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 Tuesday, Feb. 21, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
A new No. 1
Spring practice is getting closer for Wisconsin, and in the lead-up to the start of the 15 practices, we’ve been looking at some of the biggest questions facing the Badgers.
Is Derrick Tindal ready to be the No. 1 cornerback?
Sojourn Shelton finished off his Wisconsin career in style, garnering second-team All-Big Ten honors and an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins next week in Indianapolis. The void he leaves behind is significant, but there’s at least one notable person who thinks senior Derrick Tindal is ready to fill Shelton’s shoes.
“I think he is,” said new defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, who also will continue as Wisconsin’s secondary coach.
“Playing a majority of the year with a broken wrist is not easy for a corner,” Leonhard said. “He learned a lot because he had to find new ways to win. When you’re handcuffed like that, you have to get a little creative at times.”
Many fans focused on what Tindal didn’t do rather than what he did in his first year as a full-time starter. Instead of judging him on what were, overall, very good games against highly-ranked teams in Michigan and Ohio State, critics looked at the game-losing plays he was involved with — a deep touchdown to Amara Darboh in the fourth quarter against the Wolverines and the overtime touchdown catch by Noah Brown that gave the Buckeyes a victory.
Leonhard, though, liked the way he recovered from those down moments, and said he thought he finished the year on a strong note, which carried over into the offseason.
“He’s a big-time competitor,” Leonhard said. “I’m excited to see him. From when he got back here this spring semester (to) where he’s going to be when the season starts, is going to be pretty cool to see.”
Tindal needs to be that No. 1 guy for Wisconsin, especially with so much uncertainty behind him. Will senior Natrell Jamerson stay healthy? Can junior Lubern Figaro put it all together? What impact will now-eligible Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson have? Will redshirt sophomore Titus Booker realize the potential his coaches see in him? And that’s not even mentioning the true freshman that came in last year and others that arrived in the spring.
Leonhard needs Tindal to provide the same steadying hand that Shelton did in his final year, and it appears the coach believes he’s ready for it.
So, about that invisible wall around the state of Wisconsin we were talking about Monday? It appears to be in fine shape. Just a day after three in-state players were offered scholarships by the Badgers, all three committed to coach Paul Chryst and his staff.
Proud and beyond excited to announce that I have committed to the University of Wisconsin to further my academic and athletic career! ?⚪️? pic.twitter.com/5yTon1SeB8
— Boyd Dietzen (@Boyd_Dietzen76) February 20, 2017
— CJ GOETZ (@cj_goetz) February 20, 2017
— Mason Platter (@Mason__Platter) February 20, 2017
Boyd Dietzen (Kimberly, Wis.) is the highest rated of the three, coming is as the No. 19 defensive end in the country, according to 247 Sports, though he has reportedly been offered as an athlete and could play several different positions. The other two — linebackers C.J. Goetz (Waukesha, Wis.) and Mason Platter (Menominee, Wis.) — are also 3-star recruits, with offers from several MAC schools and interest from a number of Big Ten programs.
But what they lack in flair, they make up for with a clear love for Wisconsin football. That, more so than anything, is obvious when a kid commits less than 24 hours after receiving an offer. The Badgers have built their program on players like that from the state for more than 25 years, and it’s rarely failed them.
The free-throw ‘issue’
While coach Greg Gard says he isn’t losing sleep over his team’s free-throw shooting woes, the same likely can’t be said for those die-hard fans that have watched as the Badgers continue to struggle from the line.
Following a 21-of-37 performance against Maryland, Wisconsin is hitting just 66.5 percent of its shots from the charity stripe, good for 283rd in the country. For reference, there are 351 teams in Division I, and only two Big Ten teams, Michigan State and Rutgers, are worse than the Badgers.
It’s not that Wisconsin’s players don’t practice free throws. They do. A lot. The last 15 minutes or so of every practice are focused on it. They have rewards and punishments for hitting or missing shots. Unfortunately, there have been a lot more punishments — usually stomach crunches — than rewards this year.
“Pretty soon we’re going to end up looking like the locker room from (the movie) Major League. The candles, the oils, all the garlic around our neck,” Gard said Sunday in reference to Dennis Haysbert’s character Pedro Cerrano and what he did in trying to change his luck in hitting a curve ball. “Hey, just step to the line and make the free throws.”
The difficult thing for Gard is that he can’t do much more than he’s doing. This isn’t a, “Hey, make your free throws or your benched,” type of thing.
“I can’t yell them into doing it better,” Gard said.
The main culprits continue to be the guys that go to the line the most — Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ. They’re making 51.6 and 62.3 percent of their free throws, respectively.
“They know it. I don’t need to browbeat them about it,” Gard said of the duo. “They work on it. They spend more time than anybody else at it. More time away from practice (on it).”
To this point it hasn’t truly cost them a game. But for a team that has struggled to score as of late, they need to take advantage of every avenue possible to put points on the board, and that starts with the ones that should come the easiest.
- Most consider Ethan Happ to be Wisconsin’s MVP so far this year, and ESPN’s math certainly backs that up
- Wisconsin drops in the national poll released Monday
- From Madison.com: Closing stretch will be a big test for the Wisconsin hockey team
- Also from Madison.com: The Wisconsin women’s hockey team enters the postseason No. 1 in the country