Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Wisconsin's Zak Showalter and the Badgers are focused on making amends for coming up short in their bid for the regular-season Big Ten title.

Wisconsin gets second chance for Big Ten title, Bo Ryan should be in Naismith HOF, and more

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Today is Thursday, March 9, and this is what’s for breakfast.


Want that ring

Ears in West Lafayette, Ind., may perk up at the notion, but Nigel Hayes isn’t wrong. Yes, Purdue took the Big Ten regular-season crown, but Hayes feels it wasn’t so much that the Boilermakers won the title as it was that Wisconsin lost it. And the Badgers forward said as much when he met with the media on Tuesday in advance of the Big Ten Tournament.

“We obviously know we gave it away,” Hayes said of the title. “We said, ‘Here.’ Then we thought we wanted it back and (they said), ‘Here, you can have it,’ (but) we gave it away (again).”

To review, when Wisconsin stepped on the court against Northwestern on Feb. 12, the Badgers were 2 games clear of Maryland and Purdue in the loss column. Two straight losses dropped Wisconsin into a tie with the Boilermakers, but the Badgers had a chance to get first place back to themselves with a Purdue loss at Michigan in the season’s closing days, but the Badgers lost three straight to end their title hopes and Purdue won the league by two games.

Wisconsin losses are not the Boilermakers fault. And if we’re being honest, most think Purdue was the best team in the conference all season — and coach Matt Painter’s squad did beat the Badgers head-to-head in their one matchup, 66-55 on Jan. 8.

Senior Nigel Hayes feels Wisconsin gave away the regular season Big Ten title. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

But the way in which Wisconsin lost five of its last seven games will gnaw at players and fans alike for quite a while. The horrendous shooting at times, the matador defense at others, mixed with missed free throws and inexcusable turnovers at critical junctures, told the story of that stretch. Ask any of the Wisconsin players if the teams they lost to — Northwestern, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa — were better than them, and you’ll get a resounding no from most.

None of that matters now, though. With a win against Minnesota on Sunday, the Badgers hit the postseason feeling good about themselves, with Hayes believing they played as close to a complete game as they have in the last six weeks. And it leaves him and his teammates hopeful they can claim at least one trophy this season.

“We want to get our ring,” guard Zak Showalter said. “We missed out on our first opportunity and now this is the one in the front window, so we’ve got to go get it.”

Bo is a Hall of Famer

It was announced Wednesday that former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan will be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame this fall in Kansas City, Mo.

It’s a great honor for the all-time wins leader in Badgers history, but it’s not the ultimate one. That could potentially come next month when the class of 2017 is announced for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the most prestigious individual honor a coach or player can receive in the game.

And it’s one that has eluded Ryan in the first two years he’s been a finalist. He’s watched as contemporaries including John Calipari (class of ’15) and Tom Izzo (class of ’16) have gotten in.

If he doesn’t get in this year, will he ever? It’s not as if he’s going to add to his 747 wins, four national titles, seven Big Ten titles (four regular season, three tournament) and two Final Fours. Heck, his four national titles, while admittedly coming at Division III, are the fifth-most ever among coaches in the top three divisions of college basketball. The four men’s coaches with more — John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Mike Krzyzewski and Arad McCutchan — are already enshrined in Springfield, Mass.

What more exactly does the committee require to recognize Ryan’s coaching acumen is Hall of Fame worthy?

This is the same committee that put Calipari in despite the NCAA taking wins away from his teams at Massachusetts and Memphis for violations that happened on his watch.

Ryan isn’t and wasn’t perfect, but his teams were almost always ones that fans could be proud of. There are 100 coaches in the Naismith Hall of Fame. Ryan should make it 101 when the new class is unveiled at the Final Four.

Free-agent Badgers

NFL free agency is a crazy time, but it can also be very fruitful, and it appears it’ll be that way for a couple former Wisconsin offensive linemen.

Multiple outlets are reporting that Rick Wagner, a standout for the Badgers from 2009-12, will be leaving Baltimore and signing with the Detroit Lions for an average of more than $9 million per year.

Wagner is a former walk-on, one of many that have gone on to earn big-time money in the NFL. That fraternity includes current Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.

But Wagner isn’t the only former Badgers O-lineman who will cash in. Cincinnati Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler is about to hit the bank as well as an unrestricted free agent. He’s considered by many to be the top guard — and potentially the top offensive lineman — available in free agency, and Rotoworld.com projects that he could make between $10-12 million per year.

None of this means much to Wisconsin fans, but it is a worthwhile recruiting tool that coach Paul Chryst and his staff will put to use. They can say, “Come to Madison, learn from the guys who coached Rick Wagner and Kevin Zeitler and go make the same kind of money.”

They’ll obviously do it in a much more discrete manner, but you get the gist. It’s a pretty good way to sell a program that has produced quite a bit of NFL talent in the last 10 years or so.

Catching up

  • From Jim Polzin at the Wisconsin State Journal: Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes get a chance to start anew at the free-throw line now that the postseason is here.
  • Happ was also one of two Big Ten players named to SI.com’s All-America team.
  • Wisconsin basketball will take a summer trip to New Zealand and Australia prior to the 2017-18 season.
  • A celebration of former Wisconsin hockey coach Jeff Sauer’s life will take place Thursday at the Kohl Center.
  • Over at JSOnline from Jeff Potrykus: D’Mitrik Trice is excited for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, but is already planting seeds for next season when his role will increase.
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