Saturday, March 8, 2008

Just ours

During football season I made mention about how I often refer to preseason magazines throughout the course of the year, and the same is true for basketball. Yesterday I picked up the Sporting News college basketball preview to see how they broke down the Big Ten at the beginning of the season.

1. Michigan State
2. Indiana
3. Ohio State
4. Penn State
5. Wisconsin
6. Illinois
7. Minnesota
8. Purdue
9. Michigan
10. Iowa
11. Northwestern

Good call, guys. At least you got Northwestern right!

Much of the season preview is written about the Spartans' recent history of excellence, about Indiana's superstars, about Ohio State's boffo recruiting class. Here's what it says about the Badgers: "Wisconsin didn't win 30 games by accident last season."

Not much to go on, but prophetic. Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor were all-time greats, but the groundwork for this season's success was laid in their shadows. Even so, early this season there was little indication this team would be winning a conference title. Be truthful: when you saw Duke annihilating us at Cameron and Marquette edging us at the Kohl Center, did you see a trophy in March?

But, as Bo's best teams often do, this team improved dramatically as the season progressed and did what was expected of it.

Brian Butch found his confidence as a go-to post scorer and rebounder, and delivered shot 1A of the year at Indiana. Trevon Hughes started fast as a scorer, then settled in as a more traditional point guard and played with more control than Kam had at a similar age. When Pop was hurt at Texas, Michael Flowers asserted himself as a lead guard and hit the shot of the year in college hoops.

Joe Krabbenhoft still struggles with confidence shooting the ball, but does everything else well, and shut down Eric Gordon in the big win over Indiana in Madison. Early on, I questioned both Marcus Landry's and Jason Bohannon's scoring mentality, and here we are in March with those two serving as arguably our most attractive scoring options. Greg Stiemsma wasn't always used much because of matchups, but escaped the foul trouble that has plagued his career and played some terrific minutes.

What a joy to watch. At the end of the football season, I mentioned that as wonderful as last season was - 30 wins, a #1 ranking, arguably the greatest player in school history - fair or not, there was little tangible to show for it. Not the case this year. I don't care what happens next week (although we'd certainly like to see another trophy), or in the Big Dance, this will go down as one of my favorite teams.

One big reason: the seniors. Heralded as he was coming out of Appleton West, Butch has overcome a lot in his career, you have to feel good for him. Flowers embodies the blue collar, lunch pail ethic that Wisconsinites love, and his friendship with Max Bass is a neat story. Stiemsma overcame a freak high school knee injury and depression to build a nice career. And everyone loves Tanner Bronson, wouldn't be surprising to see him be the most successful member of the Badger coaching tree 15 years from now.

Good kids, all of them from Wisconsin. You don't see senior classes like that very often. They make us proud.

Cherish this championship. Even with all the success we've had under Bo, you can't take titles for granted. Seasons that start with all the promise in the world can end up nondescript (see Football: 2007; Basketball: 2001). The Big Ten is down this year, but Purdue is a rising power, Thad Matta is recruiting like a madman at Ohio State, Izzo will keep State tough as ever, and Indiana will probably come up with someone who can return that program to glory. There isn't a 55-year gap on that conference championship banner by accident - it takes true excellence to win this conference.

We captured that this winter, and it will be awhile before this smile leaves my face.


lonebadger said...

This season was fantastic and will be remembered fondly for years to come but Kammron Taylor, an all time great? I must have missed something. All I saw was a 42 percent shooter who strayed from the offense at inopportune times.

Scott Tappa said...

I'm not going to argue this one too strenuously, lonebadger, as Kam often frustrated me, but consider this:

-Point guard for winningest team in school history.
-Penchant for game-winning buzzer beaters and torrid hot streaks that either brought us back from deficits or sewed up games.
-In school top 10 for 3-pointers made, games played.
-Last year set a school record for minutes played in a season. Led the team in minutes two years in a row.
-#15 on all-time school scoring list, right behind Tracy Webster and Wes Matthews, right ahead of Joe Franklin.
-NABC second team all-district.
-Naismith and Wooden candidate.
-Honorable mention and second team All-Big Ten.

I think the reason Kam might not stand out as one of the all-time greats is because he played with the greatest player in school history. But put his accomplishments out there on their own, and he ranks with the likes of Webster and Matthews.

ajs said...

Kam was a love him- hate him- sort of player. Early in his career Bo had to reign in him a quite a bit as he resembled a chicken with his head cut off (and transfer rumors early on)- From where he ended as a senior is credit to not only Bo and his staff but also Kam as student athlete. I wouldn't necessarily give him the All-time great nod but he's certainly deserving of some props.

ruffian96 said...

Great article. Beautiful tribute to this seasons team.

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