We hope you’ll start your day with us here at the Landof10.com as we work to prepare you for everything that you need to know – Monday through Friday – around the world of Wisconsin sports. Whether it’s football, basketball, hockey or just a wild story we hope you’ll find interesting, we’re here to share it all with you.
Today is Friday, Dec. 23, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Where things stand
Before the season, the Wisconsin basketball team was chosen by the media to win the Big Ten, in large part because of the team’s “Big 3” of Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ. Now that we’ve had a month and a half to see not only the Badgers, but the rest of the teams in the conference, it seems like a good time to reassess as Big Ten play gets underway next week.
No. 14 Wisconsin (10-2) – The Badgers don’t have a win against a team that’s currently ranked, but have certainly looked the part of a potential conference champion since returning from the Maui Invitational. The key to Wisconsin’s success is everyone accepting their roles, especially Hayes, who has been fantastic for much of the last month.
No. 16 Indiana (10-2) – The Hoosiers own the most impressive victories of any team in the conference, with wins against Kansas and North Carolina, but they also have among the worst loss against Indiana-Fort Wayne. James Blackmon Jr. is the headliner for coach Tom Crean, but the key could be a healthy OG Anunoby and the play of a slimmed-down Thomas Bryant in the post.
Yeah, OG Anunoby looks pretty healthy.
He makes this reverse double-clutch jam look effortless. ? https://t.co/tvR8FfxE8v
— Indiana On BTN (@IndianaOnBTN) December 23, 2016
No. 15 Purdue (11-2) – Similar to Wisconsin, the Boilermakers’ two losses came to ranked opponents, but they also own a big comeback victory over a ranked Notre Dame squad. After an up-and-down freshman year, former 5-star recruit Caleb Swanigan has been a beast, averaging a double-double. Purdue gets the benefit of playing Wisconsin only once, and that game is in West Lafayette, Ind.
— Purdue On BTN (@PurdueOnBTN) December 22, 2016
Michigan State (8-5) – Coach Tom Izzo put together another very difficult non-conference schedule, and it’s evident by the Spartans’ record. It’s a young group, but, if history is any indication, Izzo will have them playing their best basketball come February and March. Can never count them out.
Wait and see:
Maryland (12-1) – The Terrapins lost a great deal of talent off last year’s team, but they have started really well this year. Junior Melo Trimble appears closer to the player he was as freshman than a season ago, and that could be significant. Still, they have yet to play anyone of note.
Michigan (10-3) – None of the wins stand out, but the Wolverines’ effort against UCLA earlier this month must be noted. They hung with the No. 2 team in the country on the road until the final five minutes and have the potential to do some damage in the conference.
Ohio State (9-3), Northwestern (11-2), Iowa (7-5) and Illinois (10-3)
Not this year:
Minnesota (11-1), Rutgers (11-1) and Nebraska (6-6)
Penn State (8-5)
In Wisconsin’s meltdown against Penn State in the Big Ten title game, it became apparent, especially in the second half, how much the team missed defensive linemen Conor Sheehy and Alec James. Sheehy didn’t play due to a broken arm while James missed with a sprained ankle. But on Thursday, when reporters spoke with defensive players, James revealed some good news.
#Badgers' Alec James, who suffered high ankle sprain against Minnesota, said he and Conor Sheehy will both be good to go in the Cotton Bowl.
— Jason Galloway (@Jason_Galloway) December 22, 2016
Getting one or both back for the Cotton Bowl against Western Michigan would be significant. It would be unfair to blame their absence as the main reason for the defensive struggles, but it did speak to how vital that defensive lineman group is to what Wisconsin wants to do on that side of the ball.
Without them, it meant playing nose guard Olive Sagapolu in the nickel defense – not ideal – and using sophomore Billy Hirschfeld and true freshman Garrett Rand more and more. And once the Nittany Lions started picking up the variety of blitzes sent by defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, the line couldn’t create any pressure on its own, leading to more time for quarterback Trace McSorley to pick apart the Badgers secondary.
If Wisconsin has both players available on Jan. 2, the odds of slowing an explosive Broncos offense would increase dramatically.
On the road
The life of a college basketball coach is almost non-stop, and that evidence was on full display Thursday. Though preparing for Friday’s non-conference game against Florida A&M, the Wisconsin coaching staff also took time to hit the recruiting trail.
— Jon McNamara (@McNamaraRivals) December 23, 2016
#badgers assistant coach Howard Moore watching 2019 SF's Marcus Domask and Xzavier Jones tonight.
— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) December 23, 2016
Nobal Days is the big target, literally. The 6-foot-9, 195-pound Days is ranked as the No. 1 player in Wisconsin, and the No. 6 power forward in the class of 2019, according to 247Sports. Though his offer list doesn’t jump out, the 4-star recruit has drawn national suitors and is near the top of the Badgers’ wish list for that class. Right now, it appears they are the favorite.
Xzavier Domask is a 6-foot-5 small forward, ranked No. 88 overall in the country, and though he’s drawn interest from some mid-majors, he still hasn’t received any offers.
Though they haven’t had as much success as the football program, the goal for Wisconsin is to lockdown the state. No one wants to see a guy like Kevon Looney, who was a lottery pick by the Golden State Warriors in 2015, leave and go to UCLA, or watch as Diamond Stone, a 2016 NBA draft pick, head to Maryland.
The talent is surprisingly rich in the state, and seeing Gard and Moore out on the road a night before a game indicates the importance they put in keeping those talented players home for college.
More praise for Ramczyk
The praise for Wisconsin left tackle Ryan Ramczyk continues to pour in, this time from an unnamed scout who praised the first-year starter for his games against high level competition.
From Div. III to star
— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) December 23, 2016
The scoop: “He’s really athletic and he’s really smart. There are a lot of Wisconsin linemen who start in the league because they learn an NFL system and they are taught the right way. He played against Arden Key (LSU), Sam Hubbard (Ohio State) and Taco Charlton (Michigan). This guy is battle tested against three future first-rounders.” — NFC scout on Wisconsin left tackle Ryan Ramczyk
Evaluations like this have become commonplace for Ramczyk, indicating how highly scouts think of him despite playing just one year at the FBS level. And it also makes you feel sorry for him that he may need surgery after the season on his hip that would most likely force him to come back for his senior season as opposed to declaring for the draft.
- At the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jeff Potrkus chatted with several Badgers to get their take on players sitting out bowl games.
- Fans have started petitions to get the NCAA to count Ron Dayne’s bowl stats in the wake of San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey breaking his all-time career rushing record.
- Jason Galloway at the Wisconsin State Journal takes a crack at projecting Wisconsin 2017 depth chart.