Wisconsin got a big taste of its own medicine on Tuesday night, getting beat down bad by Iowa just one game after doing the beating down to Illinois.
It leaves the Badgers at 3-5 in Big Ten play and struggling to find any real rhythm on the season and likely gives the final blow to any lingering hopes of a late run to another NCAA tournament.
But, what did this game teach us? Let’s take a look at our three takeaways from the game.
Iverson needs to take this offense over
After coming out and staying hot against Illinois, the Badgers opened the game in a massive funk on both ends of the court.
It resulted in a 12-2 run to start the game for Iowa and Wisconsin shooting just 3-17 to start the half. However, Iverson decided to take the team on his back and it resulted in getting UW back in the game.
The junior took over point guard duties with most of the starting backcourt in trouble and Iowa going all 2-3 zone on the Badgers. It resulted in Iverson putting up 13 of his 17 points in the first half. He also shot 6 of 8 from the field in the first half.
But, Iowa adjusted to what Iverson was able to do well in the first half and frustrated him in the second half. They turned him in to a jump shooter only and Iverson ended the night shooting just 7-16 from the field.
Iverson’s night wasn’t just defined by playing well on offense for a half either, he was also the facilitator when the offense was stagnant and had a solid effort on the defensive side of the ball (something we’ll talk about later). Iverson finished with 4 assists and 7 rebounds to go with his 17 points.
With Wisconsin down 12 at 29-17 with 6:36 to play, Iverson took this team on his back. He hit a pair of shots and a free throw in three straight possessions, putting the Badgers down just seven.
After the 3-17 start to the game, Wisconsin finished off the half shooting 9 of 14.
It’s no coincidence that Iverson getting hot and attacking the basket freed up everyone else either. It’s also no coincidence that as soon as he was taken out of the game in the second half by Iowa that things went from bad to worse.
Gard would be wise to find a way to have the offense run through Iverson on the perimeter and Happ on the block, but also get Iverson free to the hoop more often. It was UW at its best against Iowa.
Gard’s Lineup Insanity
As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Yet, that’s exactly what Gard seems to be doing every game when he trots out Alex Illikainen and TJ Schlundt off the bench. On Tuesday, the two combined for 17 minutes on the court and exactly nothing but a headache to show for it.
They combined for no points, no rebounds, no assists, no turnovers, no nothing…except for Illikainen’s 0-2 night from the field (which included an airball three-point attempt).
I know this much, Gard is literally throwing everything out there and seeing what sticks. That’s what happens when a coach runs out of an idea of what to do with a team.
A lot of this is on players who should be showing up and contributing in big ways, but some of this is on a coach who can’t seem to motivate a team to show up consistently from one game to the next.
We get that Gard is limited in what he can do in terms of personnel, but I’d rather see a bad game and a learning experience from a freshman like Nate Reuvers than a third-year player playing like a freshman would any day of the week.
Gard’s choice of an almost exclusively all-bench lineup for about 5 minutes of this game was brutal and Illikainen and Thomas’ defensive deficiencies were a huge part of that.
Congrats to Thomas for turning his opportunity in to success, scoring 10 points and pulling in 5 rebounds in 17 minutes played. But, that is a needle in the haystack of his career to date.
Maybe it’s a glimmer of hope, but we’ll see if Gard falls in to the trap of thinking this means Thomas needs more minutes consistently or not..because a quick look at his overall defensive night suggests the numbers aren’t as good as you’d think.
Then again, what choice does Gard have with a lineup full of people who don’t take opportunities and run with them like Thomas did?
Wisconsin’s defensive deterioration
There is no bigger indictment of this team than its defensive effort (or lack there of) on the season and especially on Tuesday night.
If there is a hallmark of Badgers basketball since the arrival of Dick Bennett, it has been that success comes from defense first. Even the back-to-back Final Four teams were built on defense driving everything else.
You could make the case that is happening again in 2017-18, only not to success but to failure.
Wisconsin has been terrible on defense against any sort of competent opposition so far this season. That was certainly the case on Tuesday night, as Wisconsin had no answer for the inside duo of Tyler Cook and Luka Garza.
Iowa’s big men combined for 34 points, 21 rebounds and shot 68.1 percent from the field on the night. As a team, the Hawkeyes shot 52 percent as a team.
It’s been a trend all season though, as UW is 11th in the Big Ten in opponent field goal percentage. They are allowing opponents to shoot 47.6 percent in conference games and are dead last in the Big Ten in opponent field goal percentage overall (46.2 percent).
That is a massive problem and if you want to put your finger on one reason for this team’s struggles, it all starts with defense. It’s even trickled down to UW’s best player, Ethan Happ.
He was awful against Iowa’s movement, while Charlie Thomas wasn’t much better and simply got out-worked more often than not on the boards. It’s why the Hawkeyes had a 41-32 advantage on the boards and a 12-6 advantage in second chance points.
This team hasn’t been good on defense all season, even in most of its wins. Some of this is on coaching to say the least, because effort seems to be lacking. I’ll take making mistakes by young players as long as the effort is there and outside of Davison and Happ, the effort on defense has been largely lacking.
Can this game film correct some of those mistakes or will the team tune Gard out like it seemingly has most of this season. After all, it’s the same tune every game.