Jeremy Birmingham/Land of 10
Jazz Peavy (11) had a breakout season in 2016. Who will follow in his footsteps in 2017?

Which Badgers player will make a big jump; Wisconsin basketball down, hockey up in NCAA Tournament talk

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Today is Tuesday, Feb. 28, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.

Looking to make a jump

Wisconsin will open spring practice in two weeks, and in the lead up to it, we’ve been looking at some of the biggest questions facing the Badgers as coach Paul Chryst enters his third year in Madison.

What contributor in 2016 could make a Jazz Peavy-like jump in the spring?

Jazz Peavy was Wisconsin’s fifth-leading receiver in 2015. Certainly a part of the offense, but not someone the Badgers counted on to make all the big plays. That changed last fall, when he became their leader in receiving yardage and touchdowns, and second in catches. It was a much needed jump for both the wide receiver and Wisconsin.

So who could make a similar leap? There are several candidates, starting in the defensive backfield.

Wisconsin loses cornerback Sojourn Shelton, who really stepped his game up as a senior. And while the Badgers like senior Derrick Tindal to be their No. 1 in 2017, it would be very helpful if fellow senior Natrell Jamerson raises his level of play.

One of the fastest guys on the team, injuries have held the Florida native back, especially last season. Serving as the Badgers nickel back, he played a vital role in Wisconsin’s sub-packages before a leg injury against Akron knocked him out of action for seven games. When he returned, he shared time with junior Lubern Figaro and never fully got back to where he was pre-injury. If healthy, he could fight for that starting spot opposite Tindal, and that begins in the spring.

Wisconsin tight end Kyle Penniston (49) could be among several guys to take a big leap in their second year of seeing a lot of playing time. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Another potential player that could make a big jump is tight end Kyle Penniston. He caught a pair of touchdowns as a redshirt freshman, but he’s capable of much more. With so much focus on Peavy and starting tight end Troy Fumagalli, Penniston may see more passes his way, and folks around the program believe he’s ready for it.

Going back to the defensive side of the ball, we find another senior that Wisconsin absolutely needs to see a jump from, and that’s outside linebacker Garrett Dooley. In spot duty, when injuries hit starters Vince Biegel and then later T.J. Watt, Dooley was a very capable fill-in. Now he’s being asked to be the guy on the outside and build on his 3.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.

Other possibilities include include redshirt sophomore running back Bradrick Shaw, Figaro, sophomore wide receiver Quintez Cephus, sophomore nose guard Garrett Rand and junior safety Arrington Farrar.

Seeding tumble

As Wisconsin basketball team has continued to lose games, its projected seeding in the NCAA Tournament has also slipped. Now losers of four of their last five games, here’s where the Badgers find themselves in the latest bracketology projections:
Seed: No. 6
Location: Orlando, Fla.
Seed: No. 6
Location: Milwaukee

USA Today
Seed: No. 6
Location: Salt Lake City

Bleacher Report:
Seed: No. 7
Location: Indianapolis

At its best this year, Wisconsin was capable of being a No. 3 or No. 4 seed, but those chances appear long gone with this late-season swoon. Its resume was weak even at 21-3 as evidenced by the NCAA selection committee not putting them in the top 16 at that point but looks much worse now at 22-7 and still lacking any kind of marquee win.

The highest the Badgers could seemingly go assuming they get wins over Iowa and Minnesota this week, and then make a run to the Big Ten Tournament title game is probably a No. 5 seed. Some think that could get them to Milwaukee for the first two rounds of the tournament, but they are battling several teams for that spot, including Purdue and Minnesota.

That’s the positive spin, though. What happens if the Badgers continue to struggle finishing in the paint, don’t make their free throws and can’t slow opposing offenses? How far could they fall if they lose out, including a one-and-done effort in the conference tournament? Don’t be shocked if they end up as an 8, 9, or 10 seed if that happens.

The more realistic outcome, though, is them taking care of business at home this week, even with how hot Iowa and Minnesota have been shooting the ball, followed by at least one win in Washington D.C., before bowing out. That would likely leave them in the same position they are now. A No. 6 seed and traveling somewhere far away from Madison.

NCAA Tournament berth?

When the season started, the expectations weren’t high for the Wisconsin men’s hockey team. The Badgers had won just 12 games combined the previous two years and were in a transition under new coach Tony Granato. But with just two weeks left in the regular season, Wisconsin is only three points behind Minnesota in the Big Ten race and are sitting pretty in the PairWise Rankings at No. 13.

That last part is important, because those rankings, which are compiled by comparing records against common opponents, head-to-head competition and the RPI, are the same ones the NCAA selection committee uses when determining the 10 at-large bids for the tournament. And unlike the basketball selection committee, where there appears to be more debate on who gets in and who doesn’t, the hockey side of things claim there is little to no subjectivity when it comes to deciding the teams, and it’s almost all based on numbers.

Now we may be getting a little ahead of ourselves here, with the Badgers remaining series consisting of a trip to No. 9 Penn State and hosting No. 15 Ohio State, but the chance is there for them to do something no one thought possible back in November. Still, Granato wants nothing to do with the idea right now.

“I guess it’s nice to be in that, but it really doesn’t mean anything now,” the first-year coach said Monday. “Obviously, if we’re in that position in a couple weeks, it’ll mean something.

“It doesn’t matter until the last day of the season as far as whether you get a bid or not.”

A Big Ten title would be an epic success for Granato in his first year, but if the Badgers end up missing out on that, a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 wouldn’t be the worst consolation prize.

Catching up

  • From Sean Keeler: Wisconsin? Purdue? Michigan State? Doesn’t anyone want to win the Big Ten?
  • ESPN’s Seth Greenberg thinks the Big Ten may not send a single team to the Elite Eight.
  • Somehow, despite losing four of its last five, Wisconsin is still in both national polls.
  • Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said the team’s goal in the NCAA tournament, but the NIT is ‘fabulous.’