1. Coaching transitions are rare in midseason, especially with a legend to the school like Bo Ryan was. How do fans feel about Bo leaving at this time, and how serious is Greg Gard as a candidate to get the full-time job?
In one sense, it feels right for Ryan to leave because this year's team has played so unlike a Bo Ryan team. If we have to transition, as a fan, I don't mind doing it all at once as long as there's a good chance of a rebound. I think Ryan's departure was made more palatable because he fired a retirement warning shot over the summer. When Dick Bennett retired abruptly after a win over Maryland in 2000 it was much more shocking. Knowing Greg Gard has the full support of Ryan and has been influenced by Bo as much as any other coach, he is (and should be) a serious candidate to take over full time. Right now, I'd say he has the best odds to get the job even if he's not Barry Alvarez's first choice. Gard, Tony Bennett and maybe one other wild card candidate will probably be the extent of the serious options.
2. The Badgers are in a bit of a funk this season after two straight Final Four appearances. I'm sure fans expected a down year after losing Kaminsky and Dekker, but what is the general mood surrounding the team in the state right now?
Forgive me for quoting myself, but a couple weeks ago I said the thrill of dominance has been replaced with the excitement of unpredictability. The youthful inconsistency is frustrating at times, as it is watching Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes when they struggle to meet the very high expectations we had for them. The hope is that this is just a one-year blip on the radar, provided UW nails the head coaching hire. Most fans understand at this point that the NCAA tournament and Big Ten fourth-place streaks are in serious jeopardy.
3. Bo Ryan was known, among many things, for rarely playing freshmen, but Ethan Happ has emerged for the Badgers this season, despite being in his first year. What has made Happ stand out as a freshman?
First and foremost, Happ has played out of necessity with Kaminsky, Dekker and Duje Dukan off to the NBA and only two non-freshmen forwards on scholarship. But he also had his entire redshirt season to learn from those players and get better. Happ impressed many onlookers during practice sessions last year with his tenacity and that has carried over onto the court this year as he is Wisconsin's leading rebounder both in raw numbers (8.1 per game) and his rebounding percentages on both ends of the court. The two things holding back Happ right now are that he doesn't have to be guarded outside of the paint at all and he also has a tendency to get into early foul trouble. His shot is a work in progress, but he has some crafty moves around the hoop.
4. Does Gard subscribe to the same offensive style as Bo did? This grind-it-out, slower tempo style has always been tough for the Hoosiers to defend against.
Generally, yes. Gard has even reintroduced the Swing offense as a point of emphasis for this younger team to prompt more movement. I don't think he'll intentionally stray too far from what has made Wisconsin successful for so long. (As we saw in the Green Bay game, however, tons of turnovers will speed the game up in a hurry. The Badgers have cleaned up their decision making in Big Ten play though, so it isn't necessarily a problem under Gard.) One major theme of the new regime is a willingness to go to the bench more often. Seldom-used reserve guard Jordan Hill has averaged 23 minutes in the last three games.
5. Has Nigel Hayes become the unquestioned leader of this team in his junior year, or has someone else stepped up to the mantle?
Hayes has definitely proved to be the best player on the team. Thankfully he's shied away from some of the questionable, forced outside shots he was taking early in the season and gone back to his core strength of operating closer to the basket. Hayes has developed into a nice playmaker on the block with an improved passing ability when he gets doubled, yet he been a bit careless with the ball when he's not fully engaged. He's still evolving as an on-court leader with so much inexperience around him. Even so, Hayes is the guy Wisconsin can count on to get to the free throw line if all else breaks down in the offense.
6. I visited Madison last summer and very much enjoyed myself. For those who haven't been, which places would you recommend that tourists check out?
If you have time for one thing and it's not the dead of winter, make a beeline toward the Memorial Union terrace on Lake Mendota. The scene has helped close a number of recruiting visits. State Street is a boisterous locale year round, where you'll find plenty of bars and restaurants. Check out the State Capitol too and the spicy cheese bread at the Dane County farmers market.
7. Football: Paul Chryst had a successful first season, capped off by a Holiday Bowl victory. But with DC Dave Aranda leaving for LSU, and a tougher schedule coming up for next season (including LSU at Lambeau to open things up), what is the outlook for Wisconsin football next season?
Too hard to say right now -- we'll have to see who Wisconsin hires/promotes at DC and how the staff keeps together the recruiting class first. The win over USC was great, but after four off-and-on years of Joel Stave, Badger fans are keenly aware that your team's ceiling is only as high as your quarterback's and there will be uncertainty at the position again. With a much more difficult schedule, most people expect a step back in Year Two under Chryst.
8. Predictions for the game tomorrow?
Indiana wins this one. The Badgers just can't score enough to keep up with the Hoosiers.