Ah, the holiday cheer was pouring in from all directions last weekend. Congratulations to the UW volleyball team, which advanced to the NCAA Final Four after winning its regional in Champaign, Ill. A tip of the hat goes to the Packers, who improbably stayed in playoff contention after a second-half comeback in Dallas that defies facile description.
But the gift that's likely to keep on giving this winter is Bo Ryan's UW basketball team, which played beautifully Saturday against Eastern Kentucky and looks poised to advance deep into the NCAA tournament next March. There's nothing deceptive about the Badgers' undefeated record or gaudy national ranking; UW looks like a legitimate contender.
The first thing that strikes you about this year's team is its balance, an impression confirmed later by the stat sheet. All five starters score and all five rebound. The balance isn't just numerical, though -- a hallmark of Ryan teams is that they're rarely out of position on either end of the court, which helps explain how they steal so many disputed rebounds and loose balls.
I don't know what Frank Kaminsky did during the off-season, but he's become a beast. Kaminsky is a rare commodity in today's college basketball: a seven-footer who can actually play, and who can score from anywhere. He's made 43% of his three-pointers, which is ridiculous. His ball handling and interior passing would be good for a guard; for a man his size, they're excellent.
Sam Dekker is a straight-up stud. Next.
Freshman Bronson Koenig looks like an emerging star as well; his court vision and command are amazing in such a young player. Koenig could be promoted to starting point guard today and the Badgers probably wouldn't skip a beat.
Ryan's eight-man rotation appears set, and his track record suggests he could have the team playing even better a month from now. The Big 10 season should be fun to watch.