Wisconsin way gets the job done
There were plenty of plot-lines coming out of Wisconsin's thrilling 70-65 win over Kansas State that earned the Badgers a berth in the Sweet 16 opposite Butler, but the first question in the postgame press conference went in an odd direction.
A reporter wanted to know what the Badgers thought when folks say they play "boring" basketball.
No, we're not making that up.
"If people think we're boring, there are a lot of channels on TV they can watch," replied point guard Jordan Taylor from under a slightly arched eyebrow.
Not long after that question -- and perhaps because of it -- Badgers coach Bo Ryan seemed just a tad irritated when the term "Wisconsin basketball" was the centerpiece of another query.
"I just don't understand when people always refer to 'Wisconsin basketball,'" Ryan groused. "We score. We'll push. How did we get that 3 to [Mike] Bruesewitz? We got a turnover, boom, we pushed it to the other end, a wing clears. We're opportunistic. I'm sure there's a manual out there that says that if you don't turn the ball over a lot, you get to the free throw line, you make your free throws, and you work hard on defense, and you take good shots -- if you want to call that Wisconsin basketball, amen. That is us."
Hmm. Maybe we all just need to breathe.
Wisconsin runs a "swing" offense -- your term, Coach -- that is based on spreading out defenders and riddling them with screens. It's a half-court scheme that often uses much of the play clock. The Badgers also play tough, sound man-to-man defense. They are a disciplined team that plays within a system. They aren't terribly flashy. You don't see a lot of cool alley-oop dunks out of fast breaks.
Boring? Or are we just so obtuse these days that good, fundamentally sound basketball makes us yawn?
Let's consider "Wisconsin basketball" from another angle then, and let's use Taylor as our place of entry with this quote after Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen hung 38 on him in a losing effort, while Taylor hit just 2 of 16 from the field in a winning one.
"Everybody out there was spectacular today, and I was terrible," Taylor said. "They picked me up. That's why it's a team sport and why I love all these guys."
For one, let's pause and admire Taylor's humility. How often is self-deprecation part of a basketball postgame interview? Taylor also was notably gracious talking about Pullen's performance while celebrating his team's victory. (Said Taylor, "He was the best player on the floor.")
But let's break down "terrible" for a moment. Yes, Taylor had a bad night shooting. But he ended up with 12 points, in large part because he hit 6 of 6 from the line. He also had six assists and zero turnovers with a block and a steal.
A block and a steal? Ah, yes, those. The steal set up Bruesewitz's 3-pointer with 1:31 left that gave the Badgers the lead for good at 64-61. And the block was on Pullen's 3-point attempt that could have tied the game at 68 with three seconds left. So Taylor's "terrible" night included making two of the three biggest plays down the stretch (you've got to credit Bruesewitz for a clutch trey).
The point: Taylor's evening was a success because, while suffering through a lousy shooting night, he continued to play "Wisconsin basketball," and it seems Ryan is on-board with that one.
"He is a taskmaster of his own skills and his own abilities," Ryan said. "He's not going to throw the rest of it away simply because things have gotten away from him, because he is that dedicated to being the leader of this team on the floor. He never wavered from that the whole time."
And, of course, Taylor is a star, not just a guy who does the "little things." The All-Big Ten point guard is one of five finalists for the Bob Cousy Award. He averages 18 points per game and leads the nation with a 4.2 assists-to-turnover ratio. He also contributes 4.1 rebounds per game, hits 85 percent of his free throws and shoots 44 percent from behind the 3-point arc.
But being a star for Wisconsin means two things: (1) It's not all about him; (2) He can and needs to contribute even when he's not lighting up the box score.
"He doesn't have to put up 40 for us to win," wing Tim Jarmusz said. "He can do other things to help us win. We have other guys that will step up."
Battled-tested Butler will certainly offer a tough test in New Orleans as the Badgers try to reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005.
It's probably going to take the best boring, Wisconsin basketball that Taylor and the Badgers can muster.
Ted Miller covers college sports for ESPN.com.