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Today is Tuesday, Jan. 17, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Good or bad?
Parity has come to the Big Ten.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen, but if anything is clear through the first four weeks of conference basketball play, it is there doesn’t appear to be much separating the supposed top-level teams from those expected to be at the bottom. And that has led to remarkable unpredictability.
Take Iowa, for instance. This past week, the Hawkeyes beat a top-20 team in Purdue – that had just handed Wisconsin its first conference loss – and followed that up by getting blown out by Northwestern on Sunday. And what about Ohio State? The Buckeyes lost by 23 to the Badgers on Thursday then beat an improving Michigan State for the first time in any current Buckeyes player’s career.
“I think we’re still early enough in the conference season that it’s still unpredictable,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said Monday. “Will that eventually level off and become more consistent? I don’t know. I just see so much parity.”
Most of the schools have played five conference games, and 13 of the 14 teams have at least one win, while 12 have at least two losses. Over the last three seasons, the conference champion hasn’t had more than three losses.
Gard on B1G: "Parity is the buzz word. We're still early enough that the conference is unpredictable."
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) January 16, 2017
What all the bunching means is that traditional mid-level-to-bottom-feeders, such as Minnesota, Northwestern, Nebraska and even Penn State, are right there, jockeying with the likes of Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan State and others for the conference lead.
“I think we’ve got a lot of really good teams,” Gard said. “I don’t know if there is a dominant team.”
There certainly doesn’t appear to be. Indiana started out like gangbusters, taking down Kansas and North Carolina, but have fallen off dramatically. Purdue beat Wisconsin but has also lost to Iowa and the Gophers, the latter being at home. Michigan State is still very young and plays like it.
Right now, the Big Ten has just three teams ranked in the AP Top 25 – Wisconsin at No. 17, Purdue at No. 21 and Maryland at No. 25. That’s after having four in the top 15 earlier this season.
“We don’t have that many ranked teams, but I think you see some teams that are traditionally (good) that always get national headlines regardless of the year (are struggling),” Gard said. “I think you also see some movement upwards of some teams that maybe haven’t traditionally been in the upper half (of the conference) contending for an NCAA tournament bid.”
In his latest Bracketology, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has eight Big Ten teams making the tournament, but the Badgers are the highest seed at No. 5. The conference hasn’t entered the tournament without a team as a top-four seed in at least the last 16 years.
So does the apparent lack of any one dominant team, and all the unpredictability on a game-to-game basis, hurt the conference nationally?
“I don’t think so,” Gard said. “I think … (the) more teams we can have in that conversation, the better. Obviously you’d like to be the team that’s out in front of everybody. We’ll see down the road if that’s something that is positive or negative. I think you, obviously, want the league to be competitive night in and night out.
“From a fan’s perspective, it’s exciting.”
That may be, but parity is rarely viewed as a positive thing on a national level unless there is a group of elite teams, which the Big Ten doesn’t have. And because the conference didn’t necessarily establish itself during non-conference play, that’s led some to feel that what’s happening right now is a few “not great” teams are beating up on some other “not great” teams, whereas the past three years the conference was viewed differently at the top.
In the end it may not hurt the number of teams that end up getting into the tournament. But unless several teams distance themselves from the pack over the next two months, that parity could impact the seeding and how deep Big Ten teams go if forced to play better squads earlier than past seasons.
Wisconsin football players have had the last two weeks off following their Jan. 2 Cotton Bowl win over Western Michigan. They were free to go wherever and do whatever they wanted before school – and winter workouts – started back up on Tuesday. No one would begrudge any of them for getting away from football after having spent much of the last six months doing nothing but thinking about the game. And that’s what a lot of them did. But apparently that wasn’t the case for quarterback Alex Hornibrook. Instead, the sophomore-to-be went to San Diego, at least part of the time, to work with quarterback guru George Whitfield.
— George Whitfield Jr. (@georgewhitfield) January 12, 2017
That Hornibrook was willing to give up his time off to spend it working with a guy that has tutored the likes of Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Jameis Winston, should be commended. And it also means that he knows – like so many fans have tweeted – that he needs to improve. Be it more zip on his passes, recognizing pressure and getting ball out, or even increasing his foot speed to get clear of danger in the pocket, Hornibrook understands that there is plenty of room to grow. That’s great for him – and Wisconsin.
Time to shine
The Senior Bowl will take place next week in Mobile, Ala., and while it is the premier postseason opportunity for NFL draft hopefuls, the East-West Shrine Game is also a nice chance for guys to show their wares, and that’s taking place this week in St. Petersburg, Fla. Among those in attendance is Wisconsin’s Dare Ogunbowale.
— Chase Goodbread (@ChaseGoodbread) January 16, 2017
Most likely a late-round pick or free agent, this week is very important for the Milwaukee native’s football future.
Most Wisconsin fans probably know Jon Dietzen as much for his glorious red mullet as for his work as the Badgers starting left guard. But he’s also quite the jokester among his friends, never bypassing an opportunity to poke fun.
And he was at it again on Monday night, after fellow offensive lineman David Moorman fell prey to the icy sidewalks in Madison, and quarterback Alex Hornibrook posted the result on Snapchat.
When your professor emails you to remind you about class tomorrow pic.twitter.com/bkClRVj8RC
— Dietzen (@DietzenJon) January 17, 2017
Dietzen took it further, reminding Moorman, a big Detroit sports fan, of the Lions failure against the Green Bay Packers earlier this month.
— Dietzen (@DietzenJon) January 17, 2017
These aren’t abnormal relationships among teammates. And few appear to enjoy the back and forth more than Dietzen.
- Things did not go well for the Wisconsin women’s basketball team when the Badgers visited Penn State on Monday.
- From Todd Milewski at Madison.com: Wisconsin’s goalies are on more even footing after the Badgers final off weekend of the season.
- Wisconsin women’s hockey coach Mark Johnson called the “Fill the Bowl” event on Saturday a very special night.
- Over at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jeff Potrkyus writes about role players stepping up for coach Greg Gard and the Badgers, and whether it can continue.