Wisconsin-Notre Dame preview: Badgers face challenge in balanced, high octane offense

At first glance, this year’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Wisconsin Badgers squads are practically mirror images of each other. Their most frequently used lineups are nearly identical player-for-player, they boast equally balanced scoring attacks with every starter scoring in or around double figures, they each play at a methodical tempo that ranks amongst the bottom-30 in the nation, and they both braved top power conferences en route to nearly identical records and seeding in the NCAA tournament. Furthermore, this striking superficial resemblance is not just limited to this year’s teams, but extends to the established identity of both basketball programs in the past decade.

“I think there are a lot of  similarities between our two programs,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “It seems like every year nobody talks about Notre Dame through the first week of the tournament but you get to that second weekend and there they are. The names change, the numbers change, but their production on the floor and how they develop their players does not change, which is much like us [as a program].”

“I have the utmost respect for the Wisconsin program and what they’ve been able to build —they are a little bit like us,” echoed Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey. “They always run what they always run [offensively] and they’re a team that’s supposed to win every close game.”

However, regardless of the parallels between the two programs’ past and between their similarly constructed present, the narrative going into this game is most certainly one of contrast rather than congruence.

The Badgers come into this game hanging their hat on a suddenly elite defense that has gotten them to this point in March.

“Last week we grew as much defensively as we had all year in the two games against Pittsburgh and Xavier,” Gard said. “Our toughness level and our commitment to the defensive end has grown exponentially in the last two, three weeks, but really showed its face last weekend [in wins against Pittsburgh and Xavier].”

The Irish, on the other hand, struggle defensively but have developed into a dominant machine on the offensive end of the floor that can win games on its own.

“We have one of the most efficient offenses in the country,” boasts center Zach Auguste, one of the vital cogs in that machine.

“We pretty much play positionless in a four-around-one around Zach,” says teammate V.J. Beachem. “It allows for the freedom to cut, move the ball, drive, and knock down open shots which we can all do.”

When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object something has to give, and that outcome hinges on the approach from both sides of the ball. The importance of derailing the potent Irish attack is not lost on Gard and his team.

“It will be what we do as a team defensively that will win us this game,” Gard asserted. “We’re going to have to be very good in transition, and we have to get out on shooters, but it all starts with being very good in the gaps in terms of taking away dribble penetration.”

The player who will go for that dribble penetration every second when he’s on the floor is Notre Dame point guard and leading scorer Demetrius Jackson.

“Whenever you have a really good point guard, you always have a chance to win,” Gard said. “They have a terrific one in Jackson, and we know we’ll have to be very good [on him] to win.”

For Mike Brey and his high-octane offense, Jackson’s penetration is an element that they must establish to create the open jump shots and in-close opportunities that their many shooters and scoring bigs thrive on. The way to do that for him is to increase his team’s usual tempo.

“You have to try to get up and down the floor on [Wisconsin],” Brey said. “For our ball handlers like Jackson, it’s gonna be a long night if he has to always play against their set defense.”

To help out Jackson against the Badgers’ stifling defense, Brey will turn to a creative approach that has paid dividends for him over the past few games.

“We might trend towards putting two ball handlers on the floor to take some of the load off of Demetrius and you might see [backup point guard] Matt Ferrell on the floor with him a lot,” Brey explained. “With Matt Ferrell in the lineup we will have another guy who can push it in transition and get us some easy buckets before they get set.”

As is often the case with Wisconsin basketball, it looks as if tempo will be a defining factor to differentiate these two equal yet opposite teams. If number of possessions are low, shot clocks are long, and point totals stay in the 50s or 60s, Gard and the Badgers will likely walk out as the victors. Should the game take on a more up and down feel and creep up into the 70s and 80s, they will likely be back in Madison two days sooner than they would have liked.

The game tips Friday night at 6:27 p.m. CT on TBS, with Notre Dame standing as the one-point favorite.


Press Conference Notes: Badgers set to take on Notre Dame in Philly

Players and coaches from both sides of the highly anticipated regional semi-final clash between the Badgers and Notre Dame took the podium Thursday morning to discuss their respective teams and their upcoming matchup. Quotes below come from Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard, Wisconsin players Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, and Notre Dame players Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste.

Greg Gard

On his experiences over the past year:

“Going back to the Final Four last year and that whole run, into the spring with my dad and that whole journey with him with cancer. And then obviously everything that played out in December with Coach Ryan retiring, it’s been a whirlwind. Someday maybe it will be in my book. But it’s been surreal. Everything has happened so fast and there have been so many events. It’s been the worst year of my life and it’s been the best year of my life rolled into one. So hopefully we’ve got a couple of more weeks left in us here, and weekends. Then at that point in time, maybe in May, I’ll be able to sit back and really reflect on it. But fortunately these guys have kept me busy so I don’t have to worry about looking in the rearview mirror right yet.”

On his contract:

“The loss of the interim tag was our best loss of the season.”

On comparing his program to Notre Dame’s:

“Much like us, the names change, the numbers change, but the production in terms of what they do on the floor together and how they grow together, their ability to develop players, I think, doesn’t change. And I think there’s a lot of similarities between [us and them].”

“You can go through the lineup and, much like us, they’ve had different guys contribute and help them in different roles throughout the season, help them grow. For us, we know we’ll have to be very good to beat them.”

On steadying the ship after Bo Ryan’s departure:

“They always say do what you know and know what you do. And so I really trusted on the last 23 years of experience with Bo and went back to what I really believed in and kept it simple. I talked a lot both to our team about the process and not worrying about the results, not worrying about the scoreboard. I get that from Nick Saban in several of his books that I’ve read.”

On the origins of the season’s turnaround:

“Even when we started 1-4 and 9-9, I saw a lot of good things happening. I saw a lot of things happening very positively in practice. Everybody focused on the last 18 seconds against Maryland when Melo Trimble hit the 25-footer against us, or the two 3s that Purdue hit in the last minute to beat us or our last possession at Indiana where we turned it over and they hit free throws to get a larger lead. But I saw a lot of good things happening. It was a matter of getting better in those first 50 to 65 possessions of the game. So the last possession of the game maybe wasn’t magnified or we were even in better position.”

On getting introduced to adversity:

“We didn’t have anybody in our locker room that had gone through ups and downs. You were 66-12 in the last two years, so there’s Hayes’ and Koenig’s freshmen and sophomore years — two Final Fours, 66-12. That’s not the normal college basketball athlete’s experience. They’ll usually have to go through some form of adversity, and this was the real first time that the boat had been rocked in two years. So we had to grow through that a little bit.”

On the swing offense:

“Well, I think the one thing, it helped our younger guys. Two things it helped establish for us — it put Hayes and Happ in their comfort zone on the block. And it also gave us better spacing away from the ball and gave them more room to operate. The second thing was it gave all our younger guys a comfort level — a continuity offense helped them, put them on track, so to speak, and allowed them to develop within it. We break off the pattern. We’re still not — we still are a little robotic in it. And that will take time as we run it through the summer and into next year. As they become more accustomed to it in the offseason.”

“There’s a lot of motion concepts within it. It’s basically ball-side triangle, and we have options that we play out of the ball side and we have options that we play out of the weak side. So from that standpoint, trying to get to the free-throw line was key for us, and we did. We were able to get there a lot through that stretch in January and early February. I think that helped — this team is different than last year’s team in terms of how they score and how they can score. So we had to manufacture other ways and part of that was trying to really touch the post and play inside out. And that resulted in us getting to the free-throw line more and it also resulted in getting better looks from the perimeter and better outside shots, we were able to play inside out and take better 3s than what we were taking in the year.”

On his team’s defensive growth during the NCAA tournament:

“Last week we grew as much defensively as we had all year in the two games against Pittsburgh and Xavier. And hopefully that experience and developing that mindset and that maturity — and understand this is the first time in 15 years we have not had a senior starter or senior player in the rotation. So our maturity level, we’ve had to expedite that through this season. I think last week we took a huge jump, especially on the defensive end. We had 60 days ago we couldn’t defend like we did last weekend. So our toughness level and our commitment to the defensive end has grown exponentially in the last two, three weeks, but really showed its face last weekend.”

On the threats posed by Notre Dame:

“We’ll have to be very good in transition. We’re going to have to be very good in the gaps in terms of taking away dribble penetration. We obviously have got to get out on shooters. We’ll have our hands full with Auguste inside and Colson inside.”

“Whenever you have a really good point guard you always have a chance. They have a terrific one in Demetrius Jackson. And then the other [factors] — how Auguste has developed through the year, how Beachem is shooting the ball for them, what Vasturia does for them — you can go through the whole lineup.”

On the Koenig game-winner:

“Well, I don’t know if I drew it up and said run to the corner and shoot a step-back 24-footer. Our players make plays. And Bronson hit an unbelievable shot, probably one of the best shots in Wisconsin basketball history.”

“It was Nigel’s idea to advance instead of taking the timeout.”

“I’ve seen [Bronson] take a lot of big shots. He hasn’t made every big one that I’ve seen him take, but you have to have a confidence inside of you.”

On his respect for Notre Dame coach Mike Brey:

“Mike’s got a great team. Seems like every year nobody talks about Notre Dame in the Selection Sunday or that first week, but you get to the second weekend, there they are. I think he’s done a tremendous job of really identifying the type of student-athlete he needs at Notre Dame to fit to his system.”

“Mike’s been terrific every time I’ve run into him. Haven’t seen him yet this weekend but he’s actually going to be our keynote speaker at our Coaches Versus Cancer gala in May, that we raise a lot of money for the American Cancer Society for. But I think just that, how he’s done it year in, year out.”

Mike Brey

On his respect for Greg Gard and Wisconsin Basketball:

“I have the utmost respect for the Wisconsin program and Bo Ryan…Greg Gard should be mentioned for national coach of the year stuff. I mean, this team was 9-9, 1-4. They lost to Milwaukee and Western-Illinois at home. And he’s got them really playing. I think they’re extremely confident.”

On strategy against the Badgers:

“[Steve] Vasturia will have to do a job guarding [Nigel] Hayes tomorrow night.”

“You have to try and get down on the floor on them a little bit and not play against their set defense. One of the things that’s helped us with Matt Farrell in the lineup, we have another guy that can push it in transition other than Jackson, and we can maybe get some easy buckets. Because if you have to play against their set defense, it becomes kind of a long night.”

Nigel Hayes

On former AAU teammate and current Notre Dame forward V.J. Beachem:

“I was just texting him actually a second ago. I’ll probably go into Notre Dame’s locker room and say what’s up to him. If that causes any trouble, I’ve got my guys with me. We’ll settle that quickly.”

On the episode after the Northwestern game and coming together as a team:

“Again, with that question, I don’t know if essentially we came together. I mean, we’ve always been close with one another, hung out with one another. I think what happened was it was more a sense of urgency combined with guys starting to believe in themselves.”

On getting to the line:

“I’ve watched James Harden, how he accumulates a lot of fouls. I watched his technique and the way he’s able to draw fouls. I would not share that technique with you guys because I don’t want [officials and opponents] using it against us. But what he’s done with those fouls I’ve tried to replicate.”

On Coach Gard’s attention to detail:

“One of the things he always harps on me is when I drive through, I need to focus on jump stopping instead of going off one foot. And that jump stopping allows you to, if you don’t have a shot right away you have a chance to pump fake, you can pivot, you can find an open teammate.”

Bronson Koenig

On how Coach Gard smoothed the transition from Coach Ryan:

“It wasn’t really much of a change because they had the same, generated the same philosophies on everything. He told us right from the start that it wasn’t about him, that it was about the players, and he was going to do his best to make sure that we are in the best position possible for success and that’s what he did. And he told us it wasn’t an audition.”

On how his one-on-one pre-game match ups with Nigel prepared him for his big shot:

“The rule is that neither of us could go to the basket, so we have to shoot all jump shots basically. It’s pretty tough getting it over his outstretched arms. So that’s just one of the shots that I have to perfect, basically, if I want to beat him in the one-on-one games which I do most of the time.”

On how his life has changed since the shot:

“I just get asked more questions like this. That’s pretty much it.”

Notre Dame leading-scorer Demetrius Jackson

On Bronson Koenig:

“He’s a really great player. I saw him play a little bit of high school as well. He can really shoot the ball. And he has great fundamentals. And so he’s just a really great player. So it’s going to be fun being matched up as a competitive person. I just love being matched up against other great guards.”

On their offensive approach against the Badgers:

“We’re going to throw the ball into Zach [Auguste] a bunch, give him a bunch of post feeds and let him go to work.”

Notre Dame Forward Zach Auguste

On his teammate’s suggested strategy:

“Yeah, I agree.”


March Madness: Breaking down the Sweet 16 by conference

With two rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament in the books, it’s safe to say that this tournament has lived up to the madness. The Michigan State Spartans, a team picked by 22.3% of ESPN Tournament Challenge contestants to win the whole thing, went down in the first round to the 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders; Bronson Koenig rose over Xavier’s Remy Abell to hit a three pointer at the buzzer and kill the Musketeers’ season;  Texas A&M overcame a 12-point deficit in the last 44 seconds of regulation, stunning Northern Iowa in double overtime. Based on these highlights, one thing is for sure: there is a lot more madness to come.

In anticipation of the tip-off of the Sweet 16 Thursday night, let’s break down how each of the major conferences have faired so far in the tournament.

Starting Off

Leading the way for the major basketball conferences was the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, and Pac-12, each sending 7 teams to the 68-team field. The remainder of the field was characterized by 23 teams from smaller conferences who received bids by winning their conference tournament, and and additional 17 teams coming from the Big East, AAC, SEC, A10, and the Missouri Valley Conference.

Sweet 16 Conference Break Down

Conference Teams Remaining
ACC (6) 1. North Carolina, 1. Virginia, 3. Miami, 4. Duke, 6. Notre Dame, 10. Syracuse
Big 12 (3) 1. Kansas, 2. Oklahoma, 4. Iowa State
Big 10 (3) 5. Maryland, 5. Indiana, 7. Wisconsin
AAC (1) 2. Villanova
Pac 12 (1) 1. Oregon
SEC (1) 3. Texas A&M
WCC (1) 11. Gonzaga

ACC Dominance

Immediately jumping off the page is the dominance of the ACC: All but one (Pittsburgh, who lost to Wisconsin in the first round) are playing in the Sweet 16 this Thursday and Friday. The ACC originally accounted for just over 10% of the field, but in going (13-1) thus far in the tournament they now make up six out of the remaining 16 teams. This marks the second straight year that the ACC has sent the most teams to the Sweet 16, and with 6 teams from the ACC vying to be the national champion this year – the odds are definitely in their favor to reclaim the title.

Average Big 12

Widely considered the best conference in basketball this season, the Big 12 sends a lowly three teams to the Sweet 16. The real disappointment here has to be Bob Huggins’ West Virginia squad that was in great form coming into March Madness, but got absolutely annihilated by the 14th seeded lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin in the opening round. Between that and Texas’ heartbreaking loss to Northern Iowa, the Big 12 lost a lot of the dominance they once held during the regular season. The good news for the Big 12 is that it is sending its two most dominant teams in Kansas and Oklahoma, along with an Iowa State team who won both of its games by double digits. All three of these teams are under senior leadership and should be considered serious contenders for the national championship.

Mayhem from the Big 10

As was the custom during the regular season, the teams of the Big 10 conference were truly unpredictable during March Madness. Last year, the Big 10 sent both Michigan State and Wisconsin to the Final 4 after they faced off against each other in the Big 10 Championship. This year, however, both teams that played in the finals of the Big 10 Championship were eliminated in the first round, as #5 Purdue fell to #12 Little Rock and #2 Michigan State folded to #15 Middle Tennessee State. Only the #5 Maryland Terrapins, #5 Indiana Hoosiers, #7 Wisconsin Badgers remain in the tournament. As the 7-seed, the Badgers might have the most favorable Sweet 16 matchup of the bunch as they face off against the 6-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish, while Maryland and Indiana drew tough bids against seemingly the two best teams left in the field: #1 Kansas and #1 UNC.


It’s looking like the selection committee really got this one wrong. After sending seven teams to the big dance, only two teams made it past the first round and now only Oregon remains. The Pac-12 was hurt by #4 California’s loss of their star players so the selection committee gets a break on that one, but the rest of the quantity of teams that made it from the Pac-12 is quite simply incomprehensible. The selection committee sent 7 teams from a league that only has 4 combined wins against top 25 teams outside of their conference (none of which came on the road) relative to their 12 losses against top 25 teams outside of their conference. This is comparable to the SEC, who only sent 3 teams and managed a 6-19 record according to the same standards.

In addition to the alarming amount of teams that qualified for the big dance from March Madness, there’s also an issue with the seeding of these teams. Many had a problem with the selection committee seeding Oregon as a #1, but the most troublesome was by far the 7-seed that it handed to Oregon State. This is a team that finished in 7th in the Pac-12, was 4-8 against teams ranked in the RPI top 50, and is credited with their best out of conference win against Tulsa. Who knows what the selection committee was thinking, but it’s disappointing that teams like this take chances away from mid-major teams such as Monmouth and Valparaiso who had great seasons, but lost their conference championships.

The Sweet 16 kicks off tonight as #2 Villanova and #3 Miami will face off at 6:10 p.m. CT for the first of eight bids to the next round.


Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report


Sweet Sixteen: Three obstacles to overcome against Notre Dame

What was once an unassailable deluge of roadblocks that lay in the Badgers’ path to the Final Four in Houston has been narrowed down to so few that the end destination is now in sight. Should Wisconsin manage to control these three factors, an Elite Eight appearance is more than possible. Allow me to identify them for you.

1. Notre Dame’s Pick & Roll

The pick and roll is seldom utilized in the college game compared to the NBA game. This is due to the fact that its effectiveness relies on a tandem of a lightning quick guard with infallible decision making abilities and an athletic big man with deft scoring touch, a tandem that rarely exists in the college game. Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste are the exception to that rule. Jackson has pro-level speed and takes care of the basketball, while the 6’10” Auguste exhibits unrivaled leaping ability around the rim and scores with stunning efficiency from in close. Their pick and roll is the basis of an offense that ranks seventh in the country in adjusted efficiency and top-20 in lowest turnover percentage. Wisconsin has seen this twice before this year in the form of Indiana’s Yogi Ferrel and Thomas Bryant, and struggled to defend it both times. Jackson and Auguste are on another level entirely and their partnership could spell trouble for the Badgers, seeing that they have no obvious matchup for the dynamic Irish guard.

2. The Luck (Shooting) of the Irish

The Nebraska fluke aside, Wisconsin’s only recent loss has come at the hands of a Purdue team that knocked down eight first-half threes at a 67% clip to pull away early and put the game out of reach. This Notre Dame team has the potential to do that and more. The Irish play a 4-around-1 offense with shooters lining the perimeter around Auguste, and with Jackson’s ability to find them they are capable of getting the long-range bombs dropping early and often. Stretch-4s V.J. Beachum and Matt Ryan are two of the top 3-point shooters in the country at upwards of 38%, while starting 2-man Steve Vasturia can fill it up from deep as well. Jackson himself has been known to get in an unconscious zone of three-point shooting, and if Wisconsin allows open looks to stem from the Irish’s penetration or offensive rebounding, this game could sadly resemble that early March beatdown in West Lafayette. Fortunately for the Badgers, they have covered the three-pointer exceptionally well since Greg Gard took over. That will need to continue on Friday night.

3. Poor Wisconsin Shooting

Not a single team left in the East regional will let the Badgers get away with what happened against Pitt. You can laud the defense that they were able to play in that game all you want, but no type of defense against any of the three teams remaining will prevent a loss during a high-40s or low-50s offensive performance. You can argue the Pitt game was a fluke, but the fact that the same shooting woes surfaced against Nebraska the week prior to that suggests that possibility that this Badgers team could be plagued by them on any given night, and could send themselves crashing out of the tournament.


Wisconsin football: Who will replace the departed in 2016?

While the Wisconsin men’s basketball team progresses in the NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin football continues with spring practice to prepare for the 2016-2017 season. The Badgers football program looks to replace key seniors for the upcoming season.

Here is a look into the potential roster moves for the 2016-2017 football season.

Quarterback (Joel Stave)

The most noteworthy competition has been the one for starting quarterback for the upcoming season. With Joel Stave pursuing a career in the NFL, the quarterback position is primarily fought between Bart Houston and Alex Hornibrook. Houston remains the most likely candidate for starting quarterback, being the only quarterback with any regular season playing time. Houston and redshirt freshman Hornibrook have been taking the first and second string snaps at spring practice. Redshirt sophomore from Edgewood College, Bobby Dunn, is the third active quarterback on the roster. Incoming freshman Kare Lyles is inactive for the rest of spring with a hip injury.

Fullback (Derek Watt)

Junior Austin Ramesh will most likely hold the starting position for fullback to replace Derek Watt. In his two active years playing for Wisconsin, Ramesh has played in 16 games, but he has been limited in practice with a groin injury.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends (Alex Erickson, Austin Traylor)

Wisconsin loses two essential players in the receiving core this upcoming senior, wide receiver Alex Erickson and tight end Austin Traylor. In 2015, Erickson caught 77 receptions for 978 yards and 3 touchdowns. Traylor had 14 receptions for 210 yards and 4 touchdowns while battling a shoulder injury. For the wide receivers, Robert Wheelwright, Jazz Peavy, and Reggie Love are currently playing with the first team during spring ball. Juniors Troy Fumagalli and Eric Steffes are the two first string tight ends, with Fumagalli serving as the primary receiver and Steffes as the blocking tight end.

Offensive Line (Tyler Marz)

Ryan Ramczyk played first string left tackle for the first week of spring practice. Ramczyk formerly played for UW Stevens Point and transferred to UW Madison in 2015. He sat out of the 2015-2016 football seasons as per NCAA guidelines. Ramczyk, at 6’6’’ and 257 pounds, has been described by teammates as a freak for his athletic ability. Ramczyk replaces Tyler Marz, who played with the Badgers for three seasons. Marz, despite a poor NFL Combine performance, has the capability at an NFL career with his ability to switch to right tackle or potentially guard. Micah Kapoi, Michael Deiter, Beau Benzschawel, and Jacob Maxwell round out the starting line.

Linebackers (Jesse Hayes, Joe Schobert)

With outside linebackers Joe Schobert and Jesse Hayes graduating this year, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox had to make some adjustments to his linebackers. Schobert was a leader of the Wisconsin defense and will likely be drafted into the NFL this year. Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt played first string outside linebackers at their new on field positions. Biegel took the spot of field outside linebacker, formerly played by Schobert, and Watt moved to Biegel’s former position at boundary outside linebacker. First string inside linebackers are Chris Orr, T.J. Edwards, and Jack Cichy, although only two will get the starting job.

Safety (Mike Caputo, Tanner McEvoy)

With the arrival of former Badger and new secondary coach Jim Leonhard and the departure of strong and free safeties Mike Caputo and Tanner McEvoy the Wisconsin secondary will look much different in 2016. Currently starting as first string safeties are D’Cota Dixon and Leo Musso. Musso started at safety in 2015 before being replaced by McEvoy. Dixon also had playing time in 2015 with 16 tackles.

Cornerback (Darius Hillary)

Sophomore Derrick Tindal has started at cornerback after the first full week of practice. After being the #3 cornerback in 2015, Tindal may replace Hillary as first string cornerback. Junior Sojourn Shelton played opposite of Hillary in 2015 and continues to play on the first team following this first week of practice.

Punter (Drew Meyer)

Following this first week of practice, there has been little talk of who will be the punter for the 2016-2017 season. The Badgers have ranked low in punting under former punter Drew Meyer. Redshirt sophomore P.J. Rosowski had one punt in 2015 for 40 yards. Redshirt freshman Connor Allen also is on the Badgers roster. Allen saw no playing time in college but was ranked the #1 punter in Wisconsin during his high school career. Wisconsin also recruited Anthony Lotti from Oakwood, GA to compete for the starting position. In his last season of high school football, Lotti averaged 45.6 yards on 28 punts.


Frankie Hughes de-commits from Louisville

On Tuesday afternoon, Frankie Hughes and the University of Louisville mutually agreed to part ways.

Hughes, a 6’3” combo guard from Cleveland, had committed to the Cardinals amidst the ongoing Katina Powell scandal, and the current rumors indicate the split and the scandal are completely unrelated. Given the youth of the Cardinals’ backcourt and the high probability of most of those players returning, Hughes’ minutes likely would have been limited as a young college player.

Hughes has exceptional ball handling skills and knock down shooting capability, so it’s hard to imagine Greg Gard and the Badgers not making a serious run at him now that he’s back on the market. Wisconsin was pushing for Hughes earlier this year, as he is a smart, savvy, lights out shooter, fairly consistent with the recent mold of Wisconsin guards.

The biggest difference between Hughes and the typical Badgers recruit comes in his athleticism. At 6’3”, Hughes has the potential to play top tier perimeter defense and attack the rim, something that could be a spark the Badgers on both ends of the court.

Obviously, with the news just breaking this afternoon, no front-runner has been announced as to where Hughes will go, but it’s hard to imagine the Badgers not throwing the house at the Garfield Heights product to bring him to Madison.

Wisconsin has two scholarships available for 2016. Hughes could immediately serve as a true backup point guard along with Jordan Hill to Bronson Koenig. He would add depth to a Wisconsin team that could use some more offense at the guard position. With three guys (Nigel Hayes, Khalil Iverson, and Vitto Brown) and assistant coach Lamont Paris from Ohio, Hughes may feel very comfortable in Wisconsin red.

Check out Hughes’ hoopmixtape here.


Photo courtesy of the Cardinal Connect.


Bucks’ future is still bright, despite losses

Have you ever looked through old boxes and found materials from years ago? An old test, a book, letters? Something that reminds you of a time where things were different? Well, the same thing happened to me, except it wasn’t any sort of accomplishment or fond memory.

A 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks game program surfaced and instantly brought me back to a time where the team was the laughingstock of the NBA. Those comments you read on popular sports posts making fun of the worst teams? Those were aimed at the 15-67 Bucks.

Exactly two years ago to the day, the Bucks were posting a 13-56 record and in the midst of an eight-game losing streak. Sadly, that wasn’t even their worst losing skid of the season. The Bucks finished the year with a .183 winning percentage, the 17th worst mark in NBA history. Adding on to the pain, despite having the best chance at the number one overall pick, the Bucks fell to second in the following NBA Draft Lottery. Nothing could go Milwaukee’s way.

The Bucks entered the season introducing head coach Larry Drew as their new man in charge. Excitement arose as Drew was coming in with a .557 career winning percentage and 20 playoff wins in three seasons with Atlanta. Drew also played in the league for 10 seasons, averaging double figures in his career. The organization was also being run by Herb Kohl just two years ago.

Administration wasn’t the only difference from the that year. The Bucks’ roster was made up of just four players that they had acquired through the draft. The rest had either come from trade or free agency. Out of the 15 core players to make up the active roster from 2014, just four players are still on the team today (Giannis, Middleton, Henson, Mayo). Three of those players were enduring just their first season with Milwaukee with Giannis being in his rookie year, Khris Middleton being sent over from Detroit in the Brandon Jennings trade, and O.J. Mayo signing with the team through free agency. The top two leading scorers for the Bucks were Brandon Knight and Ramon Sessions.

It was a season to forget.

Following the year, the Bucks’ personnel got a new look. Letting go of their head coach after one year, the Bucks hired Jason Kidd from Brooklyn, just two years out of playing in the league himself. Milwaukee was able to select Jabari Parker second overall in the draft, developing a self-assigned theme of “Own the Future.” Starting out the season much improved, the Bucks hit ten wins before they hit ten losses, certainly a win within itself among Bucks’ fans. Proving it was more than a fluke, the team once hit 8 games over .500 before finally coming back down to Earth. Nonetheless, one year ago today the Bucks posted a 34-35 record, a .305 increase in winning percentage from the year before.

Despite trading their leading scorer Brandon Knight, the Bucks welcomed in another young, promising player in Michael Carter-Williams, further endorsing the “Own the Future” attitude around the team. Experiencing a season-ending injury to Jabari Parking and the departure of Larry Sanders, Milwaukee managed to finish with a 41-41 record, good for sixth place in the Eastern Conference and earning just their second playoff appearance in the last nine seasons. Although severely outmatched by their first round opponent, the Chicago Bulls, the “Young Bucks” proved their worth squeaking out two wins and competing hard in all but the last game in the series.

Then there is today.

The Bucks entered the season with big goals. The resigning of Khris Middleton, along with the addition of Greivis Vasquez and Greg Monroe, raised the ceiling on a very young, but promising squad. The team has dealt with some chemistry issues, along with injuries, and currently sit 11 games under .500. The good news? The Bucks are 21-14 at home this season, with wins over top tier teams such as the Warriors and Cavaliers. Although an inexperienced team is expected to struggle on the road at times, their 9-27 away from the BMO Harris Bradley Center is something we cannot overlook.

While the pessimists will sit there and tell you that last season’s playoff appearance was just a fluke, it is hard to ignore the emergence of Giannis and Jabari Parker. While I am sure you have heard a lot of the stats they are putting up, the team recently enjoyed a stretch of four wins in five games and have moved up in the standings by two spots since the All-Star break. Oh, and did we mention Giannis has had four triple-doubles since February 22? That’s good right?

With the season off to a slow start, the Bucks were one of the main teams in the trade conversation. With teams looking to acquire talent, head coach Jason Kidd made sure everyone knew his young stars were off-limits.

“Those guys [Parker and Giannis] are vault guys.” Kidd told the Journal Sentinel. “They’re in a vault. You don’t start a conversation with Jabari or Giannis…those guys are untradeable.”

Adding Khris Middleton into the mix, the Bucks now have their own “Big Three.” Since adding Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams to the bench, and now with Carter-Williams out for the year, Giannis, Parker, and Middleton have been able to showcase their strengths a bit more. All three players sit at the top of the roster for most minutes played for game and account for 49% of the team’s scoring this season.

The most notable example of this came on February 29 when all three put up extraordinary performances in the team’s 128-121 win versus the Houston Rockets. Parker finished with a career high 36 points, Middleton added 30 of his own, and Giannis messed around and put up a huge triple double of 18 points, 16 assists, and 11 rebounds.

After the game Jabari Parker spoke about playing along side Giannis. “That’s the kind of guy I want on my team for the rest of my career.”

The feeling was mutual for Giannis, saying, “It was fun. It’s a taste from the future. I think the future is bright for us.”

While it is unlikely the Bucks will make a playoff push this year, there is plenty to look forward to. With Bayless, Mayo, and Vasquez the only real threats to leave Milwaukee through free agency this offseason, it holds an opportunity for the Bucks to continue to build through the draft, something that have not done well in recent years.

Their time is coming. Just wait on it.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 01: Head coach Jonathan Tsipis of the George Washington Colonials high-fives Jonquel Jones #35 before the game against the George Mason Patriots at the Charles E. Smith Athletic Center on March 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

Report: Tsipis top candidate for UW women’s baskeball job

According to Dennis Punzel of the Wisconsin State Journal, George Washington head coach Jonathan Tsipis has emerged as the top candidate for the Wisconsin women’s basketball head coaching vacancy.

Punzel cited multiple sources as indications for Tsipis to replace Bobbie Kelsey as the seventh women’s basketball head coach in program history.

Tsipis, 43, has an impressive 92-38 record at George Washington, although the team lost its first round matchup in the NCAA Women’s Tournament this past weekend. A longtime assistant and associate head coach to well-respected Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, Tsipis has proven himself as a recruiter and successful leader with the Colonials as well. He is well known for his energy on the sideline.

The athletic department is not set to make a decision nor make an announcement until the men’s basketball team’s season is over.


Back to the Future: Brewers hoping for 2014 pitching to return

With buzzer beaters and upsets controlling our lives, it’s easy to forget that baseball’s Opening Day is less than two weeks away.

But before looking ahead to the Milwaukee Brewers opening day against the San Francisco Giants, let’s take a look back to the year 2014. That was the year, many thought, the Brewers could compete for a World Series. In 2014 the Brewers lead the NL Central for the majority of the year, holding the top National League spot for some time as well. But of course, an epic, late season collapse ruined the Brewers and stuck with them into the 2015 season.

For all the sadness that came from 2014, the lost season, fans should be hoping for players to return to their 2014 selves, especially the pitchers.

On Monday, the Brewers announced that right-handed pitcher Wily Peralta will get the mound for Opening Day. If anyone is hoping for a return to 2014 form, it’s Peralta. In 2014, Peralta went 17-11, posting a 3.53 ERA and garnering over 150 strikeouts, positioning himself to take the ace spot in the Brewer’s pitching rotation. But 2015 saw injuries, a 5-10 record and a 4.72 ERA. If Peralta wants to establish himself as a true number one option, a return to 2014 is much needed.

Another Brewers pitcher hoping for a blast from the past is Matt Garza. In perhaps the worst year of his career, 2015 saw Garza throw for 6-14 record and a brutal 5.63 ERA. Ultimately, his poor play landed him in the bullpen in favor for young arms like Zach Davies, who the Brewers were trying to get some experience. 2014 saw a different Garza though. Pitching to a 3.64 ERA, an 8-8 record and a 1.182 WHIP, Garza was one of the bright spots of the rotation. One of the biggest differences for Garza was home runs given up. In 2014, he gave up only 12 over 163 innings pitched, while in 2015, he gave up 23 over 148 innings pitched.

Chase Anderson, a newcomer to the Brewers organization, will be in the back of the Brewers’ rotation. The right-hander came over from the Arizona Diamondbacks via the Jean Segura trade. Like the previous two pitchers, he too will look to get back into 2014 form. At the age of 26, Anderson broke into the majors that season, pitching to a modest ERA of 4.01 and 9-7 record. In 2015, Anderson regressed, throwing for a 6-6 record and a 4.30 ERA.  

With veterans trying to find themselves again and young pitchers continuing their development, 2016 could be very bumpy. Still, if these three pitchers can find a shred of their 2014 selves, the 2016 Brewers pitching staff may not be as terrible as 2015.

So sure, we may be pre-occupied with a certain basketball tournament right now, but we are getting ever closer to the sound of cracking bats and walk-off home runs at Miller Park. And if you’re a Brewers fan, you better be hoping the Brewers find an old Delorean that can bring them back to the first five months of 2015.

during the Midwest Regional Final of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena on March 28, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Wisconsin men’s basketball: A quick look at Notre Dame

After an extremely improbable win thanks to some late night heroics over #2-seed Xavier on Sunday night, the Wisconsin Badgers will be headed to their third Sweet 16 in a row and the fifth in the last six years.

In Philadelphia, they’ll face off against #6-seed Notre Dame, one of a record-six ACC teams to advance to the round of 16 (along with UNC, Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, and Miami). As of Monday, FiveThirtyEight has this game as a literal 50-50 matchup – either team has an equal shot of winning. So what do the Badgers need to do to stop Notre Dame and advance to a third straight Elite 8?

Notre Dame’s Resumé

Notre Dame finished the season at a 20-11 mark, which ended on a sour note with a 31-point loss to North Carolina in the ACC Conference Tournament. They were 5-5 against the RPI top 50, which included an impressive season sweep of Duke and a signature 80-76 win over North Carolina at home. Their worst loss came on the road at Florida State, but with an RPI of 78, Notre Dame has not experienced the kind of losses that Wisconsin was known for early on this season (Western Illinois, Milwaukee, Marquette, etc.). Additionally, Notre Dame faced three Big Ten opponents throughout the season, going 2-1 with wins over Illinois and Iowa and a loss to Indiana.

Like most teams, Notre Dame can win when they’re scoring well. In 11 losses this year, they’ve averaged just 64.8 PPG, well below their season mark of 75.7 PPG. On the other hand, Notre Dame has failed to score at least 80 in just six of their 20 wins in the regular season, which should be noted when going up against the formidable Wisconsin defense. (Xavier, who came in averaging 81.3 PPG, was limited to just 63 against the Badgers). While 15-6 at home, Notre Dame is just 5-5 on the road (excluding tournament games).


Notre Dame’s starters play an extremely important role in their offense, and much like the Badgers, the Fighting Irish don’t like to go to their bench. Each of the five Notre Dame starters averages at least 11.4 PPG and 25 minutes per game. The team is led in scoring by guard Demetrius Jackson, who is 10-for-16 shooting in the tournament for 29 points thus far. Jackson leads the team in assists as well (4.7 per game), so look for him to run the offense and distribute the ball to the best scoring option. He’s the smallest starter on the team at just 6’1”, so he’ll matchup well against either Bronson Koenig or Zak Showalter.

The most interesting matchup will come down low, as Ethan Happ will have his hands full against forward Zach Auguste the whole night. Auguste, who averages 14.3 PPG and nearly 11 boards per game, has had an insanely efficient tournament, going 12-for-14 from the field and averaging 13.5 rebounds in Notre Dame’s two wins. While Auguste is definitely a presence inside, he also turns the ball over quite frequently, averaging 3.2 TOPG in his last nine. That bodes well for a matchup against Happ, who led the Big Ten in steals in the regular season.

The Fighting Irish has three other efficient scoring options in forward V.J. Beachem (11.6 PPG), Steve Vasturia (11.6), and Bonzie Colson (11.4). Beachem had the hot hand in Notre Dame’s first round matchup against Michigan, going 7-for-7 shooting including 4-for-4 from three point range. A very legitimate three point threat, Beachem who made nearly 44% of his threes this season, will need to be played well on the perimeter. He’ll likely be matched up against Vitto Brown, who has also been a three-point threat as of late but is not known for his defensive skills. Vasturia, a three-year starter and junior, has been cold of late, going just 6-for-22 in the tournament thus far. He’s listed as a 6’5” guard, and is a versatile option at the 2-spot – look for a matchup against whoever is not on Jackson. Bonzie Colson, a forward also listed at 6’5”, has had a much quieter tournament, taking just eight shots so far. He’s foul prone but can rebound well, and is an efficient shooter at nearly 55% from the field. If Greg Gard decides to put Nigel on Colson, this could be an extremely favorable matchup for Wisconsin.

Much like Wisconsin, Notre Dame’s bench is not utilized often, but look for Matt Ryan, Rex Pflueger, and Matt Farrell to make an impact on the game. Pflueger drained the layup that sent the Irish to the Sweet 16, and the three combined to average around 10 a game.

Tournament Performance

Notre Dame took home a comeback win in the first round against another Big Ten opponent in Michigan. The Irish experienced their first lead of the game with just nine minutes left, but went on an 11-4 run to end the game and take home a 70-63 victory. They shot extremely well – 58.1% from the field and 53.3% from three – but turned the ball over 16 times. Another strong point for the Irish in this game was the lack of fouls – their nine fouls throughout the game led to just five Michigan free throw attempts and just three makes. The Badgers, who have been known for production at the line this season, will need to drive and be aggressive on offense to draw fouls – Michigan spelled its own downfall by not getting to the stripe enough. Farrell actually started this game, but Bonzie Colson contributed 18 minutes and 12 points off the bench. Notre Dame only played eight guys as well (the eight mentioned above), and it’s likely that depth is just as much of an issue for the Badgers as it is for the Irish.

On Sunday, the Irish narrowly escaped #14-seed Stephen F. Austin, and won it on a late tap-in by Pflueger with just 1.5 seconds to go. Again, the Irish shot well (56.9% from the field, 35.3% from three), but turned the ball over 13 times and were almost out-rebounded by a smaller team. Beachem, Auguste and Vasturia led the effort, combining for 20-for-30 from the floor, which translated to 49 of Notre Dame’s 76 points. Auguste recorded seven offensive rebounds, something that Happ will definitely be watching tape of over the next couple of days. Again, Notre Dame was efficient in fouling, committing just 12 fouls the whole game and sending SFA to the stripe just nine times (they made all nine). Notre Dame’s perimeter defense held SFA to below 30% shooting from three. Again, they played the same eight men with Colson coming off the bench, but this time he was limited to just 13 minutes.


Fortunately, Wisconsin matches up well against the 6-seed Fighting Irish, and while the game is a relative toss up, the Badgers have a lot of well-earned confidence after pulling the upset over Xavier. With solid perimeter defense and a commitment to contesting jump shots, the Badgers are likely to limit Notre Dame to a much worse shooting performance than they’ve had in the last couple of games. Ethan Happ vs. Zach Auguste down low will be the matchup to watch, but if Happ can stay out of foul trouble and box out, he can find success. Overall, with good defense and finding holes on offense, the Badgers will be able to find their way into a third-straight Elite 8 and a matchup against either Indiana or UNC.