Former Wisconsin men’s basketball standout and current Big Ten Network Analyst Howard Moore ’95 sat down with BTN to preview the 2015-16 Wisconsin men’s basketball season. Moore played for the Badgers from 1990-1995, and was also an assistant coach under Bo Ryan for five seasons before being named the head coach at the University of Illinois - Chicago. During his playing career, the Badgers earned back-to-back National Invitation Tournament (NIT) berths in 1991 and 1992, while in 1994, Moore and his teammates helped Wisconsin end a 47-year NCAA Tournament drought, returning for the first time since 1947. A recipient of the University of Wisconsin – Madison’s African-American Alumni Association Student Leadership Award in 1993, Moore graduated from Wisconsin with a bachelor's degree in African American studies in 1995.
Wisconsin has a handful of key returners this season including Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, and Zak Showalter. How much pressure is going to put on these guys to lead this team?
It’s funny because the thing about Wisconsin basketball, especially since Bo Ryan has been there, is that it’s not really a pressure situation: it’s more about the next man up. So the next man up or the next men up are Nigel, Bronson, and obviously Zak. They will be the guys everyone will look to because they played the most out of those returning, but there are other guys who also need to step up. Ethan Happ and Vito Brown will get an opportunity to play. All these guys are either third- or fourth-year players so now it’s their opportunity and responsibility to keep the torch going.
There’s a new shot-clock rule in college basketball this season, moving from 35 seconds to 30 seconds. What type of impact do you see this having on the game from a player and coach’s perspective?
From the player’s standpoint, nothing changes too much because it’s an easy adjustment for them. What’s going to happen is that coaches are going to pressure the backcourt defensively to really take more time off of the clock so that teams only have 25 or 28 seconds in the half court to run their offense. Now, you’re going to see a quicker game, you’re going to see a little bit more pressure to put a little more emphasis on the half-court defense, forcing teams to take quicker shots. Offensively, teams are going to be looking to play a lot faster. You’re going to see more quick hitters and not as much continuity as you would see in the past, but more up-tempo. Obviously, the emphasis on this is to make the college game more exciting, more attractive and to get the scoring up — that’s what everyone wants to see, the scoring and the pace [increase].
Bo Ryan announced that this will be his last year coaching. Do you think Bo will put a lot of pressure on himself knowing it’s his last season?
First and foremost, until Coach signs his retirement forms and papers, I’m not going to believe that this is his last year. But if this is his last year, he’s going to coach it as if he is going to have another 10 years left. He will do nothing different, he will say nothing differently, and he’s going to go about business as usual. You will see the same fire in him as you always see on the sidelines — “helping” out the officials, as he says — putting his players in the best position to be successful. But I think you’ll see the players playing a lot harder because if this is Coach’s last go-around, you don’t want to be that group that falls short and breaks the streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament runs or gets out of the top four in the conference standings. You don’t want to be the last group that he coaches, with things falling apart. So I think you will see a lot more aggressiveness, a lot more attention to detail, but not the unnecessary pressure.
Wisconsin has a very difficult conference schedule this year, including a home and home series against preseason No. 1 Maryland. What do you think the keys are for this team to have a successful run in Big Ten play?
I know Coach would say this — he wants to play Maryland home and home. He would prefer to play everyone home and home. The fact they are doing that shows that if they do win the conference again, they’ve truly earned it because they’ve gone through the top teams and competition in the conference. The biggest thing, when you ask, “How do you win the conference? How do you be successful?”: You have to win your home games. You can’t lose at home in the
Big Ten. You have no chance at winning the league if you are constantly losing at home. You have to protect your home court and then you have to go on the road and steal a few. As good as the Wisconsin team was last year — hey, they lost at
Rutgers, and you can say who was out and who was hurt, but that day, you still lost. The road is tough, it’s hard to win on the road, but you have to protect your home court.
The Badgers have made consecutive Final Four appearances. Do you see them as another contender this year?
To be honest with you, I think it’s going to be tough to get back to that level, but you never count Coach Ryan out and you never count the Badgers out because they just know how to play. They take care of the basketball, they don’t shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers, they take good shots, they play great team defense — and those are always the ingredients for successful teams to make runs at the conference championship and deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. So you never say they don’t have a chance. It will be tougher this year, considering the talent they lost, but I think they will still compete for the Big Ten championship. They are definitely on my top four list for the Big Ten, and I think they will definitely be a tough out, come March.
To follow up on that: how does coming so close to a national championship without winning it impact a team?
It gives their program confidence and achievement. To get to the Final Four is a tremendous task. To do it twice in a row is almost impossible, and for a program like Wisconsin, that’s not the traditional Mt. Rushmore of college basketball like the Kansas’ or the Dukes or UCLAs or the North Carolinas. It says a lot about what Bo Ryan has done in Madison and where that program is today. To be in a position and to play in two Final Fours and a championship game says a lot. Obviously, you want to win one of them. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but it should give a huge amount of confidence for this group moving forward into this season.
Wisconsin takes on Georgetown and the winner of Duke/VCU in the 2K Classic in November. What are your thoughts on scheduling tough games early in the year? Is it an early test to get ready for Big Ten play?
It’s a measuring stick to see how your team is going to be and how they are going to respond in certain situations and to certain styles of play. You are going to see a ton of different styles just in the 2K Classic. You go from guarding Princeton actions against Georgetown to playing against high-pressure defense in VCU. It will be interesting to see how the Badgers handle the non-conference part of their schedule. It will put those guys in a lot of situations that will prepare them for Big Ten play and that’s the way coach wants it. He wants a difficult schedule where you will be tested. You might get caught off guard some nights, but you are able to bounce back and learn from those situations and get better from them. Everything is in preparation for Big Ten play. It’s all about winning another Big Ten championship, and that’s what you are playing for every year.
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