Just when most fans were ready to leave the 2017-18 Wisconsin Badgers basketball season for dead, they have suddenly come to life. Or have they?
A 71-61 win over Indiana to restart Big Ten play was certainly promising, as it extended UW’s win streak to five games and puts them at 2-1 in Big Ten as the team heads on a three-game road trip over the next week.
In a season in which the Badgers have already lost seven games, being on the plus side of the win-loss column is certainly a good way to start of January. After the win over Indiana there was one word that was buzzing around the Badgers locker room — confidence.
"It's a huge win for us just to get our confidence rolling"
Make it five straight wins
On, WWWWWisconsin pic.twitter.com/03f5nRH4SR
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) January 3, 2018
It’s good to hear that from players like Brad Davison, because his production is certainly going to be important the rest of the way. But, does that alone mean the Badgers are going to be making a run in the Big Ten and towards an NCAA tournament berth?
There is some reason to believe that UW can make that run, but also a ton of reasons to be cautious about this team being able to battle with some of the better teams in the Big Ten going forward. Let’s take a look at the pro’s and con’s if you will.
Reasons to believe they’ve turned the corner:
Confidence can be a season-changing thing, even if that confidence boost comes from beating some really bad non-conference foes and one of the Big Ten’s lower division teams this year. As we noted above, this team is playing with a ton of confidence as of late and with a young team sometimes that is all that is needed to turn the corner.
Some of that confidence comes from players who may not be getting major minutes stepping up and taking advantage of playing time. T.J. Schlundt has done that and Aleem Ford continues to grow in to his role and become more confident in his game as the season goes along. To that point, Ford has scored no fewer than nine points and is averaging a healthy 11.0 points per game, while shooting 57.1 percent from the field (16-28).
Few players in the Big Ten mean as much to his team than Happ means to the Badgers. It can be seen in his recent play, as he’s been the catalyst for UW’s turnaround as of late. His performance in the win against Indiana was incredible. He had 28 points on 11 of 17 shooting to go along with 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks.
Few players in the country can do that once, but Happ does it consistently. While it would be ideal to not have to rely on him, the reality is that his skill set is so rare he has to be the focal point of the offense. Whether it’s his court vision, his strength down low or ability to make the big pass to open teammates, Happ is playing at a much better level today than he did against Marquette. It’s no wonder Wisconsin is winning a lot as of late.
Reason’s to not believe they’ve turned the corner:
Defense is still spotty
There’s no running away from the fact that the 2017-18 team isn’t going to play good defense at all. It’s strange to see and say, but the reality is UW . It’s a major problem because that means the Badgers have to rely on their offense to win games. That a major problem to say the least, as Wisconsin comes in to this weekend’s games ranked No. 7 in scoring defense (65.1 points per game) and dead last in scoring offense (70.3 points per game).
Of course, those numbers are a bit skewed by non-conference play, but a deeper dive in to the Badgers schedule shows a troubling trend against quality competition. Wisconsin has played seven games against teams from major conferences (Ohio State and Penn State included) and they gave up an average of 71.4 points per game. Take out the anomaly of the low-scoring affair against Virginia and the average jumps to 76.0 points per game. Wisconsin can’t do that against Big Ten opponents and hope to outscore them to win, it hasn’t worked in the past and won’t work with this inconsistent offense.
Western Kentucky (68th RPI, 79th KenPom) is the highest rated win of the bunch and that was a one-point barn burner. The other four opponents paint a brutal picture. Chicago State is No. 297 in RPI and No. 345 in KenPom, Green Bay is No. 302 and No. 293 respectively, UMass-Lowell is No. 303 and No. 299 respectively and finally Indiana comes in at No. 143 and No. 93 at this point in the season.
That’s not exactly the cream of the crop and UW should have easily won three of those four games against teams not names Western Kentucky. So, should we really be impressed by this current win streak?
Personally, this feels like a team that is turning the corner. Does that mean they are going to compete for a Big Ten regular season title? No.
What it does mean is that I can see this team competing at a much higher level than most of us were thinking after watching Marquette humiliate the Badgers just about a month ago. If you would’ve told me this team losses Brevin Pritzl prior to a Big Ten game and they would find a way to win I would’ve thought you crazy. Instead, they got plenty of production from other places and a brilliant day from Ethan Happ.
The confidence is brimming, and in the years covering this sport, the one thing I know is that a confident team is a dangerous one come January and beyond.
What this team needed was a role like this, even if the competition level hasn’t been great. Learn what it feels like to play at this level and apply that against better competition. I’m betting the Badgers get closer to making the NCAA tournament than anyone thought they would in December.
Let’s see if they can get some positive results on the three-game swing against Rutgers, Nebraska and No. 20 Purdue. That will be the real test and a 2-1 road trip would go a long way towards solidifying a turnaround to the season.
Full Badgers 2018-19 basketball schedule revealed
The moment every Wisconsin Badgers basketball fan was waiting for finally arrived on Tuesday afternoon. In a special on BTN, all schedules were released for conference games.
For the first time ever there will be 20 conference games played, with the Badgers kicking off the B1G schedule on November 30 by taking a trip to Iowa City to face the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Wisconsin will play a second Big Ten game that week, hosting Rutgers on Dec. 3.
The overall schedule kicks off with the Badgers hosting Coppin State on Nov. 6 at the Kohl Center.
Highlighting UW’s non-conference schedule are matchups against fellow Power 5 opponents like NC State, Xavier and Stanford (part of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament). Those were all matchups already known though.
In between the Xavier matchup and UW’s trip to the Bahamas is a visit from Houston Baptist on Nov. 17.
With the release of the schedule, UW will also see its annual rivalry with Marquette (Dec. 8) renewed.
As of now, there is one open date on the Badgers schedule for Dec. 13th and there has yet to be either Green Bay or Milwaukee on the schedule this season.
It would be the first time in a very long time that neither of the other two in-state schools meet the Badgers in a regular season matchup.
The non-conference slate will end on Dec. 29 with Western Kentucky coming to Madison.
Once the usual non-conference slate is finished, the Badgers have a pretty even ride through Big Ten play in January.
There are challenging sections to the schedule, including a three-game swing in mid-January that will see UW play host to Purdue, travel to Maryland and then return home to play Michigan.
However, February heats up with the Badgers having to face Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State amongst the final 10 games of the conference slate.
The season will wrap up with UW taking on Ohio State in Columbus on March 10.
Here’s a look at the full schedule for the Badgers:
Badgers land 2019 4-star SF Tyler Wahl
Badgers get 1st player in to the 2019 class and it’s a 4-star forward from Minnesota…sound familiar?
The long-awaited first commitment of the 2019 class for Wisconsin Badgers basketball has happened.
On Thursday, 4-star 6-7, 200-pound small forward Tyler Wahl announced his verbal pledge to the Badgers.
— Tyler Wahl (@tjwahl01) June 21, 2018
The Lakeville (Minn.) North star visited UW unofficially on Thursday, following attendance at camps over the past week as well. Following that visit, Wahl decided it was time to wrap up his recruitment.
Wisconsin won out over offers from the likes of Butler, Iowa State, Minnesota and Northwestern and is getting the No. 125 ranked player in the country and No. 25 ranked power forward according to the 247Sports rankings.
It probably didn’t hurt UW in his recruitment to see what former high school teammate Nathan Reuvers did in his first season as a Badger. After playing sparingly early on, Reuvers became an important cog in the Badgers machine this past season.
According to Badger247, Reuvers had some advice for his former teammate if he wanted to be a Badger.
“Our relationship is really good,” said Wahl. “I talk to him at least once a week. He’s told me that they really like me. I just had to get my shot down and keep playing well.”
This past season, Wahl averaged 17.2 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game for his high school team. Lakeville North also went 22-4 and made the Minnesota state tournament.
What should be interesting is how Wahl’s decision impacts one of UW’s oldest targets in the 2019 recruiting class — Zeke Nnaji. The Badgers have been on Nnaji from the beginning, but the fellow 4-star recruit has seen his offer list blow up in the past few months.
The two are AAU teammates, and while that can be a factor, it may not be the deciding factor in Nnaji’s choice of schools in the coming months.
As for Wahl, he’s seen his shot come a long way and has shown some good defensive work during his recruitment. He screams classic Badgers forward, willing to do the little things on defense to help make the offensive side of the ball that much easier.
UW ranks No. 22 in the country with Wahl’s commitment and could reach even higher depending on what happens with Nnaji’s recruitment and the scholarships they decide to use or bank towards 2020.
DJ Carton surprises most, leaves Badgers off his final 6
Badgers were 1st to offer for 4-star PG, but were stunningly left off his final 6 list. Where do the Badgers go from here?
The Wisconsin Badgers saw what no team in college basketball did in point guard D.J. Carton back in 2017. They were the first to offer the budding recruit and were after him hard, but in the end it didn’t apparently matter.
On Friday, Carton announced his list of final six schools via his Twitter account:
— DJ Carton (@DJCarton) May 11, 2018
Missing from that list were the Badgers, a move that surprised many. Instead, it was Indiana, Iowa, Marquette, Michigan, Ohio State and Xavier that made the cut.
It wasn’t for a lack of effort on the Badgers part to say the least. Wisconsin put the full-court press on him early and often, sending Greg Gard and others to just about every AAU game and got an in-home visit with him in recent months.
So, why didn’t the first high-major team to offer make the list?
It could have had something to do with UW taking 2018 point guard Tai Strickland and thus having a pretty loaded backcourt for the foreseeable future. Strickland was added to the mix late in the 2018 recruiting process due to his skill set, but also because there was clearly a lack of depth in the Badgers backcourt.
That’s not to say Carton wouldn’t have been in the mix, but as a 4-star player he also was going to get opportunities to not have to compete so hard for immediate playing time.
Not seeing Carton in the top six is a bit stunning, given what UW has put in to his recruitment from the get-go. But, unlike years past, the Badgers are not a team stuck without options. The signing of Strickland helped them avoid a crushing blow like going all-in on Carton and not actually landing him at all.
UW also has been heavily looking towards the 2020 class, where there are a number of quality backcourt options out there. One name that UW has been heavily linked with in that class is point guard Reece Beekman out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His grandparents went to Wisconsin and he is a big-time academic person along with a quality point guard in his class.
So, while it may sting to see a guy that UW put so much effort in to not include them in the final mix, this isn’t a situation like missing out on Diamond Stone or Kevon Looney — guys that the Badgers were heavily all-in on and ultimately had to scramble to replace.
Nigel Hayes pushes for boycott for pay while revealing Badgers nearly did it in 2016
Hayes hopes to spark major change in college athlete pay, while also pushing for a boycott that nearly happened at UW in 2016.
Nigel Hayes has been an outspoken advocate for the movement to get players in the NCAA to get paid. He’s even still named as a plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit against the NCAA.
On Tuesday, Hayes, who is currently playing for the Sacramento Kings, was part of a panel titled “Future of College Sports: Reimagining Athlete Pay.” It was a panel to help facilitate a discussion around athlete’s pay in college sports.
But, it wasn’t what Hayes had to say around that part of the topic that caught the eye of many. Instead, it was what he revealed about the 2016-17 Wisconsin Badgers that made people take notice. Hayes revealed that he spearheaded a potential move to boycott a high-profile game early in the season.
That game was the matchup with a then-ranked Syracuse Orange team as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
According to Hayes, the idea was proposed by him in a group chat and that the majority of the team was in favor of the bold move. However, Hayes indicated that everyone had to be on board for such a move to happen.
“I knew 90 percent of the guys were on board from the get-go, before I asked the question,” Hayes told USA TODAY Sports after the panel discussion. “But I let them know that if one of you guys says no, we won’t do it because, obviously, we’re a team and we’re going to stick together.
Obviously that didn’t happen and the Badgers went on to win the game 77-60 in front of a packed home crowd at the Kohl Center.
It certainly would’ve been a huge headline-grabber, and Hayes believes that hindsight for those teammates who voted no would change their minds.
“In hindsight, I think those guys that said no would change their mind now. That’s usually what happens. The guys who don’t go on to the NBA, once they leave college, they look back and say, ‘Wow, I was exploited — and now I have nothing to show for it.’ … So, I think we missed our opportunity, but hopefully this word gets out and it will inspire a group of kids that in college now or will be in college.”
Is that really what those former teammates believe, or is Hayes just speaking for them in a way that helps his cause? What we don’t and likely will never know is just how many of his teammates really were against the move and just what those players believe about their college experiences.
Clearly that is a call by Hayes for someone to take up the cause he championed time and again while he was in college. Will someone do it and will it spark the change that Haye believes in?
“With all the money that’s being made that the players are not receiving, there’s going to be a point where the players don’t play,” he said. “It’s going to take the right player or the right team in the right big-game setting … but if you want to get something done, boycott it. That’s the best way to get anything done. … I think it’s something that if we did go through with it, we’d probably be having a very different conversation right now.”
Those are bold statements and there certainly are huge risks involved. College athletics is clearly at a cross-roads and what happens in the next few years may go a long way towards determining its future. Part of that future appears in the hands of the NBA and what it does with expanding the G-League opportunities to younger players and what it does with the path to the draft as well.
What Hayes revealed in this interview is that he clearly has an agenda and isn’t afraid to push people in today’s college game to do what he advocates for.
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