The new rankings for college basketball this week had Wisconsin rising to fourth in the nation. That's the highest position in the history of UW basketball. In a sport that goes to the opposite extreme that college football does in its method of crowning a champion (one won't use any bracket, the other lets in every Big Ten team this side of Penn State), this doesn't carry the same impact it would on the gridiron. But it is a mark of respect for the program Bo Ryan inherited from Dick Bennett and then continued in his own right.
Wisconsin basketball has gradually evolved from laughingstock to powerhouse. Stu Jackson put the program on the map with an NCAA appearance in 1990 (albeit off a seventh-place conference finish). Stan Van Gundy retained respectability, though not much more. Bennett arrived and began to consistently make the tournament, and a big run to the Final Four in 2000 off a #8 seed was the school's first major hoops splash.
Bo Ryan has been knocking on the door of the national elite since he replaced Bennett. He shared the Big Ten title in 2002. He won it outright in '03. He captured the conference tournament in '04. The following season, he caught lightning in a bottle when favorites in his bracket kept getting knocked off and reached a regional final before falling to eventual champ North Carolina. Last season UW took a step back, fading down the stretch and being blown out in the first round. But the Pitt win showed that this year, they are not just knocking on the door, they might be ready to kick it in, to borrow a slogan used by the old Houston Oilers in 1980. It hasn't been a dramatic turnaround in Madison, but one that's been a slow and steady climb. This year they've got a Player of the Year candidate in Alando Tucker and a potential national championship squad. And this week's AP vote showed that a lot of writers around the country recognize it.
Purdue hosts Wagner tonight, and looks to get what is shaping up to be a comeback season back on track after the tough loss to Butler on Saturday. Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star reports that Gordon Watt is the man the Boilermakers turn to for the dirty work.
Indiana won a rock-'em, sock-'em brawl over Southern Illinois on Sunday night in Bloomington. Jay Bilas at ESPN wonders why Big Ten schools don't get credit for wins over quality mid-majors. Bilas believes its time we give the mid-majors recognition--and the flip side of that means recognizing that a big conference team winning such a game is something that should get a little more ink and air time. (Subscription required to read link).