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Today is Friday, Dec. 30, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
During this final week of 2016, we’ve been taking a look at the best plays of the year for the Wisconsin football and basketball teams. We conclude the countdown with the biggest and most memorable play, and it comes from March Madness.
No. 1: March 20, 2016 — Bronson Koenig drills a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Xavier in the NCAA Tournament
It appeared Wisconsin’s run in the tournament might be done. Trailing by three points to Xavier with 20 seconds left, the Badgers offense had zero rhythm and looked lost. So Bronson Koenig did what Bronson Koenig does. He pulled up from 30 feet and drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game. But it wasn’t even his biggest shot of the night. No, that came after Zak Showalter drew a charge with five seconds left, setting up one of the bigger shots in Wisconsin basketball history.
In their own words
Coach Greg Gard: “I tried to tell him to keep shooting. The last couple of games the ball hasn’t gone in like he wanted to. You can’t lose confidence in him. Tell him to keep working, and it’ll work out OK.”
Koenig: “I told Ethan (Happ) before the play even started, I knew I wanted the ball. So I went up to him and told him, pass to me if I’m open.
“And I got open. He did a great job of hitting me … I knew it was going in before it even left my hand because that’s a shot I practice quite a bit pregame with Nigel Hayes 1-on-1, and I do a lot of step-backs in the corner.
“I let it fly and I knew it was going in.”
What it meant
Koenig’s heroics sent Wisconsin into the Sweet 16 for a fourth time in five years, where the Badgers fell to Notre Dame in a back-and-forth affair. But it was also the launching point for expectations this season, as all five starters and nearly every role player returned. What the media thinks of you before the season means nothing, but the shot likely led to many national experts putting Wisconsin in the top 10 to start this year.
The rest of the countdown
Monday (12/26): No. 5 — Ethan Happ lay-in helps beat Michigan State
Tuesday (12/27): No. 4 — Leo Musso fumble recovery sparks rout of Michigan State
Wednesday (12/28): No. 3 — D’Cota Dixon game-clinching interception against LSU
Thursday (12/29): No. 2 — D’Cota Dixon break-up finishes off Nebraska in OT
A Bielema loss is a Wisconsin win
The tweets started showing up just as Virginia Tech was completing its biggest comeback ever, erasing a 24-point deficit to coach Bret Bielema and Arkansas, and winning the Belk Bowl, 35-24, Thursday night.
bret bieLema #karma
— Ebo (@EboSays) December 30, 2016
There are few things that Wisconsin fans enjoy more than when Bielema fails. Some of it, certainly, is being jaded for the way he up and left for Arkansas following the 2012 season, disparaging the Badgers on his way out. But it’s also because it’s so easy to do, and it happens so often. In seven seasons at Wisconsin, Bielema lost 24 games. He’s already got more in four years at Arkansas, a place he said would give him a better opportunity to win a national title.
He left for Arkansas so he could "win a national championship". First he should probably just focus on a winning record. https://t.co/QyE4t67x7T
— Evil Paul Chryst (@PaulChrystUW) December 30, 2016
Most Wisconsin fans weren’t upset that Bielema left. They always viewed him as Barry Alvarez’s puppet, and that was one of the few valid reasons that Bielema could have used for his departure. But things took a turn in September 2013, when a massive fail on the part of a Pac-12 officiating crew cost the Badgers a chance to kick a game-winning field goal against Arizona State. For some reason, that still no one can figure out to this day, Bielema’s wife, Jen, took to Twitter to gloat.
If that tweet never happens, it’s unlikely the animosity that Wisconsin fans still feel toward Bielema exists. He left, the Badgers moved on and both would be just fine. Except that’s not what happened. She took a shot, and it comes flying back at her every time Arkansas chokes away a big game. Search #Karma and you’ll see.
The only thing saving Bielema at this point from going from a coach of a three-time Big Ten champion to the unemployment line four years later is a massive buyout and his good buddy, athletic director Jeff Long. But if and when he does get the boot from his cushy office in Fayetteville, you can expect a similar reaction from Wisconsin fans that they gave Thursday night. Karma tweets a plenty.
Under the radar
When Wisconsin takes the field on Monday to face Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl, the Badgers will be expecting big days from guys like running back Corey Clement, wide receiver Jazz Peavy, tight end Troy Fumagalli, along with outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel. But what under-the-radar players could make an impact on the game? Here’s a few that might.
Cornerbacks Natrell Jamerson and Lubern Figaro
The last time we saw Wisconsin, these two guys were under aerial assault from Penn State quarterback Trace McSorely. Time and time again, the Nittany Lions targeted the Badgers third corner, which was Figaro in the first half and largely Jamerson in the second. Western Michigan doesn’t have the same volume of weapons as Penn State, but they saw the tape and could target the duo. If they do, it could make for some big-time opportunities for both guys.
Running back Bradrick Shaw
Teams are gaining 4.7 yards per carry against Western Michigan on the ground, and while Clement and senior Dare Ogunbowale will certainly get their touches, Shaw could be a wild card. The redshirt freshman really came on down the stretch, gaining more than half his season yardage total in the final five games.
Wide receiver Quintez Cephus
Not since Brandon Williams led the team in receiving as a true freshman in 2002 has a first-year wide receiver made an impact like Cephus. While his stats don’t show it, the Georgia product has been on the field almost as much as starters Jazz Peavy and Rob Wheelwright, though a lot of his work has been as a blocker. With a month to prepare for the game, it’s possible we could see Cephus more involved in the passing game.
Who are they picking?
Wisconsin is an 8.5-point favorite against unbeaten Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl, but that doesn’t mean everyone thinks they’ll hand the Broncos their first defeat. Here’s a look around the web at who the experts believe will take the trophy home.
Gabriel Baumgaertner (SI): Western Michigan
Colin Becht (SI): Wisconsin
Dennis Dodd (CBS Sports): Wisconsin
Bruce Feldman (Fox Sports): Western Michigan
Pat Forde (Yahoo! Sports): Wisconsin
Tom Fornelli (CBS Sports): Wisconsin
Brian Hamilton (SI): Wisconsin
Robby Kalland (CBS Sports): Western Michigan
Ben Kercheval (CBS Sports): Western Michigan
Stewart Mandel (Fox Sports): Wisconsin
Joan Niesen (SI): Wisconsin
Jerry Palm (CBS Sports): Western Michigan
Chip Patterson (CBS Sports): Western Michigan
Adam Rittenberg (ESPN): Wisconsin
Mark Schlabach (ESPN): Wisconsin
Lindsey Schnell (SI): Wisconsin
Jon Solomon (CBS Sports): Western Michigan
Andy Staples (SI): Wisconsin
Pete Thamel (SI): Wisconsin
Western Michigan: 7
- Rob Wheelwright and Derrick Tindal show off their country dancing skills at the Cotton Bowl.
- The Cotton Bowl is sponsored by Goodyear Tires, so of course they made sculptures out of tires of the two mascots.
- Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gives the scouting report on Western Michigan.
- Over at the Wisconsin State Journal, Jason Galloway writes that coach P.J. Fleck has Western Michigan in uncharted territory.