Badgers hope to stay hot in Cancun Challenge
The record indicates Wisconsin's basketball team has been
perfect so far, and that achievement is no small feat. Bo Ryan has coached the
Badgers for 13 seasons. Yet this marks only the second time the program has
begun the season 6-0.
You'd think a guy would be pretty pleased as his team
prepares to play undefeated St. Louis in Mexico as part of the Cancun Challenge
at 7:30 p.m. CT Tuesday.
"Whether I'm happy or not, the team's going down the
same way," Ryan said following Wisconsin's 78-67 victory against Oral
Roberts on Saturday night. "Those are the six on the schedule, three in a
short burst here at the end. Record says what it is. We know St. Louis is
In the forward-thinking mind of a coach, there is always
room for improvement. But perhaps the best sign of progress is that Ryan's
players are far from satisfied with their performance as well.
Sure, Wisconsin is scoring at a rate unmatched by any
Wisconsin team in the last 45 years. The Badgers also are giving up more points
than any Ryan-coached team at Wisconsin -- a fact that is not sitting well with
"It's great to be 6-0," Badgers guard Josh Gasser
said. "Being happy, that’s kind of a different thing. We know we can play
a lot better, especially on the defensive end. That’s something that we need to
definitely clean up.
"We're scoring pretty well. But we're giving other
teams too many easy looks. They're getting in rhythms a little too easy. We're
obviously ecstatic that we're 6-0, but we've got some stuff to clean up, and
we're going to get back to work and hopefully get better."
Through six games, Wisconsin is averaging 80.1 points per
game. That mark would be the highest total for a season since the 1967-68 team
averaged 80.1 points all year. Of course, that number is likely to decrease
significantly when Wisconsin enters the grind of Big Ten play, although no
Ryan-coached team at UW has averaged more than 71.1 points. The most concerning
numbers, however, are centered on the defense.
Wisconsin has never allowed more than 65.7 points per game
under Ryan. This year's team is allowing 68.3 points. And though the Badgers
won three games in five nights at the Kohl Center before heading for Cancun,
they allowed an average of 72 points during that time.
"A lot has been put on this week in terms of three
games in five days," Badgers point guard Jackson said. "But at the
end of the day, there's no excuse in terms of our defense. We know what we're
capable of doing.
"We're playing against teams once conference comes
around and these next upcoming nonconference games, we have to stop the ball
regardless of how much we score. That's what we've got to hang our hats on if
we want to accomplish the goals that we want to accomplish as a team."
Another sign of Wisconsin's defensive struggles has been
opponents' field-goal percentage. This season, opponents are shooting 47.3
percent from the field, which ranks tied for 293rd out of 347 Division I teams.
A year ago, Wisconsin's opponents shot 39.4 percent.
"As they get better defensively -- believe me, they'll
get better defensively -- this will be a team that has a chance to go a long
way in March," Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton said on Saturday.
Wisconsin's defense will need to play at a high level during
the team's two-game Cancun swing. St. Louis is 4-0 and averages 79.2 points per
game. The Billikens have three players averaging in double figures in scoring
-- Dwayne Evans (13.5 points per game), Jordair Jett (13.3) and Mike McCall Jr.
(13.0). Wisconsin will then face either West Virginia or Old Dominion in the
final game of the tournament. Both teams are 4-1.
If Wisconsin can escape the Cancun Challenge unscathed, the Badgers
will return for two of their most difficult nonconference games of the season.
Wisconsin plays at Virginia on Dec. 4 and plays host to in-state rival
Marquette on Dec. 7. Both teams defeated UW last season.
In other words, the Badgers' defense will be tested often
over the next few weeks -- whether they're ready or not.