This is a hard time of year for area hoop-heads. Football-crazed sports media are consumed by the residents of Camp Randall, but a lot of us are desperately curious about the goings on inside the Kohl Center. We're hearing great things about this year's cast of Badgers. ESPN analysts are calling them pre-season favorites to claim a Big Ten championship and Jay Bilas doesn't think a Final Four trip is outside the realm of possibility.
Nobody taking the UW up on an offer to see a free scrimmage Tuesday night at the Kohl Center would be able to say whether those forecasts are capricious or not at this point, but they did learn a few things about this year's squad.
- Marcus Landry and Greg Stiemsma are back. Both were declared academically ineligible for the second half of the 2005-06 season, leading to some criticism of Bo Ryan's program. It remains to be seen whether a re-tooled academic support system will be effective, but both players were impressive on the floor Tuesday night. Landry had four blocks and Stiemsma tallied one rejection with six rebounds. Adding some sartorial flare to the evening, Landry was wearing goggles and Stiemsma was sporting the remnants of a short Mohawk.
- Alando Tucker executed the play of the night when he flushed a Mickey Perry alley-oop over his head in the first half in the blink of an eye. It was a friendly reminder of the kind of jaw-dropping displays of talent fans can expect from the preseason favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year.
- The kids are alright. Freshmen Travon Hughes and Jason Bohannon and redshirt freshman Mickey Perry, all guards, looked comfortable in the scrimmage with Hughes and Bohannon both scoring in double figures. Playing time at guard promises to be highly competitive this season with veterans Kammron Taylor and Michael Flowers getting most of the minutes.
- The Badgers have only been practicing for a couple weeks, but they've already recorded the videos displayed on the Kohl Center scoreboard as each player is introduced before games. The best of the bunch: Hughes, who mugs and poses with the style of a veteran starter. The message boards have been humming since Hughes committed to play at Wisconsin last year, so his personality should be warmly received by the red sweater crowd.
- Senior center Jason Chappell looked positively energized. The often-sleepy Chappell finished the night with 18 points and 11 rebounds, which served as a pleasant surprise. If Chappell can contribute consistently this year, and stay out of foul trouble, the Badgers should be able to play a physical game when necessary, and not have to rely too heavily on guys like Joe Krabenhoft or Tucker to play out of position. The front-court combination of Stiemsma, Chappell and junior Brian Butch means more height, size and skill than the Badgers have had in a long time.