Wisconsin in the underdog role this time
It might seem like ages since that the Wisconsin men’s basketball team stormed into Indianapolis and validated its regular-season title with a tournament crown won by sandwiching double-digit victories over Michigan and Illinois around a 12-point come-from-behind victory over Michigan State.
Many expected that team to win the Big Ten tournament. This year, the Badgers (19-11) are an underdog.
“A lot teams are looking down on us because of the year we’ve had, but like my dad always says, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Landry said. “We plan on going there and finishing well.”
The Big Ten tournament begins this morning at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and if the regular season is any indication, it is going to be wild. Just three games separated second place from ninth and with every team in the league except Indiana and Iowa under consideration for the NCAA tournament, almost every game has post-season implications.
So when it comes to the big picture, it’s best to expect the unexpected. Wisconsin, however, knows exactly what it’s getting into.
The Badgers, the No. 4 seed, have a first-round bye and play No. 5 Ohio State (20-9) at 1:30 p.m. Friday. And when a team plays the Buckeyes, it can expect a heavy diet of sophomore Evan Turner, the league’s most versatile player.
The Buckeyes run practically everything through the 6-foot-7 forward. He ranked first in league games in scoring (17.3 ppg), second in assists (4.4), fourth in rebounding (6.8) and was in the top 10 of five other statistical categories.
This is another young, talented Ohio State team. Freshmen William Buford, a 6-5 guard, and B.J. Mullens, a 7-0 center, were the league’s freshman and sixth man of the year, respectively. Sophomore guard Jon Diebler received honorable mention all-conference, as did Buford.
“I think they said we’ve got to saddle up the guy that we think is going to carry us the farthest and he’s done a great job of handling that,” said UW associate head coach Greg Gard, who got to know Turner during the recruiting process. “As many times as he touches the ball and as many opportunities as he gets, he really doesn’t force a lot of things.”
Consider his play in Wisconsin’s 55-50 victory over the Buckeyes on Feb. 14.
Turner scored 23 points on 13 shots and in crunch time, he had the ball in his hands trying to make a play on almost every possession. If ever there was a time to feel fortunate when an opposing player had a 20-point game and five assists, that was it.
“You can scheme and plan and practice against certain things and you look at tendencies of what he likes to do, but it will still be about trying to making it (difficult) like with anybody else,” Gard said. “Try to make him make tough jump shots over high-hand pressure.”
To that end, 6-7 senior Joe Krabbenhoft is likely to spend the most time on Turner, although expect him to get plenty of help. The Badgers’ help defense forced Turner into two critical turnovers during the final minutes of the first meeting.
Keeping Turner in check will go a long way toward UW getting a much-needed victory. Most projections have the Badgers in the field at this point. However, they’ll be able to rest much easier if they aren’t one-and-done in the conference tournament.
That hasn’t happened to UW, a Big ten finalist in four of the last five years, since the 2005-’06 season. Coincidently, they were a No. 4 seed that year, too.
“We have to go into there with the mentality to say, ’Hey, we got it done before; we can get it done again,’ “ Landry said. “Even though we didn’t win the conference, there is still another chance for us to win a championship.”