Bo Ryan sure does a great job of squashing preseason projections.
The Badgers have been predicted fifth or lower in the Big Ten this year by many people and now Ryan’s ‘Junkyard Dogs’ have beaten two straight ranked opponents.
The Badgers totally blew the doors off of No. 23 Illinois by 23 in the Kohl Center. But everyone, including myself, was surprised at what they did to No. 2 Indiana on Tuesday.
The Hoosiers have been tabbed by many to not only win the conference but also legitimately compete for the national title.
And the Badgers strolled into Assembly Hall and beat the Hoosiers for the fifth straight time there. That’s a record that has only been done by three other teams by the way. That’s pretty impressive considering the number of great teams that have worn Indiana colors.
That’s not all. Wisconsin has now beaten Indiana 11 straight times and the last two, last spring’s Big Ten Tournament in Indy and in Bloomington on Tuesday, were in front of large Hoosier crowds.
The most surprising thing to come out of the last two losses is the quick development has come from sophomore point guard Traevon Jackson. Early on, he looked lost and even over his head when he was given the keys to the efficient Badgers offense when Josh Gasser tore his ACL in the preseason.
But he scored a career-best 14 points, including 2-for-2 from three-point range against the Illini and provided great leadership, defense and 5-for-5 from the free throw line for 11 points at Indiana.
Against Indiana we also saw the ice water that runs through his veins. The lefty hit a highly contested shot from the left elbow to put the Badgers up 58-53 with 2:25 left.
Add in the usual ‘Junkyard Dog’ attitudes of Mike Bruesewitz and Ben Brust. Brusier was his usual self by sacrificing his already injured body by diving for a litany of loose balls and was 4-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 1:11 to seal the win. The assertive red head also nailed an NBA range three to put the Badgers up eight with 12:13 left. He was one of four to score in double figures on Tuesday.
Brust completely shut down Hoosiers’ sharpshooter Jordan Hulls to the tune of 2-for-8 with just four points. Hulls came into the game as the nation’s leading three-point shooter by making over 52 percent but against mainly Brust and the rest of the Badgers defense, he was only able to get off only one three attempt, which he missed.
Going back to Tom Crean’s days at Marquette, Ryan flexed his coaching muscle over his coaching rival. Because it isn’t even debatable that Crean has the better stable of players with two McDonald’s All-Americans in Cody Zeller and Yogi Ferrell, with Zeller likely to get recognition for player of the year before he probably flees for NBA riches this June.
But Ryan continues to get it done by limiting possessions and making the opposition play defense for the full 35 seconds. The Indiana win was even more impressive for Ryan considering Jared Berggren, his leading scorer, was in foul trouble and his backup Frank Kaminsky got poked in the eye and saw limited action.
Ryan’s roster may not be full of a lot of flash but right now his Badgers are sitting atop the toughest conference in college hoops.
And that’s all that matters.