Two weeks ago, the thought of the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team playing their way to a Sweet 16 berth was widely perceived as beyond laughable.The Badgers – in case you had the memories erased Men in Black-style or something – ended their regular season in Columbus, Ohio with an absolute bloodbath of a blowout 93-65 loss to Ohio State. Those Buckeyes were historically proficient on offense, nailing an NCAA-record 14-of-15 (93.3 percent) 3-pointers.Five days later in Indianapolis at the Big Ten Tournament, it was Wisconsin’s performance that was historic in the Badgers’ tourney opener – historically bad. The Badgers fell 36-33 to Penn State in the lowest combined score in Big Ten Tournament history, likely leaving most viewers wondering, “When did basketball get so ugly”?UW’s postgame press conference that night was so depressing it would have turned every proverbial kid in a candy store into a dour, hysterical child more in need of a pacifier than a Jujube.But alas, two weeks later, it’s all smiles again in Madison. After all, it is the month of madness.The Badgers gathered in the Kohl Center media room Monday evening for a press conference that was more lighthearted than any in recent memory. Jordan Taylor entered the room hum-singing, there were Mike Bruesewitz hair jokes (now standard) galore and Keaton Nankivil had some fun poked at him for his now puffy, purple-ish black eye that was sustained in Wisconsin’s most recent game against Kansas State.Before any questions were asked, it was clear any negative vibes or any lack of confidence were more than extinguished. The Badgers don’t mind being the underdogs or playing that card – they seem to revel in it. At the very least, they’re certainly accustomed to it.Instead, the restoration of credence and conviction for a team that so desperately relies on a collection of role players to aid its star duo of Taylor and Jon Leuer figures to be crucial.After the loss in Indianapolis, Nankivil told reporters the Badgers needed to “rededicate” themselves for the NCAA tournament. With Wisconsin now two wins away from the Final Four, Nankivil’s proclamation has proved prophetic.“We went into the NCAA tournament looking at it like a new season,” Taylor said Monday. “We looked at it like we were 0-0; everything else was done, it was over with. We had goals that we set that we didn’t quite accomplish, but we just set new ones going into the NCAA tournament. We got the first two out of the way, and there’s going to be more challenges to come. Hopefully, we can meet those challenges.”Wisconsin is a team that needs to be challenged. As a team that relies so much more on its system and “rules,” as head coach Bo Ryan always says, than its individual talent, UW is best with a chip on its shoulder. Maybe that sounds silly or clich? – it typically is true for every basketball team – but it’s the case for the Badgers.Preceding Wisconsin’s first matchup with Ohio State Feb. 12 was a game three days earlier at last-place Iowa. Riding a two-game winning streak (the first being a resounding 66-59 victory over then-No. 10 Purdue Feb. 1), the Badgers escaped Iowa City with a 62-59 overtime victory.UW shot 6-for-33 (.182) from the field in the first half and finished the game 24-for-68 (.353). Needless to say, the Badgers faced the whole gamut of questions leading to their showdown with the Buckeyes, everything ranging from looking past the Hawkeyes to problems on offense and the kinds of rims in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.Then, Wisconsin came out against Ohio State – undefeated at the time – energized, and recorded a 71-67 victory. Yes, the Badgers had their world-renowned home court advantage at play in the Kohl Center, but make no mistake – Wisconsin felt challenged by the perfect, top-ranked squad that was coming to town.Often, losing is all it takes to create that chip on the Badgers’ collective shoulder. Prior to falling to Penn State in Indianapolis, Wisconsin had won 20 consecutive games following a loss. Now, that streak rests at two, with UW’s NCAA tourney wins building it up again after it was reset.The Badgers can take a blow – they’ve proven that. With the seductive challenge of reaching their first Elite Eight since 2005, the good vibes have returned to Madison – and they bode well for UW in the near future.“They always saw that a team’s kind of a reflection of the coach, and I think that especially the last game was a good indicator for us,” said Nankivil, perhaps the most appropriate person to talk about toughness given his beaten, swollen left eye.“Coach Ryan preaches that stuff every day. As much as it’s Xs and Os … it’s the toughness, the intangibles. Physically, what people ended up seeing in that game – that kind of stuff goes on all the time. He always encourages to fight through it and get the job done, but what you can actually see it in terms of blood or whatever it might be, it kind of brings it to the forefront.”Mike is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts. Agree that the Badgers have recaptured some momentum? Let him know at [email protected]ld.com and follow him on Twitter @mikefiammetta.
Fall 2019 Commissioner’s Honor Roll | 2019-20 Academic AwardsFRISCO, Texas – The Southland Conference announced its 935 student-athletes from across 62 teams and five sports for the Fall 2019 Commissioner’s Honor Roll. Fall sports from the Southland include football, men’s and women’s cross country, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.The Southland Fall Commissioner’s Honor Roll recognizes student-athletes from the aforementioned sports who maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average (GPA) in the semester of their sport.Of the 935 students named to the list, 179 held a flawless 4.0 GPA throughout the fall term.“We are very honored and thrilled to see so many Southland Conference student-athletes continue to achieve academically,” league Commissioner Tom Burnett said. “The Southland and its member institutions are focused on both the academic and competitive well-being of these individuals as they each work toward graduation and lifelong success.”Among the 13 Southland institutions, Abilene Christian led the way with 139 student-athletes, followed by Central Arkansas with 115 and UIW with 100. McNeese came in next with 99, trailed by Northwestern State’s 95 and 89 selections each from Houston Baptist and Southeastern Louisiana.Abilene Christian leads the way among the league’s 11 football-playing schools with 75 selections, followed by UIW (51) and Northwestern State (46).ACU landed a conference-leading 30 honorees for women’s soccer, while Northwestern State (25) and Central Arkansas (24) round out the top three.Central Arkansas tops the cross country lists with 18 runners on the men’s side and 14 runners on the women’s side.Houston Baptist ranks first among volleyball with 16 selections and are followed by UCA, Nicholls, Southeastern Louisiana and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi with 14 student-athletes each.