Last spring Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan called point guard Devin Harris into his office to tell him that he'd been invited to try out for the USA Basketball team that would play in the Pan Am Games over the summer. Ryan congratulated Harris, but he also advised him to decline the invitation and instead spend the summer with his teammates in Madison. "I trust his advice," says Harris. "If he felt the team would be better if I stuck around the whole summer, that's what I was going to do."
Harris's commitment and leadership has enabled the No. 14 Badgers (14-3) to move into first place in the Big Ten with a 5-1 record, their best conference start since 1962. The 6'3", 175-pound junior is the clear favorite for Big Ten player of the year honors. At week's end Harris led the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.11-to-l) and was fourth in scoring (17.6 points per game) and second in assists (4-94). His play has helped the Badgers overcome the loss of two starters, sophomore forward Alando Tucker (right foot) and senior guard Freddie Owens (left foot).
Harris started all 32 games at shooting guard as a freshman, then took over at the point the following season. He's now so familiar with his coach's thinking that Ryan lets him call almost every offensive set and inbounds play. "He knows what I want, and I know what he wants," says Ryan.
Ryan has surrounded Harris with a core of skilled big men who fit well into his unique "swing offense," which emphasizes wide spacing and perimeter screens to create opportunities for players to cut to the basket or step out for a three-pointer. The Badgers were a respectable fifth in scoring in the Big Ten at week's end (averaging 69.9 points a game), but their greatest strength is on defense, where they give up a mere 55.9, best in the league.
The Badgers were dealt another setback on Monday when they learned that Tucker would not return this season. But their recent play offers them plenty of reasons to be optimistic. "Alando's being out has given other guys a chance to step up, and they've made the most of their opportunities," Harris says. "This really has been a total team effort."
Thoughts by Seth Davis, and Grant Wahl's Mailbag. at si.com/basketball/ncaa.