As much as Wisconsin basketball fans have anticipated and restlessly awaited the start of the 2004-05 season, nobody has been more anxious than the players.
"It's been a long time," senior forward Mike Wilkinson said. "I'm definitely ready and we're all definitely ready to get on the court and play a real game."
The Badgers open up the regular season Saturday night when they host Penn (1-1) and put their 28-game home winning streak on the line.
Wisconsin is 2-1 under Bo Ryan in season openers and will look to add to that win total by taking on the same team they opened with last season. Although not all of the players returned, head coach Fran Dunphy's Quakers will present a very similar challenge from last year.
"They run a lot of screens, they handle the ball, make reads and are smart players," sophomore forward Alando Tucker said. "When you play teams like that, that aren't very athletic, they use their wits, their smarts. They're quick and got some guys fast to the ball, but [are] also great shooters. That's one thing we have to be careful about, we can't let them get going early and get in a rhythm."
Considering the Quakers have already played two games this season, they are likely beginning to find a rhythm as a team. With five seniors on the squad, continuity has not been the issue with the team's 1-1 performance thus far.
Senior guard Tim Begley's 22 points led Penn to a 74-60 win over Quinnipiac in its first game in the Preseason NIT Tuesday. The Quakers shot 44 percent in that game and held the Bobcats to 23 percent in the first half in taking a 43-22 halftime lead.
The tables were turned Thursday, when Providence shot a blistering 65 percent in the first half, 67 percent in the second half and pummeled Penn 89-52. The Quakers connected on just 32 percent of their shots in that contest and Begley was held to six points on 2 of 8 from the floor.
As a group, the Quakers are shooting only 37.5 percent from the field after two games and an even more dismal 28 percent from beyond the arc.
Penn, though, has now had two games to work on getting the kinks out of its game. For their part, the Badgers prepared this week for the high-level of competition they faced a year ago when they had to battle for a 64-53 win.
"They play good defense, shoot the ball well, set good screens and they get it inside," Wilkinson said. "Last year, being the first game, we didn't come out that strong, but hopefully after the offseason, we got better individually and as a team and we can do better this year."
One of the primary focuses of the defense will be to stop Begley and Penn's backcourt play. To play the stifling defense the Badgers are recognized for, they feel their primary task is stopping Penn's offense before it finds a rhythm.
"Containing the dribblers and not letting guys come off screens easily," Tucker said. "I know we lost some good defenders on the perimeter, but we still can't let guys get good shots, because that can tear you apart. Also, you don't want guys getting down in the lane, because that breaks down the defense too."
The Badgers will enter the game and the season with one of the deepest and most versatile teams under head coach Bo Ryan. After an offseason during which some familiar faces departed from the program, the Badgers welcome back several players that sat out a year ago and are ready to make the impact this season.
In addition to Tucker, senior guard Sharif Chambliss and redshirt freshman big man Brian Butch will also be ready to hit the floor come Saturday—a day long awaited for those potential standouts.
"I'm definitely excited," Butch said. "I've been waiting a whole year for this. I just can't wait to get out there and be with the guys."
What: Penn (1-1) at No. 21 Wisconsin (0-0)
When: Saturday, Nov. 20 at 7:35 p.m.
Site: Kohl Center (17,142) Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: No TV, 46-city Wisconsin Radio Network live radio broadcast; WIBA (101.5 FM) and WXXM (92.1 FM) will carry the game in Madison.
Series Notes: This is the sixth meeting between both teams. The Badgers are a perfect 5-0 against Penn, including two wins in Madison. This is the Quakers' first trip to Madison since Dec. 29, 1965.