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Wisconsin has named Alex Hornibrook as its starting quarterback for 2017.

Alex Hornibrook named starting QB, Badgers could go boom or bust in NCAA tourney, and more

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Today is Tuesday, March 14, and this is what’s for breakfast.

Starting quarterback named

Wisconsin football coach Paul Chryst has quashed any notion that anybody other than Alex Hornibrook will be his starting quarterback in 2017. On Monday, the day before the Badgers begin spring practice, Chryst told that the redshirt sophomore is his choice to lead the offense.

“He is the guy,” Chryst said of Hornibrook, who started nine games in 2016. “He knows it and he thinks it.”

This isn’t a surprise by any stretch. With fellow 2016 part-time starter Bart Houston now chasing his NFL dreams, Hornibrook is the only quarterback on the roster who has thrown a pass in a college game. It makes sense that Chryst would tab him as his guy.

But the timing does raise some questions as it goes completely against the idea that spring is built for competition. And though the coaching staff, specifically Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, has praised Hornibrook, it’s not as if he was All-Big Ten caliber in his first stint, throwing 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions while sharing snaps with Houston in seven of the final eight games.

This is the second time in three seasons that Chryst has given out the starting job before a snap was taken in the spring. The first time, with Joel Stave in 2015, seemed to be a way to gain the quarterback’s trust after a turbulent career in which he was always looking over his shoulder waiting to be replaced. Some even said Stave suffered a case of the yips after former coach Gary Andersen inexplicably gave the starting job to Tanner McEvoy in 2014.

But there is no indication that Hornibrook has any such trust issues or needs a confidence boost. Even when Houston beat him out for the starting gig at the beginning of last year, he maintained he was the better man for the job. Confidence isn’t an issue for him. Arm strength and pocket presence are.

As it stands, Hornibrook is the clear starter. But what if redshirt freshman Karé Lyles has a big spring? Or what if early enrollee Jack Coan proves to a quick study and is ready to play right away?

There’s no debating that you want to know who your starting quarterback will be as soon as possible. But even with that said, doing it before spring ball even starts feels a little too quick.

Looking for the real Wisconsin

In 2014, the Wisconsin basketball team played 60 minutes of really good basketball at the Big Ten Tournament but was done in by the other 20 in a loss to Michigan State in the semifinals. Instead of dwelling on the first half of the game that cost them a shot at a Big Ten title, the Badgers looked toward the other three halves where they played like they could beat any team in the country, something they ended up repeating on their way to the first of their back-to-back trips to the Final Four.

Three years later, albeit facing more difficult circumstances, the 2017 version of the Badgers will be looking to take into the NCAA Tournament positives that came from the first 100 minutes of their trip to Washington and block out the last 20 that ended their hopes for a conference tourney title.

“We talked about that after the (Michigan game),” coach Greg Gard said Monday of focusing on the good that came out of the nation’s capital. “We played really well on Friday (Indiana) and Saturday (Northwestern), and not bad (on Sunday), we just had a segment, specifically in the second half, where we couldn’t score.

“So you bottle up the good things. Try to stay away from the things that got us a little bit in trouble, understand what makes us good and try to hit on those things as much as possible.”

Wisconsin played perhaps its two most complete games of the season in the wins against the Hoosiers and Wildcats. There was solid defense, hitting shots inside and out, making free throws and keeping turnovers down. If you point to how Wisconsin can be successful in the tournament, that’s the recipe.

But we already knew that. The bigger question is can they put that together like they did three years ago and force teams to beat them instead of doing the job for them. It would be nearly impossible for anyone to answer that in the affirmative without calling it anything but blind faith.

The Badgers are the ultimate boom-or-bust pick as a No. 8 seed. They could lose to Virginia Tech in Round 1 or shock everyone with a win against Villanova to advance to the Sweet 16. Neither would surprise those who have followed the team closely this season.

Awards rolling in

The Wisconsin hockey team won 12 games the previous two seasons combined. On Monday, two days after finishing the regular season with 19 wins and a second-place finish in the Big Ten, the awards started rolling in for the Badgers.

Tony Granato, in his first season leading the program, earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors, the conference announced. It is the first time a Wisconsin coach has won the honor, and the first coach of the year award for a Badgers coach in any conference since legend Bob Johnson took the honor in the WCHA in 1977.

Forward Trent Frederic took home the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award and joined captain Luke Kunin and defenseman Jake Linhart as second-team All-Big Ten selections. Goalie Jack Berry and defenseman Peter Tischke picked up All-Big Ten honorable mention accolades.

The awards are nice, but team goals have always been first and foremost. And after losing three straight games to end the regular season, the Badgers have some work to do to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time 2014.

Right now, Wisconsin is No. 18 in the PairWise rankings, which are used heavily by the selection committee to determine at-large teams. That ranking leaves the Badgers needing to not only get to the Big Ten title game this week in Detroit, but potentially needing to win the six-team tournament to get the automatic berth that comes with the trophy. Based on the expectations coming into the season, and the fact Wisconsin essentially passed them midway through the season, it should be no surprise if the Badgers manage to pull that off.

Catching up