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Today is Monday, Jan. 9, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Still contenders despite loss to Purdue
If Wisconsin had gone into Mackey Arena and pulled off its second road win against an AP Top 25 team this week, there wouldn’t be a person covering college basketball who could have made an argument against the Badgers being the favorite to win the Big Ten.
But after a disappointing 66-55 loss to Purdue on Sunday that snapped their nine-game winning streak, the Badgers must regroup and deal with the fact they’re now just another one of a handful of contenders for the conference title.
No. I missed more layups than he did, he'll be fine. We win as a team and lose as a team.
— Nigel Hayes (@NIGEL_HAYES) January 9, 2017
The Boilermakers are not a great matchup for Wisconsin. Their interior size is very difficult to deal with, and when you can’t make outside shots, you’re going to struggle to score. And that’s exactly how it played out as the Badgers got almost nothing to go in from beyond the arc, going a season-worst 2-for-14 on 3’s and hitting just 39 percent of their shots overall. If not for Ethan Happ’s surge in the second half, things could have looked much uglier than the final stats showed.
The loss doesn’t detract from what coach Greg Gard’s squad showed in the winning streak. Bad shooting nights are going to come, and when they happen against a team that is almost daring you to shoot, then you end up with an outing like the Badgers had on Sunday.
Sometimes the game of basketball is just that simple.
Adjustments. Corrections. Improvements. @nathand_12
— Nigel Hayes (@NIGEL_HAYES) January 9, 2017
What the loss does show, though, is that the Big Ten doesn’t have a single great team. None of the apparent contenders — Wisconsin, Purdue, Nebraska, Indiana, Michigan State or Minnesota — are going to run away with things, and everyone of them already has at least one loss.
The conference is as up for grabs as it’s been in quite some time and whoever wins it will have earned it. That can still be Wisconsin, but Sunday made clear that’s far from the certainty some might have thought with a win.
What the P.J. Fleck hire means
Minnesota got a whole lot more interesting on Friday when they announced the hiring of Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck. The fast-talking, cliché-dropping 36-year-old will bring a spark to a program that badly needed the national conversation to focus on something other than its recent off-the-field news about sexual assault and boycotts with some players.
And while this will only temporarily pull attention away from what is a serious issue, it’s what Minnesota needed.
Fleck is going to be formidable in these parts. His enthusiasm is more Fitz and less Brewster and he has a track record.
— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) January 6, 2017
Now, what does it mean for Wisconsin? Well, the hope is — or at least it should be — is that Fleck turns the Gophers into a more formidable opponent on the field and on the recruiting trail. Badgers fans might not want to hear that, but the stronger the Big Ten West is, the better for all involved. We always hear about the benefits of Michigan and Ohio State being good at the same time, and while Wisconsin and Minnesota will never be that important to the conference, if both teams rise to somewhat similar levels, even for a short time, it’s a benefit to both.
Can Fleck do that? It remains to be seen. But you can bet that he’ll take every opportunity to be a thorn in Wisconsin’s side. All those great things he was saying about them at the Cotton Bowl will not be uttered now that he’s yelling ‘Ski-U-Mah’ at the end of every press conference and radio interview.
The efforts Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst and his coaching staff have made to rebuild the wall around the state when it comes to recruiting and keeping guys home will be put to the test with Fleck around. How much recruits and their parents buy into his his seemingly used car salesmen shtick will be interesting to watch, but it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to grab a few kids out of the state, and in turn rankle Wisconsin fans.
— P.J. Fleck (@Coach_Fleck) January 9, 2017
In the end, Fleck is still very much a ‘wait-and-see’ hire. Just because he got it done at a MAC school for four years doesn’t mean he’ll be able to do the same at a school that has gone 56 years without a Big Ten title. Still, a better Minnesota would not be a bad thing for Wisconsin.
Another coaching shuffle?
Nothing has bothered Wisconsin fans in recent years more than losing assistant coaches season after season. Whether it was under former coaches Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen, or now under Paul Chryst, having to find new assistants every offseason is among the more annoying aspects for fans in Madison.
Well, get prepared, because it’s possible that the Badgers will be in the market for a new defensive coordinator again.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) January 8, 2017
The college coaching carousel never steps apparently, because after not playing since Nov. 26, California went and fired coach Sonny Dykes, ending his tenure after four years. It caught people off guard, and it opened up a whole new round of speculation of potential replacements, including Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who just finished his first year on the job.
Wilcox is an interesting candidate, no doubt, but it’s difficult to believe that Cal waited six weeks after its final game to to fire Dykes just to hire a defensive coordinator that — while successful this past year with Wisconsin — was not a hot commodity after his last stint on the West Coast at Southern Cal ended with him getting the boot before the end of the season.
This isn’t to say that it won’t happen, but the timing suggests one of two things. Either Cal was waiting for the NFL season to come to an end or the Bears really had no idea they were going to fire Dykes until this weekend. If it’s the latter, do you really want that job? If it’s the former, then Wilcox isn’t going anywhere.
Either way, Wisconsin fans will once again have to hold their breaths and hope that a top assistant doesn’t need to be replaced so soon after he arrived.
While Corey Clement and Vince Biegel will be taking part in the Senior Bowl later this month, and Dare Ogunbowale was invited to the East-West Shrine Game to be played on Jan. 21, two other former Badgers are involved with a much lower-profile postseason draft event this week.
The College Gridiron Showcase and Symposium is a five-day event just outside Dallas where hopeful future pros can show off their wares to scouts, and quarterback Bart Houston and wide receiver Rob Wheelwright are among 14 players from Big Ten schools at the event.
It seems unlikely that either will end up with a career in the NFL — guys much more productive than them at Wisconsin never made it in the league — but that shouldn’t stop their push, especially for Houston. The former 4-star quarterback didn’t start until his final year and even then got the job taken away after three games. But by the time he got it back — the two postseason games — he was playing at the highest level of his career.
There is no doubt he’s got a big enough arm to play professionally, but the consistency and the tendency to get into his own head at times held him back. Still, all it takes is one team to be enamored with you to get a shot, and it’s good he’s taking the chance, no matter how small it is.
- From Land o 10’sSean Keeler: If Wisconsin gets rolled while the Packers are playing, did it really happen? Yes, yes it did.
- Wisconsin coach Greg Gard spoke with the media following his team’s loss to Purdue on Sunday. Hear what he had to say.
- Why Wisconsin’s defense will prove there is life after Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt
- The Badgers are losing plenty of talent from their 2016 team, but big things are still expected if you’re to take any stock in ‘Way-too-early’ Top 25’s.