Butch is back in business
It was one that went well into the new year with great promise, then was shot down by injury and a premature exit from the NCAA tournament in March.
The Badgers started 26-2 with the help of a program-record 17-game winning streak, attaining The Associated Press No. 1 ranking on Feb. 19 heading into their showdown with Ohio State, the No. 1 team in the USA Today poll.
It was there that starting center Brian Butch suffered a season-ending elbow injury. The Badgers lost by one point, then struggled down the stretch, and despite a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, were bounced in the second round by UNLV.
After ascending to No. 1, Wisconsin went 4-4. But this year’s Badgers are trying to forget how that season ended, because the first three months of that season showed what they were capable of doing.
“We had a lot of great accomplishments last year,” sophomore guard Jason Bohannon said. “To do the things we did was really special, and we’re going to try to build on that.”
Butch is back and ready to go, saying his elbow is “close” to completely healthy.
“There’s just some things that we need to do in the training room to keep it going,” Butch said. “It’s going to be as close to 100 percent as we’re going to get it during the season, so we’re good to go.”
When Butch returns to the lineup, he’ll notice the starting five has changed quite a bit. Wisconsin lost three seniors to graduation, including Alando Tucker, the Big Ten Player of the Year, and slick-shooting Kammron Taylor.
“Every year, it happens,” Butch said. “We get new guys, and we lose guys. We just keep on trying to change things and get better as a team.”
At Big Ten media day last Sunday, opposing coaches said coach Bo Ryan’s unique system has allowed Wisconsin to be so successful over the years, no matter who’s playing.
“The coaches really know what they’re doing,’’ junior guard-forward Joe Krabbenhoft said. “Coach Ryan prepares us so well. He does it the right way, the tough way, the way to win.”
The Badgers received a nice surprise this past week. After it was announced two weeks ago that senior Michael Flowers would be taking an indefinite leave of absence, he was back on the court practicing Wednesday.
Ryan was noticeably vague about Flowers’ status, leaving open the possibility that his expected starter at point guard would be available today for Wisconsin’s exhibition opener against Edgewood College of Madison.
“He’s back on the floor, and we practiced,” Ryan said. “We’ve had plenty of conversations. Anybody that’s out there on the floor should be ready to play.”
The reason for Flowers’ absence has not been revealed—and probably won’t.
Without Tucker or Taylor around, it’s not apparent who will be taking the majority of shots, or the big shots at the end of games. Butch and Flowers have starting experience, but potential starters such as Krabbenhoft, Bohannon, forwards Marcus Landry and Greg Stiemsma, guard Trevon Hughes and others could be in the mix.
“Time will tell,” Krabbenhoft said. “Guys in the past who have been here … know what it’s like to play in big games and pressure situations. There will be a lot for people to see in the next few months.”
Ryan hasn’t decided on a lineup for the start of the season.
“Guys are just trying to show the staff here what they might be ready for,” Ryan said.