Wisconsin enjoyed its most recent basketball trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands and it wasn’t just because of the warm weather.
The No. 25 Badgers hope for another successful run in the annual Paradise Jam starting Friday night against Iona.
Paced by former stars Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor, Wisconsin beat Norfolk State, Eastern Kentucky and Old Dominion to win the 2005 Paradise Jam in the school’s only previous appearance in the tournament.
This season, the Badgers (2-0) could face a stiffer challenge with No. 2 Connecticut and No. 17 Miami in the field.
“Nothing’s going to come easy,” said senior leading scorer Marcus Landry, who averaged 13.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in the 2005 tournament as a freshman. “For the most part, it’s a business trip, and we’re there to do business and have fun. There’s some great teams down there so we’ve got to be ready.”
That begins with a first-ever meeting with Iona, which has lost five straight contests versus ranked opponents since beating then-No. 22 North Carolina 65-56 on Dec. 27, 2002.
After struggling in a 68-61 season-opening victory over Long Beach State on Sunday, Wisconsin had a much easier time handling Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 88-58 two days later.
Jon Leuer had 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting, while Landry added 15 with five rebounds and five blocks as the Badgers shot 59.3 percent and 8-for-15 from 3-point range.
While Landry, a preseason All-Big Ten pick averaging 19.0 points, swingman Joe Krabbenhoft and guards Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes are the veteran core of this season’s team, coach Bo Ryan expects young players like Leuer to contribute.
“His all-around game, there’s some potential there. He just needs to bring it all the time,” said Ryan of the 6-foot-10 sophomore who averaged 2.9 points in 32 games last season. “He comes with the intentions of always getting something done, but sometimes that gets away.”
Leuer could have a chance for extended minutes versus Iona, a preseason pick to repeat its seventh-place finish in the 10-team Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference after going 12-20 last season.
Preseason All-MAAC second-team selection Gary Springer had 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting with seven rebounds in the Gaels’ 59-46 season-opening victory over Hampton last Friday.
The 6-9 senior was the only player in double figures for Iona, which shot 42.6 percent from the field and 4-for-22 from 3-point range on its home court. The Gaels managed to hold Hampton to 30.8 percent shooting.
“What I was most impressed with is how hard we played on the defensive end despite our offensive struggles,” Iona coach Kevin Willard said.
The winner of this contest advances to the semifinals to face either San Diego or Valparaiso on Sunday.