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Today is Wednesday, Jan. 4, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Getting it done
Playing a desperate team in a tough gym was the order of business on Tuesday for the Wisconsin basketball team. Already 0-1 in Big Ten play and losers of two straight, defending conference champion Indiana badly needed a win against the Badgers inside Assembly Hall.
Coach Greg Gard’s club would have none of it, though. Wisconsin jumped out to a 16-2 lead, saw it disappear in the second half before closing down the stretch and winning 75-68.
Same winning attitude.
Make it nine-straight wins.
On, WWWWWWWWWisconsin pic.twitter.com/tbQT9Cwpjj
— WWWWWWWWWisconsin ? (@BadgerMBB) January 4, 2017
It was the type of win the Badgers needed. Yeah, they had won eight games in a row coming in, but the best win of the bunch was at Marquette. On Tuesday, facing the No. 25 Hoosiers and more than 17,000 fans in loud Assembly Hall, Wisconsin showed the cool and calm it hadn’t in their last truly hostile environment against Creighton in the second game of the year. The Badgers shot 50 percent from beyond the arc, and 50 percent overall for the game, with four of the five starters hitting double figures.
Sophomore Ethan Happ didn’t back down against a pair of talented big men in De’Ron Davis and Thomas Bryant, outscoring the duo 19-18 while adding six rebounds and four assists to lead the Badgers in all three categories. It’s the type of effort that we’ve come to expect out the reigning Big Ten freshman of the year, and it’s one he keeps delivering.
Give me Ethan over Thomas Bryant every single time. And that's not a shot at Bryant, Ethan is just that good
— Josh Gasser (@JPGasser21) January 4, 2017
The win doesn’t guarantee anything other than it moves Wisconsin to 2-0 in conference play. But it was also a statement that while the other preseason favorites — like Indiana and Purdue — were struggling early in the year, this team is too experienced and skilled to get tripped up or worry about anyone else other than themselves.
This was the first game of what many consider the toughest two-game road stretch the Badgers will face. Now that they’ve checked Bloomington off the list, they can turn a good start in conference play into a great one by taking down the Boilermakers on Sunday in West Lafayette.
The 2016 season was a very good one for the Wisconsin football team. In coach Paul Chryst’s second year in Madison, the Badgers went 11-3 and won the Big Ten West. But things could be even better in 2017, even with key pieces needing to be replaced on both sides of the ball.
With outside linebacker T.J. Watt’s announcement on Tuesday that he would declare for the NFL draft, we’ll start our look at what’s next for Wisconsin by looking at the defense.
*For the purposes of his article, we’ll refer to each player’s class as it will be in 2017. So if a guy was a junior in 2016, he’ll be listed as a senior here.
Key losses: None
Key returnees: NT Conor Sheehy, DE Alec James, DE Chikwe Obasih, NT Olive Sagapolu
Young guys to watch: NT Garrett Rand
Wisconsin’s defensive line returns intact from 2016 with the three seniors in Sheehy, James and Obasih, along with a junior in Sagapolu. The group itself is vastly underrated and was the key for much of the Badgers success on that side of the ball this season.
Sheehy was an All-Big Ten pick and can play both defensive end, nose tackle and defensive tackle. His absence in the conference title game was significant.
Former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda once said that James and Obasih would be monsters by the time they became seniors and they still have that potential.
Sagapolu is a stopper inside, weighing more than 330 pounds, and is best suited in Wisconsin’s base package.
Key losses: OLB Vince Biegel, OLB T.J. Watt
Key returnees: ILB Jack Cichy, ILB T.J. Edwards, OLB Garrett Dooley, ILB Ryan Connelly, ILB Chris Orr
Young guys to watch: OLB Zack Baun, OLB Christian Bell, OLB Andrew Van Ginkel
The loss of Biegel and Watt is immense at outside linebacker. The duo combined for 15.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in 2016, and that won’t be easily replaced. But the Badgers will have options.
Dooley played very well in the two games Biegel missed due to injury, and the senior should man one of the outside linebacker spots. Baun, a redshirt sophomore, saw spot duty, but is as athletic as any player Wisconsin has. Names to remember include Alabama transfer Christian Bell, along with junior college recruit Andrew Van Ginkel. Both could factor into Wisconsin’s plans at outside linebacker.
The inside spot continues to loaded. Leading tackler and Cotton Bowl defensive MVP T.J. Edwards returns for his third year as a starter, and the Badgers will get senior Jack Cichy and redshirt sophomore Chris Orr back from injury. Add in junior Ryan Connelly, who filled in admirably for injured guys, and senior Leon Jacobs, and it’s clear Wisconsin has uncommon riches at the spot.
There’s a possibility that because of the depth, one or two of the guys could move outside, namely Cichy and Jacobs, who started their careers there.
Key losses: CB Sojourn Shelton, S Leo Musso
Key returnees: CB Derrick Tindal, S D’Cota Dixon, CB Natrell Jamerson, S Arrington Farrar
Young guys to watch: CB Caesar Williams, CB Dontye Carriere-Williams, S Patrick Johnson, CB Titus Booker
Shelton was an All-Big Ten pick, and Musso was the Team MVP, so the loss of both is significant. However, there are quite a few bodies to throw at the problem.
Tindal, a senior, will take over as the No. 1 cornerback. He made some fantastic strides this year, but needs to be more consistent. Fellow senior Natrell Jamerson, who missed much of the year with an injury, needs a lot of reps but can run with anyone.
The interesting aspect of the spot is with Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson and two redshirt freshmen — Caesar Williams and Dontye Carriere-Williams. All three are a little bigger than the cornerbacks Wisconsin normally has and are very well-suited to the press coverage they like to play.
Finding a replacement for Musso is a little more difficult. Junior Arrington Farrar will get the first shot, though sophomore Patrick Johnson and redshirt freshman Eric Burrell should also challenge for time.
No one was shocked a bit when T.J. Watt announced Tuesday that he was forgoing his final season and declaring for the NFL draft. His timing might have been a bit quick — he told most leading into the Cotton Bowl that he would take his time — but the decision did not.
— TJ Watt (@_TJWatt) January 3, 2017
There was very little more that Watt could do at this level to raise his draft stock. Could he have more than 11.5 sacks next year? Maybe. Could he develop his pass coverage skills more? Sure. But his production, married with his obvious talent, have his draft stock at a level that he may not reach again if he came back. Add in his injury history — he missed much of his first two years on campus due to knee injuries, which led to his move to defense — and it became rather clear what he had to do.
As for what his ceiling is at the next level, that remains to be seen. Some project him to go as high as the second round, and he’s got the size and athleticism to be a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker, so it would seem smart for a team that plays that type of system to take him. But even if he ends up in a 4-3 defense, as his brother, J.J., has proved, you can’t doubt something will be a success if a Watt says it will.
Watts at Wisconsin…
Nearly a decade of dominance.
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) January 3, 2017
His departure also means that for the first time since 2007, there won’t be a Watt on the Wisconsin roster in 2017. That’s unfortunate, as is the fact that John and Connie Watt don’t have any more sons to send the Badgers’ way.
Wisconsin has had its share of coaching upheaval in the last decade or so, going from Barry Alvarez to Bret Bielema to Gary Andersen and now Paul Chryst. But throughout that whole period, the winning never really stopped, with just one season in which the Badgers finished below .500 in conference play since 2004.
On Tuesday, Minnesota lost its fourth coach in that same time period, as they fired Tracy Claeys after just one year, more for off-the-field issues than on, where the Gophers went 5-4 in conference play.
The firing continued to accentuate the gulf between the two programs that goes far beyond the 13 straight wins the Badgers have on the field. Wisconsin is far from perfect away from the bright lights and have had its share of minor scandals, but nothing compared to what the University of Minnesota has had to deal with, much of it its own doing.
And it doesn’t appear anything is going to get better anytime soon.
Minnesota underclassman: “Doesn’t matter who coach is we don’t want to play for administration. Countless people will transfer if possible”
— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) January 3, 2017
A struggling Minnesota on the playing fields makes Wisconsin fans smile. They love reveling in the despair of their neighbors, though some certainly have to realize that when the Gophers are better, it makes the games with them better.
Still, the failures — both on the field and off — aren’t great looks for the Big Ten. And for that reason, Minnesota needs to get their next football hire right, instead of skimping on money or looking for the next big thing. Solid and steady should be the order of the day.
- Wisconsin running back Corey Clement is headed to the NFL Combine next month.
- At the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jeff Potrykus hands out grades for the Cotton Bowl.
- Wisconsin’s video highlights from the Cotton Bowl.
- Jason Galloway of the Wisconsin State Journal writes that the cornerback duo of Sojourn Shelton and Derrick Tindal did a great job in limiting Western Michigan’s All-American wide receiver Corey Davis in the Cotton Bowl.