Squeezing a basketball event in between ESPN's College GameDay show at Camp Randall and the kind-of-a-big-deal football game in the evening might be a tall order for some fans, but the program is seizing a big opportunity by offering up Wisconsin Basketball Field House Madness tomorrow afternoon.
Piggybacking on the excitement and national attention of hosting No. 1 Ohio State, Bo Ryan and Co. have lured a bevy of top high school recruits into town that might not have all come on the same day otherwise. By staging the tip-off event on Saturday, a guy like Apple Valley guard Tyus Jones, who is already one of the most impressive freshmen in the country, does not have to choose Wisconsin over Minnesota or Michigan State (whose events are both on Friday). It's been confirmed that Jones will be in Madison on Saturday with his mother and brother, enjoying the biggest football game of the week. (Edit: due to unforeseen family circumstances, Jones' status is uncertain.)
High priority in-state targets J.P. Tokoto and Bronson Koenig will also attend, after both visit Marquette Madness tonight. Those two will be joined by AAU teammate and future Badger Sam Dekker, in addition to the four verbal commitments from 2011 who will be making their official visits to campus.
This gives the already committed players a chance to bond and build excitement alongside the undecided recruits, which is how big-time recruiting runs can develop (see: Illinois). I'm not saying this is "LeBron-Wade-Bosh at the Olympics" level stuff, but don't discount it. Jones plays travel ball for the Howard Pulley program that produced current Badgers Jordan Taylor and Jared Berggren.
Other recruits reportedly coming to town include 7-footer Carson Shanks (2013) of Minnesota and forward David Burrell (2014) from Milwaukee. Coach Greg Gard is supposedly observing Shanks at an open gym today.
Some folks lament the fact that young players want to be shown the "Quan" in the recruiting game. It's reality. Luckily, this weekend speaks for itself. The overall atmosphere will be fantastic even if the actual basketball event is nothing more than a glorified practice. Add in a cameo by Michael Finley, though, and Lee Evans as the football game's honorary captain, and you have a nice step toward getting star alumni regularly involved too.
Wisconsin is one of only six Big Ten schools holding tip-off events this weekend and the only one on Saturday. I'm happy to see the traditionally unflashy program in Madison refuse to give an inch to its competition in this regard. Illinois, always the basketball school, has a Who's Who list of recruits at their practice Friday night. Heck, even Northwestern is going bling-bling Hollywood for their event. On the other hand, it's Homecoming at Purdue and the lack of a basketball event has led some people to believe the Boilermakers are foolishly allowing Indiana to monopolize the opportunity (HT: rcpratt). Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State are the others shunning pumped-up first practice events. While some think the trend has gone too far, it continues nationwide.
Besides the entire recruiting aspect, the weekend hypes the start of the basketball season. Again, promoting a "first glimpse" of this year's team along with the big football weekend takes the event to a higher level than normal. Of course, if nobody shows up, I'm just another blabbering idiot.
The Big Ten Network is airing Hoops Hysteria coverage of the weekend's tip-off events league-wide on Saturday night. If you are a total hoops junkie, bigtennetwork.com will even stream some of the events live online for a price, including the Field House Madness event, which starts Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Now if they can just pry Bo away from from the Phillies game ...