Taking the Under Again

Although the Big Ten media picked the Badgers to finish third in the rugged Big Ten, the peers of Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan aren't buying that the Badgers won't be a factor in the conference race yet again.

CHICAGO - The Big Ten media just doesn't learn.

Citing that the Badgers would have to replace All-American Alando Tucker and senior-leaders Kammron Taylor and Jason Chappell, the Big Ten media picked the Badgers to finish in the middle of the conference race and have a mediocre season.

Two conference championships, a program record for wins and another trip to the Sweet 16 later, the Badgers are starting to get the respect from the conference's media … almost.

Wisconsin, who returns players who accounted for 65.8 percent of its minutes played and 62.2 people of its scoring, were tabbed to finish third in the Big Ten conference, finishing behind Purdue and Michigan State.

"That's that old saying, ‘Do you run around your house going we're No.3?" UW head coach Bo Ryan said. "Like when we got ranked No.1 and I ran around my house with my big foam finger, blew a New Year's Eve whistle and threw newspaper in the air like confetti. I was cheering until I popped in a tape of Michigan State and then I cleaned up the newspaper and put the finger away and realized we would have a tough task. I made that story up, you know? Number three is fine and with people putting us there after what we lost, that's a statement of respect for our players."

Additionally, Wisconsin senior forward Marcus Landry was selected to the preseason All-Conference team, joining Michigan's Manny Harris, Michigan State's Raymar Morgan, Purdue's E'Twuan Moore and preseason player of the year Robbie Hummel.

Although Ryan doesn't put much stock in preseason rankings, the coaches around the Big Ten know the type of product Ryan has produced over his seven completed seasons at UW and 24 overall, a career of 556 wins and only 163 losses.

"I think that Coach Ryan is one of the most premier coaches in the country and their system is a very difficult system to prepare for," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "They do a great job of recruiting and get guys to fit their system and pieces of the puzzle. I think that's one of the big things is that he gets the pieces to make his system work."

In addition to his patent swing offense, Ryan has established the toughest home-court advantage in the conference. Since Ryan took the reigns, the Badgers are 107-7 (.939) at the Kohl Center, the second-highest winning percentage in the nation.

"That's a very hard place to play and I mean very hard place," said Indiana head coach Tom Crean, who is 3-6 lifetime against UW and 1-3 at the Kohl Center. "It's hard because Bo makes it hard because he's a great coach. His teams are so good and tough, their fan base, the Grateful Red, is a tremendous student base. When you win there, you really know you accomplished something and that felt good."

As tough as Wisconsin has been at home against any opponent, the Badgers have been even tougher against conference opponents, holding a record of 54-3 (.947) in conference home games, the fewest conference home losses among any team in the BCS conference.

Only two teams have gotten the best of UW at home, Illinois in 2005 and 2006 and Purdue last season, a 72-67 loss to the Boilermakers.

"It was mostly luck," said Hummel, who scored a game-high 21 in that victory. "We got out-rebounded by 20, shot pretty poorly in the second half and still won. I don't think there is any secret to what we did. We just played hard, did our best and fortunate to come out on top because it's tough up there."

Nobody has felt the sting of the Kohl Center more than Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. Izzo is 4-8 all-time in Madison, 3-7 at the Kohl Center and 0-6 there against Ryan, being stung by late-game collapses and three-point buzzer beaters.

For his career, Izzo is 15-14 against UW but just 3-11 against Ryan.

"They are well coached, they play well and we've lost some tough games to them and we probably haven't done the job at the end of some of those games," Izzo said. "We should have won the Big Ten a couple of years ago, we were ahead last year in the tournament and foul trouble but in general, they have just given us problems. I don't have a good excuse and if you have one, call me."

With the addition of Crean, the Big Ten conference has among the most talented grouping of coaches in the nation. With a group of 11 coaches that have made eight Division-I final fours, two national championships and a 500-win coach, the group of coaches know that preparation every night is key.

"I think the coaching in this league is as good as any," Matta said. "You've got guys that have proven it with Coach Smith and Coach Izzo winning a national title. You've got guys that have been to the final fours and I think that's what makes it so challenging every night. You never go into a game thinking you are going to play your ‘C' game and still win this game."

Even Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith, who completed his first season in the Big Ten after 12 years coaching in the SEC, acknowledged that the coaching talent-level makes his staff prepare just as hard as the players.

"You have to go in and prepare the same way and have your team give their best effort and play to the potential," Smith said. "In this conference, you really see some veteran, knowledgeable coaches in Bo Ryan, Tom Izzo, Matt Painter and Bruce Weber. You've got some of the best colleges in America in this league and probably have as much talent as you have in any league."

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