I've never been to Texas, but I wouldn't mind checking out Austin though, they say it's a lot like Madison, with better music. Everything, allegedly, is big in the Lone Star state; the cowboy hats, the money, the hair atop the long-legged southern belles.
And apparently, for concerned Wisconsin basketball fans, the Baylor Bears are pretty big too, not just to their fan base, but in the sheer size of their front line. By my rudimentary calculations, Isaiah Austin, Rico Gathers and Cory Jefferson total 20 feet, 6 inches of "length", wingspan not included. This is just the first of many challenges that may keep Bo Ryan's Badgers once again, a Texas 2 step shy of the Big Dance. On defense, those three positioned in a spider web of 1-3-1 zone will be the beginning of a Texas-sized headache for Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin coaches will, without a doubt, realize this, and, with highlighter in hand, most assuredly note the presence of two penetrating creators on offense as well, Kenny Chery and Ish Wainwright.
All year long the Badgers defense has struggled with exactly these types of players, with Trae Jackson repeatedly being forced to memorize the number of his opposing offensive player after the first three possessions. By the time Frank Kaminsky or a delinquent Sam Dekker is forced to help out, the guard has converted a lay up, or, as the case will be with Baylor, dropped off a lob for Austin, Jefferson, or Gathers to slam away Thursday night.
Fear not, however, backers of the overrated 2 seed, for Wisconsin thrives on these kind of challenges. This much maligned, inaccurately described "unathletic" bunch has gone 28-7 so far because they do have athletes, and in fact, sometimes possess five players that can fill it up behind the arc.
Whereas Creighton relied too heavily and too late on its supporting cast for Doug McDermott to step up and deliver when the lights came on last Sunday, Wisconsin will have the benefit having dealt with the likes of this opposition already this year (see wins over Florida, Virginia, Michigan State and Michigan, current Sweet 16 participants).
And, ultimately, the Vegas odds makers have seen this play before, the "oh woe are we" plodding Badgers against a red hot team that would love to play in the national championship game on what else, but the biggest stage ever for a college basketball game, Jerry's Palace, in where else, of course, Texas.
Yes, the book makers in Vegas have installed Wisky as a small 3 point favorite as they battle a different kind of big Bear, the ones from Baylor in Anaheim, ironically at the home of the Ducks. (see Oregon)
Fear not, Badger backers, that sly grin on the face of coach Ryan tells another story. In 13 straight trips to the NCAA tournament, Bo has yet to reach the big dance floor of the Final Four. But the way that the tournament has transpired so far, however, indicates to me that there are more big things, besides the Bears of Baylor, yet to come, for Wisconsin. Grin and Bear it Badger fans, and get ready for a really big show Thursday night.
And For What