National signing day is done and dusted, fax machines are back to collecting dust until next first Wednesday of February. We’ve already discussed the biggest recruits for every Big Ten team, but just because they were the biggest doesn’t make them the most important.
Sometimes it’s the 2-star guy who is a developmental project that can turn the class in to a winner. Other times it’s the 5-star stud that everyone was raving about, and there are players in between who become the most important member of a class. Heck, sometimes it just means there’s a massive need at a specific position.
With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at the most important recruit for every Big Ten west team.
Badgers fall flat in loss to Northern Michigan
Ashwaubenon — There’s a price to pay for being one of the top men’s college hockey teams in the nation.
That’s the lesson No.5/6 Wisconsin took from its 5-4 overtime loss to Northern Michigan in a non-conference game at the Resch Center Friday night.
“We have to start playing like we’re the No.5-ranked team,” sophomore center Trent Frederic said. “Every team is going to start playing hard against us every night, so we have to bring it back too.”
Put another way, Wisconsin needs to regularly string together 60 minutes of quality hockey. UW certainly didn’t do that in Friday’s series opener.
It took host NMU a few shifts to settle in with the Badgers but, once they did, the Wildcats reaped the benefits of becoming the aggressors.
Action flowed freely in the opening half of the first period. UW held a firm grip on the neutral zone early. It took NMU nearly nine minutes to record its first shot on goal.
“The best four minutes of the game were probably the best four minutes for us,” Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato said. “We came out and did a good job of getting skating.”
However, it was the Wildcats who struck first. Robbie Payne found the back of the net from close range to open the scoring with 8:44 to go in the opening stanza. It was the sixth tally of the year for the senior winger.
“I think we started getting on our heels,” Granato said. “We weren’t as much on our toes or on the attack as we were earlier in the game. We started backing up and retreating and they started coming.”
The Badgers pulled even in short order. Peter Tischke set up Frederic, who beat NMU netminder Atte Tolvanen glove side, to knot the score at one apiece.
After successfully thwarting the Wildcats’ first power play, Wisconsin took its second holding penalty of the period with 1:06 remaining. This time, NMU capitalized on the man advantage. Darien Craighead tipped a puck past UW’s Kyle Hayton, making the score 2-1 in favor of the home team at the first intermission.
It seemed the tide was turning in the Badgers’ favor early in the middle stanza. Thanks to a pair of quick NMU penalties, Wisconsin had a lengthy 5-on-3 opportunity roughly four minutes into the period.
But the Wildcats flipped the script, somehow managing an odd-man rush despite being down two players. Denver Pierce capitalized with a goal and NMU was up 3-1.
“They jumped on the opportunity. We were flat-footed in the offensive zone,” Granato said. “I think we were frustrated that we couldn’t generate more opportunities on the offensive side of things and we got a little bit lazy and they took advantage of it. It was a big goal. That was a killer.”
Moments later the Badgers, still on the power play, responded. Seamus Malone let one rip from the top of the far circle and scorched the twine, pulling Wisconsin back within one.
Halfway through the frame, UW once again found itself with a two-man advantage but was unable to cash-in.
Shortly after, the Wildcats had a 5-on-3 of their own and they refused to squander the opportunity. After an extended stay in the Wisconsin zone, Philip Beaulieu punched a puck past Hayton and pushed NMU’s edge back to two goals.
The Badgers killed another penalty in the waning minutes to keep the score at 4-2 heading to the locker room.
Jason Ford jump-started Wisconsin’s comeback attempt with a goal midway through the third period, cutting the Badgers’ deficit to one.
With 2:15 remaining in regulation, Frederic netted his second goal of the game and brought the score back to even for the first time since opening period.
“We probably didn’t deserve to get even,” Granato said. “But we found a way — two big goals relatively late in the game.”
Frederic believes his team needs to build upon the effort they put forth in the final 20 minutes.
“I think how we played in the third is kind of how we need to play every period. We kind of stepped it up a notch. We kind of knew what we were coming to do.”
Less than 90 seconds into overtime, a scrum broke out in front of the Wisconsin net. With the puck out of sight, the whistle blew and the officials emphatically signaled “no goal.” After a brief review, that call was confirmed.
Moments later, Peter Tischke got called for hooking and the Badgers were once again on the short end of a power play. Wisconsin successfully killed the penalty and went back to work with a few ticks under a minute left.
With the Badgers struggling to get the push they needed to carry the puck into the offensive zone, the opportunistic Wildcats dealt the decisive blow. Pierce tallied his second goal of the night with only 17.2 seconds remaining on the clock.
Hayton made 21 saves and took his second loss of the young season.
“A screen and three one-timers. It wasn’t the greatest performance by us [defensively],” Granato said. “They were all pretty good goals. You can’t fault him on any of those.”
Northern Michigan (4-1) never trailed in the contest, recording its fourth consecutive win and, in-turn, snapped Wisconsin’s three-game winning streak.
“We lost special teams tonight, that was a big part of it,” Granato said. “They played a better game than we did, all over the ice. They were the better team tonight.”
With the loss, the Badgers fall to 4-2 on the campaign.
Granato wants his team to dictate the flow of the proceedings when the two squads meet in the series finale.
“Tonight there was a lot of standing around, waiting to see what was going to happen,” Granato said. “We have to determine the pace of the game.”
The series concludes Saturday evening. Faceoff is slated for 5 p.m.
Top 25 Players in the Big Ten for 2017: No’s 20-16
It is almost time for pads to start popping and helmets to start cracking together…and that means football season is right around the corner. Here at talking10 it also means the release of our annual Big Ten Preseason Top 25 Players list.
Top 25 List: No’s 25-21 |
After unveiling the first five players for the 2017 season, we continue our annual countdown of the best the Big Ten has to offer according to our staff.
No. 20 — Michael Deiter, OC/G (Wisconsin)
2016 Season Stats: Started all fourteen games in 2016 (ten at center and four at left guard). He was a consensus all-Big Ten honorable mention for the second year in a row, and anchored a line that saw the Badgers rush for 203.1 yards per game.
Best Game: vs. Illinois (led the O-line in a team effort of 363 yards rushing, 6TDs and no INTs)
Deiter is the arguably the most valuable and versatile player on the offensive line. He returns for his third year, so there’s also tons of experience to draw from. Wisconsin will always be a run first team, but we can’t forget about the passing game. To that end, he has been worked at left tackle some in the spring, so there’s a good shot he’ll at least be seeing some time against edge rushers that will be hell-bent on getting to the quarterback.
He’s played the interior of the line, has had to call out blocking assignments, and is a two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten performer. He’ll be counted on again to be the leader of Wisconsin’s vaunted offensive line tradition in 2017.
No. 19 — David Blough, QB (Purdue)
2016 Season Stats: 3,352 passing yards, 295 for 517 (57.1%), 25 TDs, 21 INTs, 4 TDs rushing
Best Game: vs. Iowa (458 yards passing on 30 for 59 (50.8%), 5 TDS, 1 INT
There’s no questioning the talent No. 11 possesses. But up until last year, it had just been potential with a lot of inconsistent play. While the decision making still needs to get better, Blough can make all the throws in the book. He is accurate deep, has a big arm, and when hot, can give even the best of secondaries fits.
Purdue has long been known as the cradle of quarterbacks in the Big Ten, and if Blough can cut down on the interceptions and learn the new system head coach Jeff Brohm, we might be looking at a first team All-Big Ten type talent. He’ll get the volume, he just needs to grow as a decision maker and be more consistent — especially against the better defenses in the league.
No. 18 — D’Cota Dixon, S (Wisconsin)
2016 Season Stats: 60 total tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 4 INTs, 4 PBs, 1 FF, and 1 recovered fumble
Best Game: vs. Ohio State (9 total tackles, 1 INT)
Dixon is the steady safety that never misses an assignment and seems to have a knack for the big play. His interception late in the game sealed the win over LSU on September 3, and another INT in the end zone in overtime ended Nebraska’s bid for an upset in Camp Randall on October 29.
He earned third team All-Big Ten as well as Academic All-Big Ten last year. He is a great leader on and off the field and is very involved in the community, but it’s his play on the field that gets him the recognition in our Top 25. As the game has progressed to more and more spread attacks — with the Big Ten being no exception — having a safety as a leader and big-play guy who can read things is paramount to the success of the defense. Dixon fits that bill.
He’s already been named to the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watchlist this preseason. The award is given annually to the player judged to be the best defensive player in the country, and is handed out by the Football Writers Association of America. The Badger D is counting on his steady play in the back-end of the defense to keep up the high level they’ve been playing at over the last few years.
No. 17 — Jack Cichy, LB (Wisconsin)
2016 Season Stats: 60 total tackles, 7 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 2 passes defended
Best Game: vs. Ohio State (15 tackles, 3.5 TFLs)
Cichy probably doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Part of that is likely because of his size, and another part is largely due to an injury that cut his season short last year. Still, No. 48 is another hard-nosed, 100% effort Wisconsin inside linebacker who is not afraid to throw his body into the fray.
In 2016, he was a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award, Lott IMPACT Trophy quarter-finalist, and All Big Ten honorable mention. And that was in just seven games of duty.
He’ll once again be looking to anchor a defense that has set the template for being stingy and aggressive. If he can stay healthy in 2017, he will be a force once again, and get further notoriety than what he already has.
As far as the preseason awards go, he is on the Bednarik, Nagurski, and Lott IMPACT Trophy watch-lists, and for good reason.
No. 16 — Marcus Allen, S (Penn State)
2016 Season Stats: 110 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 3 passes defended
Best Game: vs. Minnesota (22 tackles)
Allen led the Nittany Lions in tackles last year — as a safety. Yes, a player out of the secondary led the entire defense in tackles. Let that sink in for a moment, because it’s the first time a safety has done that in Happy Valley since James Boyd did it in 2000.
Allen is very good at diagnosing plays on the back-end, but even better at coming up in run support, and off his initial read to make stops closer to the line of scrimmage. He’s not afraid to stick his head in on bigger players, and has great break and explosion after recognition.
In 2016, he was named All-Big Ten third team by the Coaches, and so far in 2017 he is on the Nagurski, Lott IMPACT, and Bednarik watch-lists. He is another talented defender on the back end that should play a huge part in the continuation of the Penn State resurgence.
Top Ten Moments from Wisconsin’s Senior Class (5-1)
If you missed the first part of the countdown, which included the introduction, honorable mentions, and numbers 6-10, you can find them here.
5. Wisconsin beats Kentucky in the Final Four
It’s hard to argue against this being the best moment in Wisconsin Badgers sports history. The only reason it is so low on the list is because that game, and most of that season, had much more to do with the performances of Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, and Josh Gasser than this year’s graduating class. But the duo of Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig were huge in that game, and Wisconsin likely doesn’t win without them.
In that historic game, Hayes played 37 minutes, and recorded 12 points. He also had the offensive rebound and put-back to tie the score with 2:30 remaining in the game. Koenig also had 12 points, along with three huge free throws to ice the game in the closing seconds.
4. Wisconsin turns season around with win over MSU.
Heading into the January 7th tilt against Michigan State, Wisconsin Basketball was in disarray. They were 9-9 overall, and just 1-4 in the conference. It looked like Wisconsin’s streaks of finishing in the top-4 of the Big Ten and making the NCAA Tournament was dead in the water. Interim Head Coach Greg Gard’s chances of securing the real job also seemed to be rapidly slipping away.
That’s when the duo of Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig stepped up and carried the team to a season changing win. Hayes had 25 points and seven rebounds, which believe it or not, was only the second best performance on the team. That’s because Koenig, who was dubbed the “Spartan Killer” by Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, poured in 27 points of his own. Koenig also drained the clutch (surprise, surprise) three-pointer to bring Wisconsin within one with 30 seconds remaining. He then had the game-winning assist to Ethan Happ.
As you probably know, the rest is history. Wisconsin went on to win 11 out of their next 13 games, cruise to an NCAA Tournament bid, and keep the streak of top-four finishes alive. Oh yeah, and Greg Gard got his contract, leaving the future of Wisconsin Basketball in good hands. All because of the performances of Koenig and Hayes.
3. Showy sparks Wisconsin to Sweet 16 Victory over UNC
Before I get in to the game itself, I just want to take a minute to talk about Showalter. He may not be the most talented Badger ever, but he might be my favorite. He started as a walk-on, and transformed himself into a spark plug on the best team in school history, before becoming a reliable two-year starter. Showalter was all energy all the time. He really personified the blue collar mentality of this Wisconsin program, and I’m going to miss the hell out of him. He was just a pure, gritty, playmaker. And none of his plays were bigger and more memorable than what he did against UNC.
With Wisconsin in a Sweet 16 dogfight against UNC, Showalter checked into the game with 8:19 remaining and the Badgers trailing by three. On a team with two future first-round picks and four future All-Big Ten players, it was Showy that stepped up to save the day. First, he drove to the basket with 7:58 remaining and got a layup. He then drove into the lane and kicked it out to Frank the Tank to drain a wide open three-pointer.
On the ensuing possession, he got free on a back-door cut and finished with a reverse layup. But his work still wasn’t done. Seconds later, he stripped a UNC player and took it all the way for a layup. Just like that, Showy had created nine-points in under three minutes to give Wisconsin the permanent lead. Nothing that happens for the rest of the season- not the second straight Final Four, not the Kentucky win- happens without the scrappy walk-on from Germantown, Wisconsin.
2. Koenig buzzer-beater to beat Xavier
Bronson Koenig was a great point guard and an even better shot creator. As the all-time leader in made three-pointers at Wisconsin, he was obviously a terrific shooter. But his best attribute was his ability to take, and make, the big shot. Koenig’s veins are made out of pure ice, and nothing else. He hit a ton of clutch shots over his Badger career, but none were bigger and more memorable than his buzzer-beat against the #2-seed Xavier in the Round of 32.
With the Badgers trailing by three with just 13 seconds to play, Koenig drained a deep three-pointer that was arguably just as clutch as the buzzer beater itself. Then on the other end of the court, Showalter did what he does best and took a charge, giving the ball back to the Badgers. The rest is history.
Goosebumps. Goosebumps every single time. Winning on buzzer beaters is much more fun.
1. Wisconsin takes down overall #1 Villanova
This game showed everything this senior class was about. They did not back down from challenges. This was their fourth tournament upset in four seasons. They also never gave up, coming back from seven down with five minted to go. This senior class showed their leadership, resiliency, and fight.
Zak Showalter was the glue, playing great defense and securing every possible loose ball.
Showy doesn’t looked pleased with the refs. pic.twitter.com/ShH1GEXJnk— Big Ten Geek (@bigtengeek) March 18, 2017
Bronson Koenig hit clutch shots (surprise, surprise), scoring eight points in the final five minutes of the game, including a game-tying three-pointer.
Like usual, the often polarizing and criticized Nigel Hayes stepped up with his team needing him the most, putting the team on his back and refusing to let his career end.
Vitto Brown chipped in 10 points, and came up with the defensive play of the season for the Badger by stripping Josh Hart of a chance at a game-tying layup.
This was the game that defined this senior class. It was the game where they refused to back down and refused to lose. The season, and their careers, didn’t end the way we wanted them to, but we’ll always have this game, and the rest of the moments on this list. For that reason, I’ll always be thankful for this group.
Top Ten Moments From Wisconsin’s Senior Class (10-6)
After four years and 150 games, the careers of Wisconsin Basketball’s senior class of Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, Zak Showalter, and Vitto Brown are over. It hurts to write. It’s almost surreal knowing that they will never wear a Badger jersey again. This senior class will go down as perhaps the most accomplished class in Wisconsin Basketball history. They made two Final Fours and four Sweet Sixteens. They helped make the transition from the Bo Ryan era to the Greg Gard era as seamless and painless as possible.
Despite the fact that all four seasons ended in heartbreak (Aaron Harrison, Duke, Notre Dame collapse, Chiozza), this senior class was an absolute joy to watch. They gave Wisconsin fans some great memories and moments that will be treasured forever. I decided to rank the top 10 moments from the Wisconsin Senior class, starting with 10-6.
- Zak Showalter put-back slam against Notre Dame
- 2015-16 upset over Diamond Stone and #2 Maryland on the road, cemented by Vitto Brown’s breakaway dunk.
- Bronson Koenig’s personal 10-0 run with six minutes to go to beat Michigan
Number 10: Bronson Koenig Game-Winner against VCU
Bronson Koenig is the most clutch player in Wisconsin Basketball history, and it isn’t particularly close. Every time the Badgers needed a big bucket, Koenig came through. This spin and finish against VCU in the 2015 2K Classic was a perfect example of that. I could make a separate top-ten list of just Koenig clutch plays if I wanted to, but this one was definitely my favorite regular season one.
Number 9: Showy Game-Tying Three/Discount Double Check
This was such an amazing, epic play. It deserves to go down in Wisconsin history as more than just a footnote. This probably would have been featured on One Shining Moment if not for what came minutes later. Ugh. But that still doesn’t take away from how great this play was. It also capped off the furious comeback from 12 down with five minutes to go and seven down with two minutes to go. This team was all fight and all heart. There was just no quit. Ever. That, along with the play which tied it, deserves to be remembered and celebrated.
Number 8: Off the court stars
As good as this group was on the hardwood, they will be remembered just as much for what they did off of it. Again this could have been an entirely separate article, but I decided to combine it all into one category.
Nigel Hayes was the best personality in college hoops. It started with his funny, goofy “Nigel Burgundy” videos that made waves during their first Final Four run. Then came his stenographer incidents that made him a national media darling in the second final four run. Hayes was a joy to follow. But it wasn’t just his funny moments that made him special.
Whether you agreed or disagreed with his politics, his ability to stand up for what he believes in and defend his position eloquently was remarkable. The difference he made in the Shultz family’s life was also truly special.
Like Hayes, Koenig was also able to make a huge difference outside of basketball. His role in being a role model and leader for young Native Americans everywhere is far more important than anything he has done on the court. Vitto Brown was also no slouch off the court. His rendition of the National Anthem before the 2015 Final Four was beautiful.
This Wisconsin senior class represented the school with outstanding class, and made me proud to be a Badger.
Number 7: Seniors Carry Load against Virginia Tech
In a tight NCAA Tournament game, Wisconsin’s seniors did exactly what they were supposed to do: Lead. Bronson Koenig had a career-high 28 points, including a Wisconsin NCAA Tournament recored eight three-pointers. Nigel Hayes chipped in 16 points and 10 rebounds. With sophomore Ethan Happ in foul trouble, Wisconsin’s dynamic senior duo stepped up and carried the Badgers to the finish line.
Number 6: 2015 Big Ten Championship Game
For most of the 2015-16 season, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig served as role players. They were good, but it was Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker that carried the load. With the Badgers facing their biggest deficit of the entire season, it was Koenig and Hayes that stepped up and took over the game. Bronson Koenig had 18-points and a career-high nine assists. He also hit the two clutch (surprise, surprise) to send the game into overtime. Meanwhile, Hayes had a game-high 25 points. That game, the highest rated non-NCAA tournament game of the season, gave the Badgers momentum and confidence heading into the Big Dance. It also showed Badger fans what was to come post-Frank, Sam, and Josh.
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