Editor's note: ESPN's Shelley Smith will be traveling with the Wisconsin basketball team throughout the NCAA Tournament, and will be filing regular All-Access pieces about the Badgers.
MADISON, Wis. -- The Wisconsin Badgers found themselves in an unlikely situation Tuesday -- unlikely at least for a team seeded second in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament with Final Four aspirations. They were three players, including two starters, short for practice because of class commitments.
"This is when you wish your assistant coaches were better players," joked head coach Bo Ryan as he surveyed the court.
Ryan enlisted the help of assistant coach Howard Moore, who played for the Badgers in the mid-'90s. Moore good-naturedly pulled on the scout team blue pinny, making sure to get a good long stretch before he joined the full-court fun.
"All my athleticism is out the window," Moore said, "so it's all about being smarter than these young guys and just try to survive basically."
He did, running with the young fellas pretty well, but soaking well through that blue pinny.
Tucker said he needs just two classes to get his degree in life sciences communication, a fact that makes him and his coach very proud. Earlier in the day during a conference call with reporters, Ryan was asked about Tucker's dedication to school and his qualities as a leader.
"I've been asked that question more times than I've been asked my social security number," Ryan joked as Tucker rolled his eyes and laughed. "And I've never gotten tired of answering it. He is someone who has made this program, this university and this state very proud."
Ryan also went on to say that Tucker works so hard that it would be impossible for any kid worth his weight in salt to work out alongside Tucker in the weight room, on the practice court or in a game without giving the same effort. He leads by example, Ryan said, and he talks the talk as well, having represented the school at a leadership conference last year in Orlando, Fla. And he was the Big 10's player of the year.
Coaches spent most of practice detailing the tendencies of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, especially the Islanders' 7-foot center Chris Daniels. Daniels averaged 15.2 points and 6.6 assists this season and was the Southland Conference Player of the Year.
"Daniels is a force," Ryan told his team as practice began. "He's got a body when you look at it, kind of like [Patrick O'Bryant] from Bradley last year. All of a sudden out of nowhere here's a 7-footer that got better, because he worked at it."
Ryan also cautioned big man Greg Stiemsma, who looked visibly upset after being whistled with a foul in practice.
"If an official is saying something to you just say, 'Yeah, OK, OK,'" Ryan said. "You con 'em, con 'em. Say, 'All right, you're right, really.' You don't have to actually believe it, but it's better than the alternative, because they will never give you a chance, you don't get the next one, that's just the way it is."
Ryan is as pragmatic as he is dynamic. When asked by a reporter whether having played at the United Center in Chicago last weekend gave his team an advantage because of the familiarity of the site, Ryan answered, "I think it's the other team that affects shooting percentage more so than familiarity with an arena. I think it's the other guys. That may be a bad theory, but I'm gonna stick to it."
On Monday, video coordinator Joe Robinson scrambled to pick up tapes of the Islanders at the airport and coaches broke down their scouting assignments.
Greg Gard has TAMU-CC, while Gary Close is taking UNLV and Moore has Georgia Tech -- the Badgers' two possible second-round opponents.
Ryan and the team went through a closed-door film session for a couple of hours Monday. It was closed because Ryan said he always promised his guys he would never criticize them in public, and with the debacle that was the Big Ten tournament final, there was bound to be a lot of that.
Trainers continue to work on Butch's injured right elbow. Butch says he's trying hard to get healthy enough to play should the Badgers make it deep into the tournament. Last week former golf pro and ESPN analyst and longtime Madison resident Andy North challenged Butch to a left-handed free-throw shooting contest (North won). North was an All-American at Florida (the team the Badgers likely will have to go through to get to Atlanta), but he bleeds Badgers red and rarely misses a practice.
Word is, Butch wants a rematch.
Tucker and Chappell will be on the court Wednesday as the Badgers put in their game plan and fine-tune defensive efforts. Then they'll make the 2½-hour trek back to Chicago for all the hoopla and excitement that is a first game in the NCAA Tournament -- without the distraction of class.
Although Tucker's class on Tuesday was in campaign strategies, which somehow seems appropriate for what he and his teammates are about to deal with the rest of the month.