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Today is Tuesday, Feb. 14, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Who’s next at wide receiver?
Wisconsin will start spring practice a month from Tuesday. In the days and weeks leading up to the start of the team’s 15 practices, we’ll be taking a look at the biggest questions facing coach Paul Chryst as he begins his third year in Madison.
Who will the Badgers’ No. 2 wide receiver?
Wisconsin will return its top two receiving targets from 2016 in seniors Jazz Peavy and Troy Fumagalli. In what was a breakout year for both, the wide receiver and tight end combined for 90 receptions and more than 1,200 yards. Those numbers figure to increase even more so in their final year in Madison, but with No. 2 wideout Robert Wheelwright having exhausted his eligibility, spring practice will be big for several guys looking to fill his production of 34 catches, 448 yards and a score.
Senior George Rushing would be the obvious choice to fill the role. As a junior, he had 12 catches for 136 yards, including a couple big grabs in the Cotton Bowl. He had a monster spring game in 2016, but it never carried over and everyone is still waiting for him to fully realize the potential that saw him start against LSU as a true freshman in 2014. Athletically he can get it done. Now it’s the other things that come with playing the position at Wisconsin, including being a strong blocker in the run game.
That’s where sophomore Quintez Cephus has an advantage. No true freshman in recent memory has come in and been as willing and talented of a blocker than Cephus was in 2016. It’s what got him on the field so much. But he can be more than that. A high-level basketball player in high school, Cephus is still relatively inexperienced as a pass catcher, though he did show flashes of play-making ability — including a pretty 57-yard catch against Iowa. He’s going to get plenty of chances to establish himself as an option in the spring.
The same goes for sophomore A.J. Taylor, who 247Sports rated a 4-star recruit coming out high school and who caught 3 passes for 53 yards as a true freshman. A running back for much of his high school career, Taylor will benefit, like Cephus, with more and more reps.
The other guys that could push for time include redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor, who nearly saw the field last season, and junior Ricky Finco. Wisconsin also signed three wide receivers in the class of 2017 and have also added 2016 grayshirt Deron Harrell, who is already on campus. Spring will be significant for him as he makes the transition from cornerback to offense.
If Wisconsin is still looking for help after spring ball, it could come in the form of 4-star recruit Danny Davis. The second-highest rated wide receiver the Badgers have ever landed, Davis will arrive in June.
- Can anyone challenge Alex Hornibrook for the starting quarterback job?
- Is Bradrick Shaw ready to be the man in the Wisconsin backfield?
Nigel Hayes has always been a great quote. From the time he stepped on campus in the fall of 2013 to now, the Wisconsin forward has always filled up reporters’ notebooks with good and memorable material. He did that again on Sunday night following the Badgers 66-59 loss to Northwestern, but it was impromptu comments on fellow senior Zak Showalter that stood out.
Showalter had just gotten done guarding Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh, who filled up the stat sheet with 25 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. A lot of the shots he took were difficult, but when a reporter wondered if Showalter thought he could have done something more to stop McIntosh, the guard answered like any experienced basketball player would.
"That's a teammate right there"
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) February 13, 2017
“There’s always something else I can do,” Showalter said, before adding, “(He) made a lot of tough ones and was the best player on the court (Sunday night). That’s not what I wanted to do, and he took advantage of it.”
Without missing a beat, Hayes interjected before another question could be asked.
“I think Zak did a great job on that. (McIntosh) took 23 shots and only had (25) points,” Hayes said. “I don’t want this to be McIntosh — he is a good player — but it’s not like he just walked up and down the court and had his way. He took a large portion of their shots. Showy did a tremendous job on him. We’ll gladly give somebody 25 points on 23 shots.”
To which Showalter replied, “That’s a teammate right there.”
It is a teammate — a very good one — and it’s also leadership. It’s something Hayes has shown to be comfortable with really since last January, when, after a loss at Northwestern, he went on a bit of a tirade in the locker room that spilled out into the hallways. It was an airing-out session that many pointed to as the moment the team’s fortunes turned, going from 1-4 in Big Ten play to 12-6 by the time the regular season was done.
It was a crossroads point for that team, and since that blowup in the bowels of Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Badgers are 34-8. There was no big emotional outpouring following the loss on Sunday night, but it appears that Wisconsin is once again at a crossroads, though certainly a different one from a year ago.
At 21-4 and ranked No. 11 in the country, the Badgers are in prime position to make the NCAA Tournament for a 19th straight season and could win a second Big Ten title in three seasons. But they have bigger goals than that and the recent performances, especially on the offensive end of the floor, will hamper any attempt to reach them.
Hayes’ comments on Showalter won’t all of a sudden make the ball go through the net for the rest of the Badgers. Still, his standing up for a teammate in that setting, while also later acknowledging that the loss may serve as a much-needed wake-up call for the team, shows the leadership inside the locker room remains strong, which is vital if the team is to fix what ails it.
When Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky or Devin Harris have made their return to the state to play in Milwaukee, a lot has been made of it. Some of it is the fact they had such star-studded careers at Wisconsin and fans have continued to follow them in their NBA travels.
But it’s a fourth former Badgers player — Jon Leuer — who is actually having the best season of any of them. So it seems noteworthy to mention that he was back in town on Monday as Detroit lost to the Bucks.
Jon Leuer has come a long way from his first 2 years at Wisconsin. 15 points, 10 rebounds through 3 quarters tonight vs. Bucks.
— dan needles (@dneedles12) February 14, 2017
Leuer, now in his sixth season in the league, is averaging a career-high 10.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game after signing with the Pistons for 4 years and $41 million in the offseason.
His success, especially long term, was not something anyone could have foreseen when he was taken in the second round of the 2011 draft by Milwaukee. But he’s stayed with it, and now with his fifth team, appears to have found a home.
- Following its loss to Northwestern, the Badgers fell in both national polls.
- Senior Nigel Hayes was among a number of Big Ten players in the latest mock draft from Draft Express.
- From the weekend, Sean Keeler’s look at Northwestern and Wisconsin, a game where the Wildcats were a Cinderella with brass knuckles.
- A Bracketology roundup: The impact of the Northwestern loss and more.