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Badgers set sights on NCAA Tournament

Marques Eversoll, Assistant Sports Editor
February 6, 2013
Filed under Sports

Coming into the season, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team faced several question about key positions.

Jordan Taylor’s time in Madison was over, forcing the Badgers to fill his shoes at the point guard position. Taylor was the Badgers’ floor leader and leading scorer, and junior Josh Gasser was expected to be the next man up.

But after Gasser tore his ACL in preseason workouts, the Badgers was forced to dig deeper for its new starting point guard. Head coach Bo Ryan went with a combination of Traevon Jackson and redshirt freshman George Marshall to fill the void, and the Badgers found some recent success with the rotation.

Wisconsin is currently 15-7 on the season. Four of the Badgers’ seven losses came against nationally ranked teams.

Wisconsin started the season on shaky ground. The Badgers was dominated by No. 10 Florida Nov. 14, before falling to No. 14 Creighton nine days later. Both losses were on the road, and the Badgers has historically been much better at the Kohl Center under Ryan.

Prior to hosting the Virginia Cavaliers of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Ryan’s Badgers were 169-15 at home. But Virginia proved to be a tough test for the 4-2 Badgers in late November. UW-Bay alumnus and Virginia head coach Tony Bennett emerged victorious at the Kohl Center, leaving the Badgers at 4-3 on the season.

The three losses in November left the Badgers at an early-season crossroads.

And with its NCAA tournament resume in doubt, Wisconsin turned in back-to-back impressive performances. The Badgers defeated California 81-56 before routing Nebraska-Omaha 86-40. With its confidence back, the Badgers prepared to take on in-state rival Marquette in early December.

The Badgers suffered a 10-point loss against the Golden Eagles and focused on upcoming meetings against UWGB and Milwaukee.

The Phoenix gave the Badgers all it could handle at the Kohl Center, leading 19-12 midway through the first half. Green Bay trailed by just four points at halftime, but the Badgers finally found its groove and emerged with an 11-point victory.

Milwaukee never posed a serious threat to Wisconsin, as the Badgers led 41-18 at the intermission. The Badgers defeated the Panthers for the 20th consecutive season, improving to 29-1 in the all-time series. After a blowout victory over Samford, the Badgers was set to open up conference play.

With the Big Ten being perhaps the deepest conference in college basketball this year, not much was expected from the Badgers. But Wisconsin rushed out to a surprising start in conference play. After defeating Penn State at home and Nebraska on the road, the Badgers got its most impressive win of the season against  No. 12 Illinois at the Kohl Center.

The highlight of the Badgers’ season thus far came three days later in Bloomington, Ind. Against the No. 2-ranked Indiana Hoosiers, the underdog Badgers won its 11th consecutive game in the series. Wisconsin overcame Cody Zeller’s 23 points and 10 rebounds and won on the road 64-59.

At 13-4 overall and 4-0 in-conference, the Big Ten-leading Badgers rode high.

But Wisconsin quickly came back to earth when it traveled to Iowa City to play the Hawkeyes. Iowa rushed out to a 20-point lead late in the first half, and the Badgers’ comeback bid fell just short. Things didn’t get any easier from there, as the Badgers was set to play three consecutive games against ranked teams.

The Badgers split its two home games, losing to No. 13 Michigan State by two points and defeating No. 12 Minnesota by a point.

Wisconsin then traveled to Columbus, Ohio to face No. 11 Ohio State. The Badgers led by two points at halftime but went cold in the second half, and the Buckeyes won 58-49.

Wisconsin finished up its season series with the Illinois Fighting Illini Feb. 3 at Assembly Hall coming out with a 74-68 victory.

Through eight Big Ten games, the Badgers are in the top half of the Big Ten standings at 5-3.

The Badgers answered some of the questions they had coming into the season and appear to be headed toward yet another NCAA Tournament berth.