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 Thursday, Oct. 27, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Which player would Wisconsin fans want?
The Wisconsin basketball team is as deep a group as the Badgers have had, but it’s driven by the talent at the top of the roster. CBSSports.com released its list of the top 100 players in college basketball this year and three familiar names are among them. The website lists forward Nigel Hayes at No. 19, guard Bronson Koenig at No. 32 and forward Ethan Happ at No. 38.
Schools with the most players in the @CBSSportsCBB Top-40:
3 – Wisconsin
3 – Duke
3 – Kansas
3 – Kentucky
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) October 26, 2016
That all three made the list isn’t surprising. They were a part of the 10-member preseason All-Big Ten team, with Hayes selected as the preseason Player of the Year in the conference. But there has been an undertone this offseason, at least among fans, that Hayes isn’t actually Wisconsin’s best player.
So we put that idea to the test, giving fans an option, if they were starting their own team, who they’d take first, and the very unscientific results showed Hayes has fallen out of favor.
CBS has Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig & Ethan Happ among its top 40 players this season. You're starting a team..which one are you taking 1st?
— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) October 26, 2016
For fans, it’s usually a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately premise, so Hayes getting such a small percentage — just 12 percent as of 7 a.m. ET — is likely a result of his struggles shooting the ball down the stretch last year. But what fans lose sight of is the fact he was a first-team All-Big Ten pick and a guy that has all the skills needed to be a high-level player.
If you were to ask coaches the same question — who they’d start a team with — Hayes would likely be the choice for a majority of them. His size, ball-handling and ability to defend (when he’s interested) multiple positions makes him a versatile weapon. As good as Happ was as a freshman, especially on the defensive end, he’s still limited offensively. (He’s leading the poll for now, at 54 percent.) And while Koenig appears poised for his best year, and could very well end up being the best player on the team, it’s still a wait and see.
Without Hayes, the Badgers aren’t looked at as a top-10 team, maybe even not top-20. So despite a junior season that wasn’t up to his own expectations, he’s still the player that could determine whether a talented Wisconsin flames out early in the NCAA tournament or whether a third trip to the Final Four in the last four years can become a reality.
Skyrocketing salaries in coaching
An annual study of NCAA football coaches’ salaries from USA Today came out on Wednesday, and it showed again just how big a business the game has become. The article accompanying the study outlined how drastically things have changed just in the last 10 years.
“Buoyed by rising revenues in college sports, college football coaches are getting paid more than ever, with at least 36 earning at least $3 million this year, up from nine in 2011 and one in 2006 — the first year USA TODAY Sports conducted the head coaches salary survey.”
How college football coaches' salaries have progressed over the years. pic.twitter.com/jqxIkdUUE2
— USA TODAY Sports (@USATODAYsports) October 26, 2016
And Wisconsin hasn’t been left behind. In fact, the Badgers are paying second-year coach Paul Chryst 255% more this year than they did Bret Bielema in his first year in 2006, according to the study. But despite that increase, Chryst is just the eighth-highest paid coach in the 14-team Big Ten and 43rd in the country.
Hiring a college football coach is expensive.
— USA TODAY Sports (@USATODAYsports) October 26, 2016
The money being made by coaches should be the first thing that those student-athletes, like Nigel Hayes, point to when wondering why players can’t get paid. Revenues are up all around and coaches, including assistants, have been among the biggest benefactors, and doing it on the backs of their players.
There are those who will argue that the scholarship, room and board, stipend and other advantages football and basketball players enjoy are enough. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh making $9 million per year should show it’s not.
Good Tommy or bad Tommy?
In his mailbag this week, ESPN.com’s Brian Bennett took a question asking which Tommy Armstrong will show up in Madison. The one that has been really good this year or the version that’s made colossal mistakes in past years to hurt Nebraska’s chances of winning big games.
“Bad Tommy is my preferred term for the version of Tommy Armstrong Jr. we’ve seen make some big mistakes and sloppy throws in games over the years. This season has been almost all Good Tommy, as Armstrong has done a great job of letting the game come to him and making good decisions.”
“No doubt, Armstrong will have to be really good for the Cornhuskers to win, and in his past two games against the Badgers, he is just 17-for-46 through the air.”
Armstrong may be be the difference in the game. If Wisconsin’s defense harasses him like the last time he was in Madison, in which the Badgers forced five turnovers, the home team will own this game like it did in that 59-24 romp in 2014.
If Armstrong can play like he did to start that game, where he threw for a touchdown and ran for another as the Huskers built a 17-3 lead, then Saturday night should be a tightly contested ball game.
The chances the latter happens, though, seems unlikely even with the Badgers trying to replace leading tackler Jack Cichy. The best unit the Huskers have seen this year is Indiana — yes, Indiana — who is ranked 49th in total defense. Wisconsin is sitting at No. 9, while coming in at No. 4 in scoring defense, and have held every opponent below its season scoring average.
This will be a challenge Armstrong has yet to face this year. A defense that will stop the run, and then work up exotic pressures to confuse the passer into making mistakes. Every other time Armstrong has faced this defense, he hasn’t been up to that challenge. There is no reason to think this Saturday will be any different.
The term zone was almost a four-letter word in Bo Ryan’s dictionary. The long-time Wisconsin basketball coach despised the idea of a zone defense and never played it during his 15 years in Madison. So the revelation on Wednesday that Greg Gard, Ryan’s former assistant, was practicing zone defense was a tad eye opening.
Bo, if you follow me, avert your eyes. #Badgers worked on zone defense today. The end is near.
— Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) October 26, 2016
Now, to be fair, it’s just practice, and it’s unclear whether Gard is planning to break it out for a game. In his short time on the job, he hasn’t been afraid of going in different directions than his predecessor, including going back to Ryan’s ‘swing offense’ last season, playing more guys off the bench and even implementing a little full court press.
Ryan was never a fan of how a zone defense impacted a team’s rebounding, once exclaiming after his team got three offensive rebounds while practicing for a zone team, “That’s why we don’t play zone.” But it was also a matter of striving to be great at one defense — man-to-man — than be OK or good at multiple defenses.
But Gard is his own man and won’t be deterred from trying something he thinks best suits his team. If it’s a zone defense, so be it.
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