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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Vote for Postseason Awards

Tuesday night was the Wisconsin men's basketball postseason reception. In particular, the season highlight video put together by Matt Ryan was very well done and is worth a look.

Along the same lines, online voting ends today for the 2009-10 men's basketball awards. When I watched the nominees for Play of the Year or Individual Performance of the Year, I got a renewed sense of appreciation for the great year this group of Badgers really had. Now that a few weeks have passed since the end of the season, it doesn't seem so bad that the team peaked earlier than you'd like -- the enjoyable part is that Wisconsin reached a significant peak, highlighted by three home wins over teams ranked in the Coaches' Top 5.

Voting is closed -- see the winners now!

Allow me to make a case in each category:

1. Best Game of the Season: 73-69 win over Duke
A no-brainer really. Duke is a combination college hoops royalty and the evil empire all in one, so this was a big hill to climb. A wire-to-wire win eradicated a bad memory from 2007 and this contest was close enough throughout that the outcome was truly up for grabs. A not-so-close second place goes to punishing Michigan State, 67-49, at the Kohl Center in February.

2. Greatest Individual Performance: Trevon Hughes vs. Duke
Several good options here, but Hughes played perhaps the finest game of his career against the Blue Devils. Not a stat-stuffer event (he added just 2 rebs, 2 assts, 1 blk & 1 stl), but Hughes was the one Badger who the team was counting on to athletically get his own shot that night. He delivered with 26 pts. And had zero turnovers to boot. The sheer variety of way in which he scored was dazzling.

I would be remiss if I didn't reiterate how much I enjoyed watching Keaton Nankivil hit 7-of-8 treys in the losing effort at Purdue. Just amazing, which is more than I can say about Jason Bohannon's barrage against Indiana I'm afraid. The Hoosiers are just terrible. But both Hughes' night on the road in Evanston and Jordan Taylor's performance against Penn State both received heavy consideration for my vote. I remember feeling resigned to Wisconsin dropping a home game to the Nittany Lions of all teams while listening to that game on the radio. Then Taylor became possessed ... and a minor miracle ensued. Good times!

3. Play of the Year: Hughes' steal and alley-oop to Nankivil vs. Iowa
Showtime at the Kohl Center showcased Pop's defense, ball handling and knack for the moment, as well as Nankivil's athleticism. Gave the crowd exactly what they wanted to punctuate a big win.

Note this wasn't called the "most important" play of the year or else I would have voted for Jon Leuer's winner against Wofford, which was incredibly clutch. And the prettiest has got to be Hughes' spin and rainbow J against Duke. That one is etched in my memory for good.

4. Greatest Team Accomplishment: Beating three Top 10 teams
This is one of those things that happens once in a generation really (at least for Wisconsin it had been 21 seasons). Kind of ties into the 16-1 home record also. Leading the nation in fewest turnovers looks nice on the résumé, but I'd trade it for a few more wins in a heartbeat.

5. Team MVP: Jon Leuer
This one was tough. I believe Leuer is the most talented player on the roster and he really came into this own this year. As the only legit post presence on the team, he was the single player most vital to UW's success. Wisconsin's success without Leuer was admirable, but the way Hughes reverted to his old ways at the season's end pretty much clinched this one in my mind. A close third to J-Bo, who really stepped up when Bo needed him most (during Leuer's injury).

6. Most Improved Player: Jordan Taylor
Just a sophomore, Taylor had basically become Wisconsin's true point guard even before he was inserted into the starting lineup. His mercurial assist-to-turnover ratio (3:1) stands out the most, along with his assists, but it was his confidence that took the biggest step. Perhaps that's why he improved his 3-point shooting from 19% to 32.5% and his overall FG% from 26% to nearly 40% (a 71% and 51% improvement, respectively!!).

This category was clearly a two-horse race between JT and Leuer. Leuer started the year as a bit player with potential to a potential NBA draft pick and one of the favorites for next year's Big Ten Player of the Year award.

7. Which non-starter are you most excited about: Ryan Evans
And of the four players, this was my order: Evans > Rob Wilson > Mike Bruesewitz > Jared Berggren. Wilson was my first thought, since I believe he will blossom with a bump up to more playing time as a junior. Love his aggressiveness. The more I thought about it though, aggressiveness is Evans' game too. And as a freshman, Evans played even more than Wilson did, despite still being such a raw prospect. His skill set is much different than anyone else on next year's team. Evans is a big x-factor -- I'd love to see that haircut in the starting five next year.

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