MADISON - His numbers may be down, but the 12 coaches in the Big Ten recognized how much senior Jordan Taylor again meant to a University of Wisconsin program that just keeps on winning.
Taylor was chosen first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and second-team All-Big Ten by the media, making him just the sixth Badger to be a two-time, first-team All-Big Ten selection, joining Alando Tucker (2006 and 2007), Kirk Penney (2002 and 2003), Michael Finley (1993 and 1995), Ab Nicholas (1951 and 1952) and Don Rehfeldt (1949 and 1950).
Taylor is Wisconsin’s 10th first-team all-conference honor during Bo Ryan’s 11 seasons. UW’s 10 accolades are the most in the Big Ten during the Ryan era and the seven different individuals earning first-team All-Big Ten honors are tied for tops in the conference.
“I’m very honored to have my name written alongside the great players in the Big Ten,” Taylor said in a statement. “Our league is so deep and talented this year, you can’t go wrong with any of the players on the three All-Big Ten teams … There is no question my being named All-Conference is a reflection of our team’s success and I owe a lot to my teammates and coaches for that. It’s a great honor.”
Ryan is not big on individual awards – that was obvious when he stopped awarding a team MVP following his arrival – but he made a case Monday afternoon on what the senior point guard has meant to Wisconsin. Evidentially, his colleagues listened better than most of the media.
“It’s all in the number that Jordan has been around and has helped create,” said Ryan. “People can say a lot of things, they can infer, they can speak their mind but for me, I know what Jordan has meant. His teammates can tell you what Jordan has meant. Any fan that has followed Wisconsin basketball can tell you how valuable a guy like Jordan Taylor is to the program.
“He’s just that guy that came into my office five or six years ago and had that wide-eyed smile on his face (going), ‘Wow, this is … this is pretty good.’ Usually when guys look like that it’s because not a whole lot of other people have recruited them. That’s when you like to get them when they are impressionable like that.”
Taylor leads the Badgers in scoring at 14.6 points per game, a figure that rises to 16.3 in Big Ten games. He is also averaging 4.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds per contest and is a midseason finalist for both the Cousy Award and the Naismith Trophy.
Taylor scored 18.1 points per game a season ago, but the preseason All-American has become more of a focal point for the opposition to defend that he was a season ago. He also didn’t have four seniors in the rotation this season like a year ago, but he still led the Badgers to 23 wins in the regular season and a top four finish in a more competitive Big Ten than a season ago.
“I see a lot of guys in the All-Star baseball game where they might have batted .318 and this year they are down to .305,” said Ryan. “It might be that they aren’t seeing pitches. There are so many factors that go into a number being different on both the plus side and the minus side.”
Ryan also praised the work of associate head coach Greg Gard, who has recruited a number of young, raw, talented players to Wisconsin for Ryan to develop into talented all-around players like Taylor.
“There were some pretty good guards out around that time,” said Ryan, referring to that year’s recruiting class. “But Greg Gard seems to find a lot of guys early. (He’s) probably the best evaluator of talent in the country but I don’t want a lot of people to know that because then they might start following him around.”
In addition to Taylor, Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren were each consensus honorable mention selections while Josh Gasser was chosen to the Big Ten’s All-Defensive team by the conference coaches. He is the first UW sophomore to be selected to the team and just the fifth Badger, joining Michael Flowers (2007 and 2008), Joe Krabbenhoft (2008), Trevon Hughes (2010) and Taylor (2011).
“That’s a pretty awesome list of players and I never thought I’d be even close to being mentioned in the same breath as those guys,” Gasser said in a statement. “Those are players that I have grown up watching and they’re guys that I have tried to model my game after.”
Gasser has been a key figure on a Badgers defensive unit that is on a record-setting pace, allowing opponents an NCAA-best 51.8 points per game. UW also leads the nation in 3-point field goal defense (.278), ranks third in field goal defense (37.6 percent) and is second in defensive points per possession (0.87).
Big Ten Tournament Up Next
When it comes to tournament play, whether a nonconference tournament or an NCAA Tournament, it’s customary for each participating team to get the same number of practice minutes on the court in the venue that’s going to be used. The thought process is that it gives both teams the ability to adjust to the rims, the different sight lines and to dispel any competitive advantage to another team.
How ironic that by Wisconsin beating the competition, the Badgers, along with three other teams, will have to go into its Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal match-up needing time to adjust while its opponent will have already had one practice and at least 40 minutes on the court. The question is: does that extra time really help?
“I’m glad (for the players) that we haven’t had a chance to find that out yet,” said Ryan, who said the bye streak was due to players checking egos at the door and playing as a team. “That means they’ve done something. In order to not do that first day, you have to do something during the year. So, the players earned it.”
Preparing to face the winner of No.5 Indiana and No.12 Penn State in the conference quarterfinal Friday afternoon, Wisconsin will be coming off a bye for the 12th straight season and the 11th under Ryan. When it comes to the results, it’s pretty black and white.
Wisconsin has either played in the championship game or lost in the first round in the last 12 years. Against teams that have played a game prior to its match-up with Wisconsin, the Badgers are only 4-3, including losing an ugly 36-33 game to Penn State in last year’s tournament.
“Some (coaches) really like the fact that you get to play right away and you actually do get practice time if you play on the first day,” said Ryan. “They like the fact that they can get that time, play and the next day they are used to it.”
Ryan declined to project whether that extra day has hurt or helped one of those seven opponents, but did say winning three in a row, let alone four in a row, is a tough challenge. In 14 years of the tournament, only Iowa (2001) was able to win the championship playing four games in four days.
In five of the last seven tournaments, the No.1 seed has won the title, including Wisconsin in 2008. That will be a challenge for top-seeded Michigan State this season with the Big Ten being one of the toughest this past season.
Not only is the conference rated No.1 in the RPI, the Big Ten have five teams ranked in the AP top 15 and its three tri-champions all finished at 13-5, making it the fourth time in conference history that five losses in an 18-game schedule was good enough to win the conference.
“There obviously was the one dominant team that just drubbed everyone,” said Ryan. “To have it be this close with so many teams within a couple games … I don’t know who was sitting around the table when he said five losses would be the champion’s number. Five losses doesn’t surprise me at all to be the Big Ten winner … The league is pretty tough. I think that was proven throughout the year.”