No media hype for Wisconsin

first_imgJEFF SCHORFHEIDE/Herald photoCHICAGO — Heading into the 2007-08 season, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team won’t have the hype it had last season. But that doesn’t bother the Badgers one bit.”Either way, it doesn’t affect how we perform,” senior forward Brian Butch said. “It’s nice to have all the media attention, but we know what’s the most important thing, and that’s winning games.”At the Big Ten’s media day Sunday, Wisconsin was not selected as one of the top three preseason favorites — just a year removed from being predicted to finish second in the conference.Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State headline this year’s preseason favorites. Wisconsin is not on the list because the conference only chooses the top three teams. For what it’s worth, the Badgers were selected fourth in the Unauthorized Big Ten Basketball Writers Poll — a poll comprised of 22 writers from newspapers that cover teams across the conference, conducted by The Capital Times’ Rob Schultz and the Chicago Sun-Times’ Herb Gould.It’s easy to see why Wisconsin is not garnering as much attention as it did last season. The Badgers lost three starters and 51 percent of their scoring in Jason Chappell, Kammron Taylor and Alando Tucker.At the same time, it’s easy to see why Michigan State is predicted as the Big Ten’s top team this year. The Spartans return 90 percent of their scoring, including this year’s preseason Big Ten Player of the Year in senior guard Drew Neitzel — an honor the Badgers’ Tucker earned last season.Neitzel said heading into this season as the preseason Player of the Year on the conference’s top team is a nice honor, but it will definitely make things harder for him.”The only thing it really does is put a huge target on your back, so everybody can try to shut you down,” said Neitzel, who averaged 18.1 points per game last season. “But I embrace it.”Joining Neitzel on the Big Ten’s preseason All-Conference team is Illinois center Shaun Pruitt, Indiana forward D.J. White, Ohio State guard Jamar Butler and Penn State forward Geary Claxton — all of whom are seniors.New faces: The Big Ten features three new head coaches this season, and many current coaches believe they have already made an impact.”It gives me heartburn,” said Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo of Todd Lickliter, John Beilein and Tubby Smith’s arrival to the Big Ten.Lickliter takes over the reigns at Iowa after six years of helping build Butler into one of the nation’s top mid-major teams. With the Bulldogs, Lickliter posted a 131-62 record while leading his team to four post-season berths, including two Sweet 16 appearances. For Lickliter, the decision to bolt for Iowa — a team that finished sixth in the Big Ten last season — was all about the opportunity to coach in a high-profile conference. Reuniting with an old friend like Ohio State’s Thad Matta helped, too.”We’re good friends, so competing against each other will be challenging,” said Lickliter, who as an assistant under Matta at Butler. “There’s only two possibilities when you do that: Either you lose or your friend loses, and neither one is very appealing. But it’s still exciting.”After Tommy Amaker was ousted at Michigan, West Virginia’s John Beilein quickly swooped in to take the job — going so far as getting into a sticky contract buyout with the Mountaineers.Beilein said it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up, as he looks forward to the challenge of resurrecting Michigan’s storied basketball program.”To coach at a level like Michigan is a dream job,” Beilein said. “There’s not many universities in the United States — I might be able to count them on one hand — that I would’ve left West Virginia for. Michigan is one of them.”But undoubtedly the most notable head coach making his Big Ten debut this season is Tubby Smith at Minnesota.Smith, who won a national title in his first season at Kentucky, turned some heads by signing with Minnesota — a team that has been at the bottom of the conference for the past couple years. But after dealing with 10 seasons of high expectations in Lexington, Ky. — despite leading the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament every season — Smith just asked himself, “Why not?””I think it was a shock because nobody saw it coming, but I saw it coming,” Smith said. “I felt it was about time for a change. I just needed a new environment.”And Smith said the Gophers aren’t as poor of a team as most perceive them to be. Despite finishing ninth in the conference last year, Minnesota was competitive in a number of its losses.”Their record last year is not indicative of their skill level,” Smith said.”I thought they were in every game,” he added. “I thought they were just not very aggressive.”last_img

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