UW Hoops: What's Next?
By By Rob Schultz, Capital Times
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The irony wasn't lost on Joe Krabbenhoft that on one of the last plays of his career with the Wisconsin basketball team, he cut his chin and needed stitches.
"And the foul, of course, was on me. I'm not afraid to lead with my face. Everybody knows that," joked Krabbenhoft after Xavier's 60-49 victory over the Badgers in a second-round NCAA tournament game Sunday in Boise, Idaho.
"Pretty fitting ending," added the senior forward, "although the loss situation isn't fitting because Marcus (Landry) and myself were part of 100 wins and that loss shouldn't mark our careers."
Krabbenhoft, who reached 100 career wins at UW, and Landry, who fell just short, were tough-nosed battlers and their last game personified it as Krabbenhoft left it bloody while Landry left everything on the floor with an 18-point, 10-rebound performance.
But they also will be remembered for leading a team through the program's toughest times of the past eight seasons that included a six-game losing streak midway through the Big Ten Conference season. They are hoping the team's wild journey that finished with a 20-13 record will set the team up for more success.
"Sometimes you have to go through certain things to know if you can come out of them or not," Landry said. "These younger guys who will still be around, having gone through this, they know they can come out of it."
The players who return next season also know they have a great deal of work to do if they hope to contend for a Big Ten regular-season title in a conference full of talented teams that continue to improve.
No one is questioning the Badgers' toughness on defense and their ability to take care of the ball, staples of UW's program. But they need to get much stronger, not just because they will be replacing the Badgers' two strongest players in Landry and Krabbenhoft, but so they can fix their dreadful inability to finish around the basket.
"It isn't just missing shots around the rim, it's also getting called for travels or losing the ball," said associate head coach Greg Gard, who also blamed the inability to use shot fakes and other measures to keep aggressive Xavier off-guard Sunday. The Badgers ended up setting season lows for overall shooting and 3-point shooting.
Coach Bo Ryan believes the players on the roster are skilled enough to provide what the team needs to succeed.
"We have skilled players and if you have skill, you need to refine and hone those skills," he said. "Get stronger, get more court awareness."
Sophomore forward Jon Leuer has the ability to create his own shot, but he doesn't have the physical strength to do it consistently. Sophomore forward Keaton Nankivil is nearing the physical strength he needs to finish more consistently but must keep developing mental strength.
No one questions the ability or athleticism of freshmen like Jordan Taylor, Rob Wilson and Ryan Evans. When they get stronger both mentally and physically, they will become less one-dimensional and their ability to attack and show off their athleticism will increase.
How many times was sophomore Tim Jarmusz or junior Jason Bohannon at the right place and at the right time to make a play only to just miss because they weren't strong enough?
Finally, junior guard Trevon Hughes has the strength but was often overwhelmed on the court this season because opposing defenses knew he was one of the only Badgers who could create his own shot. That burden wore down him and the team.
"It's going to be a huge offseason for a lot of guys," Gard said. " The younger guys got a taste of it, now they have to take a huge step forward. They have some huge shoes to fill in terms of toughness and work ethic. It will be interesting to see who sticks their head out of the sand."
Ryan likes to measure people by how hard it is to discourage them and how they adapt to change or adversity. That's why this season was a successful one for the Badgers. Few teams can absorb a six-game losing streak like the Badgers did this season. That is something to be proud of.
"You have to fight through things and positive things can happen like making the NCAA Tournament and beating Florida State," said Krabbenhoft. "That was as much fun as I've ever had."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)