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 Monday, Dec. 26, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Best plays of 2016
As 2016 comes to a close, we’re going to count down the five biggest plays of the calendar year for the Wisconsin football and basketball programs. And with the surprising success of both teams in their respective seasons, there were plenty of options to choose from, but here are the ones we went with, starting today with No. 5, one that happened 11 months ago.
No. 5: (Jan. 17, 2016) Ethan Happ’s lay-in helps Wisconsin upset No. 4 Michigan State
The season looked like a lost one for the Wisconsin basketball team. Having seen legendary coach Bo Ryan retire a month earlier, the struggling Badgers welcomed No.4-ranked Michigan State to town as a 9-9 team with a 1-4 Big Ten record. They had lost three straight games, including a brutal showing at Northwestern, and it seemed almost assured that an 18th straight trip to the NCAA tournament was out of reach. But in what proved to be the jump-start they so badly needed, the Badgers took out the Spartans in dramatic fashion.
Trailing by four points with 33 seconds left, guard Bronson Koenig drilled a 3-pointer to cut Michigan State’s lead to one at 76-75. The Badgers then forced a turnover, thanks to a rarely used but well-executed press defense, setting up the winning basket courtesy of a pass from Koenig to Happ.
In their own words:
Koenig: “I just got the ball from whoever passed it inbounds and ran a double screen high and coming across the screen I could see that (Happ) was going to be open because they all kind of ran with me and Vitto (Brown). It was kind of a late pass because he was open a little sooner and my guy was in front of me, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to give it to him on time, but I just took another dribble and lofted it over the guy and luckily he caught it and I knew he was going to finish it.”
Happ: “Once I caught it the first time, I got hit in the back and I bobbled the ball and then I caught it again. I looked up and I was under the rim, so I had to pivot again and then score on a reverse layup and then spread back out on defense.”
What it meant:
The play was the start of a seven-game winning streak, and eventually the first of 11 wins in the Badgers’ next 12 games that got Wisconsin back in the tournament conversation. Coach Greg Gard’s team finished the Big Ten season 12-6 — a 15th straight season in the top-4 of the conference — and made it to the Sweet 16 for a fourth time in the last five years. The countdown continues on Tuesday.
Monday (12/26): No. 5 — Ethan Happ lay-in beats No. 4 Michigan State
Tuesday (12/27): No. 4
Wednesday (12/28): No. 3
Thursday: (12/29) No. 2
Friday: (12/30) No. 1
Moving forward at running back
There is still one game to play for the senior running back duo of Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale, and that was certainly on the mind of Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst when the topic of replacing those two in 2017 was broached on Friday.
“Haven’t even gotten to next year,” Chryst said in his final media session before the team left for the Cotton Bowl.
Chryst’s response came to a question about the progression of redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw, and whether his late-season emergence would lead to a featured role in 2017 with Clement and Ogunbowale no longer around. And while he added that he appreciated Shaw’s progress, his answer makes sense. He’s getting his team ready to take on an unbeaten Western Michigan team on Jan. 2, and that’s where his focus is. But the question of who will take over next fall is still an intriguing one.
It would seem that Shaw has the inside track. He’s rushed for 457 yards and five touchdowns, with 284 yards and three scores coming in the final five games of the year.
“I’m pretty sure he’s going to have a strong mind as to trying to keep the running back tradition going here,” Clement said of his backfield mate. “He’s definitely going to work his way up and try to be No. 1.”
Shaw will be challenged by transfer Chris James. He played at Pittsburgh for Chryst in 2014, running for 437 yards and four scores as a true freshman. But he fell out of favor under new coach Pat Narduzzi and made the decision to follow Chryst and his staff to Madison. After sitting out this season, he’s got two years of eligibility left.
Listed at 208 pounds, James may not be a guy with enough to carry the load, but he does catch the ball well out of the backfield and could fill Ogunbowale’s production there.
“He’s very shifty, quick on his feet,” Clement said. “I don’t necessarily see him being your first- and second-down back. I definitely think he’ll get in on a lot of pass blocking and (running) routes.”
While those two would seemingly be the front-runners, junior-to-be Taiwan Deal, who got passed by Shaw on the depth chart, does have talent, but needs to stay healthy and hungry. Jonathan Taylor, a 3-star commitment from New Jersey who broke Clement’s state rushing record there, may also factor in.
Badgers in the NFL playoffs
There is just one week left in the NFL season, and we’ve got a pretty good idea of how many former Badgers will be in the playoffs when they get started on Jan. 7. That’s because 10 of the 12 spots have been wrapped up as of Sunday night, and the three teams in the running for the other two have just one Wisconsin guy on the roster — linebacker DeAndre Levy of the Detroit Lions.
So, while his fate remains up in the air, here’s a look at the players we know will be in the postseason.
RB James White — New England Patriots
OL Travis Frederick — Dallas Cowboys
QB Russell Wilson — Seattle Seahawks
WR Tanner McEvoy — Seattle Seahawks
LB Jonathan Casillas — New York Giants
OL Kraig Urbik — Miami Dolphins
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 24, 2016
Three of the six — Wilson, Casillas and White — already own Super Bowl rings. Casillas got his first with the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV. Wilson followed by leading the Seahawks to a win in Super Bowl XLVIII, while Casillas got his second and White got his first when the Patriots beat Seattle the following year.
The next player to win a Super Bowl will be the 18th former Wisconsin player to do so.
If you didn’t know, it’s not Christmas unless you say Merry Christmas to a bunch of strangers on social media, which is exactly what many current and former Badgers did on Sunday.
Here is a collection of some of those messages:
Top 4 X-mas movies of all time:
1) Christmas Vacation
2) Home Alone
3) Bad Santa
4) Elf #nodiscussion
— Joe Thomas (@joethomas73) December 25, 2016
— Bill Ferrario (@Bill_Ferrario) December 25, 2016
Happy Christmas Harry! Happy Christmas Ron! pic.twitter.com/a112Ul4kmw
— Frank Kaminsky III (@FSKPart3) December 25, 2016
— Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson) December 26, 2016
Merry Christmas to everyone ! ??
— Corey Clement (@CoreyClement_6) December 25, 2016
What a day. Merry Christmas world!
— Dare Ogunbowale (@DGO23_) December 25, 2016
Merry Christmas to you all.??
— Khalil (Agu) Iverson (@iverson_khalil) December 25, 2016
Happy Holidays everyone & remember the true meaning of Christmas!
— BC.Cal (@brian_calhoun2) December 25, 2016
Merry Christmas from the Maragos family!! Many blessings!! pic.twitter.com/Za6eJF3Hm8
— Chris Maragos (@ChrisMaragos) December 25, 2016
- If you missed it, Wisconsin finished off the nonconference portion of their basketball schedule with a whipping of Florida A&M on Friday.
- Over at the Wisconsin State Journal, Jim Polzin grades all the Big Ten teams with conference play getting underway this week.
- Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tells the story of TE Eric Steffes, who has dealt with an array of injuries during his more than five-year stay in Madison.
- Wisconsin fans may not be excited about the Cotton Bowl, but Western Michigan’s sure are.