Numbers say Kohl's toughest
As far as we know, the hot water is still on in the showers and the heat is working in the visiting locker room.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said the visiting locker room is actually climate-controlled by computers.
|Wisconsin streak facts|
The Badgers have trailed in the second half in just seven games during the streak, for a total of just 28 minutes and 24 seconds.
-- Figures provided by the University of Wisconsin
"You can do that kind of thing in the old facilities, not here," Ryan said of looking for an edge. But the seven-year old Kohl Center "seats 17,000 fans, so it's not like the fans are right on top of the people. The students don't ring the court. This isn't as imposing. It's the fans, the energy here, and the players."
There is no voodoo being performed. Nothing out of the ordinary apparently is taking place.
So why is Wisconsin so tough at home? What exactly has put the Badgers in position to protect their nation's-best 38-game home winning streak against unbeaten No. 1 Illinois Tuesday night (ESPN, 9 ET)?
Badgers sophomore Alando Tucker said he has heard that poor lighting affects the opposing shooters.
"It can have a dungeon-type atmosphere that could scare teams coming in here," Tucker said.
"Opposing teams don't shoot well here," agreed Wisconsin senior Mike Wilkinson, the only member of the team who has played in all 38 games of the streak. Wilkinson is correct, at least on 3s, as opponents are shooting 28.7 percent against Wisconsin at the Kohl Center during the streak and averaging 53.8 points a game, compared to Wisconsin's 36.1 percent on 3s and 74.2 points a game.
"But I couldn't tell you why we play so much better at home," Wilkinson said.
Undefeated and top-ranked Illinois is primed to end the streak Tuesday night in the season's most anticipated game in the Big Ten to date. It, along with Washington at Arizona Thursday night for the Pac-10 lead, is one of the two most intriguing games of the week.
Illinois should be able to end this run, right? The Illini are quicker, more productive on the perimeter and clearly more talented, right?
Maybe, but that's irrelevant here.
"I don't know what it is," said Kansas coach Bill Self, who coached Illinois when the Illini lost by one point on March 5, 2003, the closest win for the Badgers in the streak.
"We should have won that game," Self said. "We had an eight-point lead. But then Brian Cook got called for hanging on the rim and we just went south from there. They've got avid fans, they're active and they've got good players. You'll find that it's every bit as loud as Assembly Hall (in Champaign). Instead of orange, it's red. I don't remember any hijinks in the locker room, though."
Apparently, there is no need.
The past two full-time coaches -- Dick Bennett and Ryan -- have created one of the top programs in the Big Ten over the past six years. But that still doesn't explain the perfection of the past three years, a streak that dates back to Dec. 7, 2002 and is the longest running act in the country, 13 games ahead of Oklahoma State's run of 25.
Remember, this is basketball we're talking here. Not football, not hockey -- and not politics. The latter is notable, as Madison is a city where protests were once as common as someone walking their dog.
Ryan, a hardcore Chester, Pa., native, has found the balance between history, politics and basketball. He has to, living here. Ryan already is recommending a book about 1967 tying Vietnam, Washington D.C. and Madison called "They Marched into Sunlight," by David Maraniss (also the author of the Vince Lombardi biography "When Pride Still Mattered").
"It's a great read," Ryan said, "especially if you've spent any time in Madison."
Maybe it is the marriage of those ideals that has turned this pro-style basketball/hockey college arena into the most imposing place to play basketball?
Credit the team, its style of play, and the Badgers' faithful who flock into the arena (30 straight sellouts) dressed in red, who are just as passionate as the marchers who made the streets of Madison their home turf throughout the 1960s, '70s and into the early '80s.
"I'm not sure if there isn't just an aura around the building," Wisconsin senior point guard Sharif Chambliss said. Chambliss has been on both sides of the streak, losing at the Kohl Center as a player on Feb. 1, 2003, when he was a member of Penn State and now participating in the 10 wins at home this season.
"I've seen both sides of it," Chambliss said. "Maybe it's the atmosphere. It's cold here. As soon as you get out of the airport, you feel the cold. And there is ice under the floor because of the hockey team. And that makes it cold. And there isn't a bad seat in the house."
Indiana junior Bracey Wright, who has been a part of two of the losses at the Kohl Center, said the fans do play a role.
But, he added, "some teams just have it at their place. They just play so well there. I still say Illinois is the toughest, then Michigan State and then Wisconsin and then ours and Purdue in the Big Ten."
The facts (read: the 38 straight at home) still back Wisconsin as the toughest to play.
"Everyone thought this place was going to be too sterile since it was built as an all-purpose facility for concerts and graduations, too," Ryan said.
"Our fans are steady fans," he said. "They come and they cheer."
"All I know is that there is a lot of red," Self said. "And that team that plays there doesn't make a lot of mistakes. They are hard to beat, because they don't beat themselves."
Not here. Not inside this mausoleum of basketball.
Home winning streaks are an odd thing -- a combination of talent, atmosphere, level of competition and, well, luck. The list of the longest current streaks has three teams that make sense (Oklahoma State, second with 25 straight, and Gonzaga and Southern Illinois, each with 19 in a row), one that doesn't fit (Southeastern Louisiana, No. 4 at 20 straight) and a new Western pest (Air Force, third at 22 in a row).
Will Wisconsin stay atop this list by Wednesday morning?
"I'm a competitor and I've been around long enough to know we can get them," Ryan said of beating Illinois. "That's what will make for a great atmosphere."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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