charleston 71-47. The Cougars regularly play teams like this tough and the Tigers were coming off a break for finals, but no sweat here.
- Providence gets another solid win while Miami (Fla.) continues to slide after the Friars’ 76-62 W at Madison Square Garden.
- UTEP won its 53rd annual Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational, holding off Kent State 78-75.
- Old Dominion won again, improving to 10-1 with a 69-62 win over William & Mary in a really nice game.
- St. Mary’s got a much-needed win, taking down Northeastern 72-68 in overtime at home.
- UC Santa Barbara is not far from being on the verge of the top 25, maybe one player away. Instead, the Gauchos are 5-6 overall after their third overtime loss of the season, falling at Oregon 82-78. UCSB has now lost in OT at Florida Gulf Coast, SMU and Oregon and by two to undefeated Colorado State, as well as by 10 at Kansas.
- The result may not get much attention, but Loyola (Ill.) easily dumped Texas Tech 62-44 in the Las Vegas Classic. The Red Raiders made 0-ZERO-of 21 from three-point range. Quietly, the Ramblers are now 9-2, and they now meet Boise State in the championship game after the Broncos edged Houston 75-73 in overtime.
- UC Irvine defeated Wisconsin-Green Bay 72-70 in the championship game of the Holiday Hoops Tourney in Las Vegas, as Alex Young scored the winning hoop with 1.7 seconds left.
- Finally, a call to Maryland-Eastern Shore, which pulled a substantial upset with an 82-80 win at St. Bonaventure. The Hawks won just six games all of last year but are now 6-8 this year while playing a typical road-heavy MEAC early season schedule.
- San Diego State’s Dwayne Polee collapsed in the first half of the Aztecs’ eventual 61-33 win over UC Riverside Monday night. Polee was attended to for 15 minutes by trainers and emergency personnel before leaving on a stretcher. He was alert and responsive, according to reports.
- Oklahoma blew out Weber State 85-51 Monday night, a result notable because 1) Weber State is not that bad of a team and 2) the Sooners went on a 39-0 run in the first half. That is an NCAA record for most consecutive points scored by a team in a Division I game, and it happens in what is more than just a guarantee game, as the Wildcats are a frequent NCAA Tournament contender in the Big Sky.
Stanford at Texas (7 p.m. EST, ESPN2) The Cardinal will have chances for good wins in the Pac-12, but they really could use a good showing here.
Louisiana Tech at N.C. State The Bulldogs proved at Syracuse that they can handle playing teams with more size than them. Very even matchup, though obviously a homecourt advantage for the Wolfpack.
Georgia Tech at Dayton (8 p.m. EST, CBSSN) Yellow Jackets’ coach Brian Gregory goes against his former team. Interesting matchup because after dismissing two players last week, the Flyers are very short on size, and size is one thing Tech does very well.
South Dakota State at Utah Psst…few know this, but the Jackrabbits are off to a 9-3 start with seven straight wins, including road W’s at Saint Louis and Utah State. SDSU also has some size up front to at least make this one interesting against a Utah team that is rolling.
Arizona at UNLV (10:15 p.m. EST, CBSSN) The Runnin’ Rebels are not as good as their 7-3 record, so not anticipating the Wildcats falling here, but still dangerous because it’s a road game.
Massachusetts at BYU Not notable so much for quality of teams-the Cougars are already on the NCAA bubble, while the Minutemen aren’t even close-but because of entertainment value.
Florida Gulf Coast at Iona Should be a whole lot of fun. Two teams who can and regularly do go up and down the court, and both are excellent passing teams, too.
Have a terrific Tuesday.