Wisconsin will wrap up the regular season Sunday afternoon when the Badgers host Illinois on Senior Day. Though Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson will be playing their final game on the Kohl Center floor, their work is far from over with the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments looming.
As the Badgers play on BTN, the familiar voice of Dan Dakich will be commentating on ESPN for the Michigan-Penn State game. On Thursday night I was fortunate enough to chat with him as he left Bristol for the airport. The veteran coach and broadcaster is known for his straight forward style on the air and being "impossible to offend" as he describes it, which means he also has a little fun with his haters on Twitter (@dandakich). In addition to thoughts on the Wisconsin-Illinois game and the upcoming postseason, Dakich shared his memories of the old UW Field House, his thoughts on Jordan Taylor's senior season, and gave his impression of a pair of Badger recruits.
B5Q: In addition to your work on TV, you also have a daily radio show in Indianapolis. I caught your interview with Bo Ryan earlier this season. The O'Jays bit cracked me up, including the part about Brad Sellers challenging you to a fight.
Dakich: I like to keep it fun and keep it interesting, do some different things. I can't stand being around boring people so I don't surround myself with boring people. That's why I have guys like Bo Ryan on. We mixed it up. We hit him with the O'Jays and he came right back. He knew the O'Jays. He was talking about some DJ in Cleveland. And he was right. He nailed it, as he does every time he's on.
B5Q: So I'm gonna turn back the clock on you and ask you what you remember about playing those old Badger teams or playing in the old Field House -- besides the Badger teams being pretty bad?
Dakich: I don't think we lost to Wisconsin until maybe my last year -- as a coach -- at Indiana. I loved that place. That was the best-smelling stadium in the Big Ten. They cooked the hot dogs right in front where you walked in. I grew up in northwest Indiana and used to go to Chicago Stadium. The Field House reminded me of Chicago Stadium, with the two-tiered balcony and the fans right on top of you.
To be honest, the thing I remember the most is we always had a good ride home. When you're on the road and you get the crowd so silent. Getting a win on the road there, you always knew you were going to have a great ride home.
B5Q: You're from Gary, Ind., so you've grown up around Big Ten country and been around this conference for a long time. Do you feel like you're working as you travel around to all the Big Ten arenas?
Dakich: I don't think I've worked a day in my life, between being a graduate assistant and assistant for Coach Knight and a head coach. This is so enjoyable. I'm having such a good time. I'm grateful to ESPN for giving me the opportunity. Obviously they don't have to give a guy like me the opportunity -- a lot of people are pretty good at this stuff. But they've given me a great opportunity to do some great games in a conference that I love and grew up in, played in, coached in ... sometimes I'm amazed that I've been this lucky.
B5Q: Has the Big Ten lived up to the hype in your mind this year?
Dakich: I do. I think you have to go individually a little bit. Right now as we stand, maybe Ohio State hasn't quite had the season people thought they'd have after they beat Duke. I think Indiana may have gone past many people's expectations. I think the bottom half of the conference has really come up. Anybody can beat anybody. We've seen when Gatens gets hot at Iowa how they can play. I think Illinois is a bit back-and-forth. Michigan certainly when they have Hardaway and Smotrycz shooting like they did [Thursday] can make a run. We talk about the Big Ten Tournament coming up, there are always a few surprises and I don't think this year will be any exception because this conference is so tough all the way around.
B5Q: When I take a look I see six teams for sure getting into the Big Dance. Heading into the Big Ten tournament, do you see any teams farther down that have a chance to make a surprising run, get off the bubble and get a bid?
Dakich: Northwestern had a great opportunity [Wednesday] and Illinois had a great opportunity too. And Illinois has a great opportunity up in Madison to go on the road and get a big win. But you gotta win. I feel so bad for Bill Carmody. I mean Northwestern's been right there. They lost to Purdue when Robbie Hummel hit a last-second shot and John Shurna came back and missed that shot, a shot to win at the buzzer. You look at the Michigan game. So Northwestern might still have a chance. They've had great opportunities and have shown they can play with anybody. They had a chance to beat Ohio State the other night too. But at some point you have to win.
B5Q: Do you think the door has shut on Illinois' chances with the loss to Michigan?
Dakich: I hate to say it, but it looks that way. You feel bad for Bruce, what he's going through. I've been there, I've gone through it, it's not fun. They had a great opportunity at home against a very good Michigan team, a team still in the hunt for a Big Ten championship.
It comes down to the players with me. I don't know why the coaches get so much credit or blame for what the players are doing. The coaches coach, but it's the players out on the floor. I don't remember when we were at Indiana saying, "Let's go out and get this win for Coach Knight." It was always like, "Hey man, we want to win this game."
B5Q: Is there any hope for Bruce Weber to survive for one more season in Champaign?
Dakich: I don't know. Honestly, I think it's going to be really tough. When you lose momentum in your program, it's really hard to get it back. As a coach I understand. And I hate what's happening to Bruce right now. I feel bad for him. He's a great guy. He's done a good job there. He just hasn't had anybody step up for him and say "I support you."
B5Q: From watching some of your broadcasts, I know you're a Jordan Taylor fan. You defended the Naismith Award finalist while he was struggling earlier this season. Is is possible Taylor was overrated following his fantastic junior season? Could anyone have lived up to that hype?
Dakich: I absolutely do not think Jordan Taylor is overrated. He's asked to do so much at Wisconsin: handle the ball, move it around to people, get the offense going, get the ball back and hit big shots. Wisconsin's had a very good season and they always do. In their offense, you gotta have those tall guys that came step out and hit the outside shot. Last year they had Leuer and Nankivil and that worked well and really opened things up for Taylor. This year I think his assist numbers are down, but he's still finding guys. The difference is the shots just aren't going in as often; it's not working as well. The personnel is different and it always is from one year to the next. But I think Jordan Taylor is a great, great player. I said he was going to be a star back when he was a sophomore and people thought I was crazy. If you asked me to pick any point guard out of the Big Ten to run a team, I'd pick Jordan Taylor.
B5Q: Now that his career is wrapping up, is there anyone you would compare Taylor to, either from the Big Ten’s past or nationwide?
Dakich: Jay Williams from Duke is a guy I compare him to. Similar body type. Strong. Can shoot and lead his team. When we get into those types up discussions, Jay Williams is a guy who we talk about.
B5Q: Wisconsin has been searching for that consistent #2 scorer seemingly all year long. Ryan Evans has grown slowly into that role. But can the Badgers make noise in March without getting more consistent scoring inside or having a steady third scoring threat?
Dakich: Can they make noise? Sure, absolutely. I think they are one hot streak away right now from being able to make a run to the Sweet 16. It might sound simple, but it comes down to making shots. I'm sure you've seen the same thing. In the tournament, you can't win without you're best players playing well. You're best players have to play their best. I know Mike Bruesewitz last year in the tournament made some great plays and hit some big shots in a game, but they'll need Taylor to play well this year. I think it was Butler two years ago in the first round tournament against [UTEP] looked like they were going to get upset, but then in the second half, one of their best players, Shelvin Mack, hit six threes and they pulled away just like that.
In the tournament, you're either playing a good team or a hot team, sometimes both -- a good team that's hot. So you gotta make shots. It's really on Jared Berggren. He's gotta be more consistent. You've got to hit that pick-and-pop 3-pointer and open things up for Taylor.
B5Q: Looking ahead to Sunday, Illinois has basically collapsed lately. The Illini are so talented, yet so enigmatic. Does Wisconsin’s style frustrate teams like Illinois that might lack on-court leadership?
Dakich: It can. But their style also lets teams hang around if they're not hitting shots. It's all about hitting shots. I hate to say it, but we've seen it from Wisconsin against Iowa at home. The 3-of-28 or whatever [on 3-pointers] and then boom, all of the sudden we're going the other way, getting easy baskets, getting beat in transition.
Dakich: You have two things at play there. One is which Meyers Leonard is going to show up. If Meyers Leonard came out like he did against Jared Sullinger when we did that game a few weeks back, he'd be the best big man in the Big Ten.
And the other half is Berggren. If he can shoot it from the outside, you can pull Leonard away from the basket. Then go into the post and make Leonard foul you. He hasn't drawn a lot of fouls this year but he can because he's got some nice post moves. He makes his moves with his head at the rim. A lot of guys put their head down, but he keeps his head up.
B5Q: Iowa proved to be a difficult matchup for Wisconsin this year. Looking toward to the NCAA tournament, is there a mid-major school out there that is uptempo like Iowa that Badger fans should have on their radar right now?
Dakich: VCU. They're a team that likes to get out and run, pick you up full court and pressure you. If they get in, I think there's still debate about that, but if they get in that's a team I think can cause problems for Wisconsin. Now another, maybe not a mid-major talent-wise but because of their conference, is Wichita State. They are a really good basketball team. I've also watched Creighton, who I think is really good. They've got a guy like Wally Szczerbiak back in the day with Miami (of Ohio) who can go out and get you 30. They've got a star in [Doug] McDermott. Long Beach State is another one, coached by Dan Monson. He's coached in the Big Ten and would know how to coach against a team like Wisconsin.
B5Q: You've also coached Indiana Elite AAU team so you've been exposed to some big-time talent headed to the Big Ten in the next few seasons. Do you have any thoughts on Sam Dekker or any other young players that you've come across?
Dakich: Bronson Koenig is really good. We played against him this summer. We beat him twice, but he's really good. We were fortunate enough to get [the Wisconsin Playground Warriors] in overtime the first time. I think we cheated them in Indianapolis. And I think we blew them out the second game, but we had to go box-and-one on him. Those guys are going to be really good. They're long. Dekker is so active. I had a chance to get to know Dekker's dad, Todd, a little bit and he's a great guy. They're great people. Those two players are going to really raise the talent level in Madison.
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