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.
Late-game slump does in Badgers basketball against MSU
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Unfortunately for the Wisconsin Badgers, the worst of times came down the stretch in a 67-59 loss to No.11 Michigan State at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers led by as many as 7 points in the first half, but went over 5 minutes without scoring single point to end the second half and the Spartans were able to take full advantage.
Wisconsin trailed 57-56 with 5:20 to play after a made free throw from Brad Davison.
MSU went on an 8-0 run during that time and opened up a commanding 9-point lead with 15 seconds to play. Davison stopped the bleeding a bit with a three-pointer to make the score 65-59, but with 10 seconds to go the game was well over already.
Ethan Happ went over the 2,000-point mark in the loss, scoring a team-best 20 points on 10-20 shooting from the field. He also added 12 rebounds for another double double on the year and his career record 48th.
Michigan State was led by guard Cassius Winston with 23 points, while Kenny Goins and Nick Ward added 12 points a piece for the victors.
Turning Point: That Second-half slump
It’s funny how things can change in the game of basketball. I could’ve easily been writing about McQuaid’s flagrant foul and the ensuing 9-2 run that gave Wisconsin a 7-point lead in the first half.
Michigan State played catchup for a big amount of time from that point forward.
But, none of that turned the game to the result that actually happened. Instead, it was the most frustrating thing to watch — a team with plenty of chances just squandering them left and right.
That’s what happened over the course of the final 5:20 of the game. It was a combination of going ice cold from the field and playing some truly bad defense that saw this game flip on its head.
Stats That Mattered Most:
40-28: Michigan State outrebounded Wisconsin 40-28 on Tuesday night. You can’t win games when you go cold from the field and can’t grab a rebound on the other end either. When you are shooting 1 percent different than your opponent this type of stat really matters.
14-7: That rebounding advantage was also 10-6 on offensive rebounds and MSU got a 7-point advantage in second chance points on the game. Again, in an 8-point loss this is a big deal.
2-10: Wisconsin was 2 of 10 from beyond the arc in the second half of this game after shooting 4 of 10 in the first half. Simply put, the Badgers couldn’t find quality shots from beyond the arc and they also put up some really bad looks from deep thanks to MSU’s suffocating defense.
This was a must-have game for the Badgers if they wanted a real chance to compete for a Big Ten regular season title. So, kiss that opportunity good bye.
Wisconsin going through major shooting slumps is nothing new, but this was the worst example of what happens when that is combined with horrible transition defense.
This loss also sets up an interesting question for this team heading down the final stretch of the regular season. Will this in-game slump situation fix itself or will it sink this team’s postseason hopes?
If the final 5 minutes of this game were any indication, the Badgers are in some deep trouble come the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
Wisconsin will take on Illinois at home on Monday, Feb. 18 at 7pm CT on FS1.
Matthews powers Michigan past Badgers
No. 19 Wisconsin came in red-hot, while the No. 7 Michigan Wolverines were limping through the middle of the Big Ten slate. All of that stopped as Charles Matthews poured in 18 points and led his Wolverines to a 62-51 victory over the Badgers.
It was a big of revenge served ice cold late in the contest, as UW made just one basket in the final 4:16 of the game and it allowed the Wolverines to slowly take control of the game.
Michigan used an 8-0 run over the final 90 seconds of the game to give them full control of the game.
Matthews wasn’t the only threat that helped the Wolverines in the win. Jon Teske had 17 points and 12 rebounds going up against Ethan Happ. Michigan also got 10 points from Jordan Poole in the winning effort.
Happ led the Badgers with 18 points and 11 rebounds, but he had just 4 points in the second half as Teske really shut him off from being able to dominate down low.
No other Badger reached double figures in the loss.
Turning Point: The Final 4:16
There’s nothing more frustrating than watching victory slip right through your fingers and you can’t seem to hit the broad side of the barn in the process.
Happ’s layup with 4:16 left in the game pulled the Badgers within one point at 51-50 and the back-and-forth nature of the game seemed to continue. But, the Badgers failed to score again until Brad Davison got a layup to make the game 59-52 with just 7 seconds left to play.
By then, Michigan had blown the game wide open and UW’s hopes for a season sweep of the Wolverines had gone by the wayside.
During that scoreless stretch, the Badgers were 0-5 from the field, turned the ball over once and just never got the offense flowing.
Credit a lot of the trouble to Michigan’s defense though, because they smothered UW most of the day.
Stats That Mattered Most:
5: Wisconsin managed just five assists for the entire game compared to 11 for Michigan. That indicates a lot of one-on-one basketball and that is not how the Badgers win basketball games.
19: Michigan and Wisconsin tied on the day with 30 rebounds a piece, but the hosts outrebounded the Badgers 19-14 in the second half. Wisconsin only had 2 second chance points in the half and just 3 offensive rebounds. You can’t get cold and not get rebounds and expect to win.
2: That is the number of free throw attempts for the Badgers in the entire game. Considering they played through Happ a lot early on, this number is surprising and not helpful towards winning ball games either. On the flip side, Michigan had just 9 free throw attempts, but went 7-9 on those limited attempts.
We all knew that the big run by the Badgers was going to eventually end. How this game ended was a gut-punch though, as UW showed it could go toe-to-toe with Michigan on the road only to go ice cold from the field.
It’s hard not to feel like this was an opportunity lost. UW came in just one game out of the top of the Big Ten, but this loss and an impending date with Michigan State could mean a quick end to the hopes for a regular season title.
Going forward, the Badgers have to put the bad ending behind them and show it was a blip instead of a pattern.
Wisconsin will host Michigan State on Tuesday at 6pm on ESPN2.
Badgers Basketball Preview: 5 things to know vs. Maryland (2nd edition)
It’s that time of the Big Ten season already for the Wisconsin Badgers..and by that we mean it’s time for the return matchups to begin.
The first of which will be a huge battle between two top 25 programs, with No. 21 Maryland coming to the Kohl Center to take on No. 24 Wisconsin.
Last time these two teams met, the Badgers dug a deep hole and nearly climbed all the way out of it in a 64-60 loss in College Park, Md.
Can home court advantage come in to play again and who will assert themselves smack dab in the middle of the Big Ten title race?
We’ve got 5 things to know for this matchup, so let’s dig in to that.
5: Maryland is about to start a 5-game stretch against teams in the Top 30 of the NET rankings
Friday night starts the gut-check time for both the Wisconsin Badgers and Maryland Terrapins, but more so for the Terps who will face five straight games against teams in the top 30 of the NET rankings.
Following tonight’s contest it will be a trip to Nebraska, home to Purdue, at Michigan and at Iowa. That’s a brutal stretch outside of a Nebraska team that seems to be in trouble without their star senior Isaac Copeland.
As for Wisconsin, things are easy for them either. In fact, three of the next four games are against ranked opponents in Maryland, Michigan and Michigan State. The only game not against a ranked opponent isn’t easy either as UW travels to Minnesota.
It’s safe to say, getting off on the right foot is going to be very important both teams making a positive move up the Big Ten standings.
4: Maryland leads the series with 4 wins since joining the Big Ten
While this is a fresh series in the grand scheme of the Big Ten’s history, arguably no series has been more heated since Maryland joined the conference than the one with the Badgers.
That’s because Maryland has four wins over Wisconsin since joining the B1G, but they also are just 4-3 overall in the seven games as a conference member.
A win by Wisconsin would mean a 4-4 overall mark between the two teams and dare I say they are indeed basketball rivals of the Badgers? Given how intense most of these games have been, this isn’t a far stretch.
In the seven games in conference play, the average win is by 6.7 points per game no matter the winner. So, expect a hard-fought and close battle.
3: Bruno Fernando has had 3 fouls in just 5 games this season
If you were paying attention to the last game between Wisconsin and Maryland, then you know Bruno Fernando was a big player in that game. Not only was he a big scoring threat, but his foul trouble in the second half allowed the Badgers to get back in to the game.
It was no coincidence that UW’s big comeback happened with Fernando on the bench with 4 fouls.
Fernando is no stranger to foul trouble and that’s why I point out the fact that he’s recorded 3 fouls just five times in 22 games to date. He’s fouled out just once, but has recorded more than 3 fouls in eight games.
Given the battle that is likely to happen down low between Fernando and Happ once again in this matchup, keeping Fernando on the floor and out of foul trouble is going to be huge.
2: Ethan Happ has just 2 double doubles in the last 5 games
It may sound crazy to say “just” 2 double doubles for a player in any given time, but earlier this year Happ was a near-lock for a double double. In fact, he had double doubles in 9 of the first 12 games including one triple double to start the season.
His work has slowed as of late and it really started with a rough game the last time out against Maryland. Happ finished with 10 points and 8 rebounds, which isn’t terrible my most standards, but not by Happ’s.
Let’s not forget he was just 5-10 from the field and has 4 personal fouls.
That can’t happen against the Terps top line in this matchup and expect the Badgers to win.
Oh, and did we mention that sophomore big man Nate Reuvers happens to love playing against the Terps? He set a then career-high with 18 points in that game, but has since topped it (all within the same five game stretch).
1: Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in 3-point shooting
Yes, this stat will continue to be important, as the Badgers are shooting 39.9 percent as a team from beyond the arc. It’s equally important to this matchup, because the last time Wisconsin failed miserably from the 3-point line, missing the first 10 of those shots.
Eventually the Badgers got hot and finished the game 11-30 from beyond the arc. But, they can’t get off to a slow start on the perimeter in this one and expect to lean exclusively on Happ and Reuvers in the post.
Maryland is too good on the inside to not force them to defend the perimeter and work hard there too. Reuvers recent ability to hit from deep on a consistent basis should also be a huge help in spreading out the Terps.
Badgers pass road test at Nebraska
In a game of big runs, it was the No. 24 Wisconsin Badgers who had the final big one as they took down the Nebraska Cornhuskers 62-51 in Lincoln.
After watching a 13-point first half lead go to single digits and then the lead completely slip away early in the second half, Wisconsin woke up just in time to make an 8-0 run to go up 45-40 around the midway mark of the second half and that was all she wrote in this one.
The win is Wisconsin’s fourth straight, while Nebraska has lost four straight. Wisconsin also improves to 3-2 all-time at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Brad Davison was a large part of steadying the ship in the second half, as he scored 10 of his team-high 13 points in the second frame of the game.
Ethan Happ and Nate Reuvers joined Davison in double figures with 10 points each.
The Badgers opened up what was a close game with a 14-0 run over the course of just about five minutes. UW was up 21-8 on a Khalil Iverson layup with 9:00 left in the half.
Nebraska answered with a 13-7 run the rest of the way to make it a single digit 28-21 lead at halftime.
Despite Brevin Pritzl hitting the final shot of the half, it was the Huskers who came out firing after halftime. The used a 9-2 run and then a 9-0 run early in the second half to take a 35-32 lead.
From there, the two teams traded big shots and quick swings in the scoreline until an 8-0 run and then a 7-0 run shortly after sealed the deal for the visitors.
Turning Point: Wisconsin’s 8-0 2nd half run
Sometimes it takes one punch, other times it takes wearing an opponent down and hitting him with a final flurry. That’s what happened for the Badgers, who squandered a 14-0 run in the first half and took two 9-point runs by the Huskers in the second half.
It all added up to a team on the brink of disaster. However, the Badgers steadied themselves and came up with an 8-0 run of their own in the middle of the second half.
What was a back-and-forth affair became a 5-point lead for Wisconsin once again.
All of that work by the Huskers to not only get back in the game, but actually take a lead and it was quickly erased once again. That was the Badgers rope-a-dope if you will, wearing the Huskers out and landing a final flurry that put them over the edge.
The Huskers simply couldn’t find the answer to get right back in the game and that was all she wrote for the hosts.
Stats That Mattered Most:
.333: We’ve already talked about the Huskers struggles on offense, but shooting just 3 of 9 on layup opportunities in the first half is a perfect illustration of what was going on.
7: Happ only had 10 points, so how did the Badgers win? By having seven different players score in the game and of those seven players, six of them had eight or more points. While it wasn’t always great, getting that mix of offense was the formula for success in this game and could be the experience needed during some difficult upcoming matchups.
4: The Badgers defense has been a major story during this winning streak, that was the case on Tuesday night as UW allowed just 4 of 20 shooting from beyond the arc. Combine that number with nine makes on the other end of the court and you have a very difficult formula for teams to overcome.
The Bottom Line:
Wisconsin came in hot, looking like a team that has found its groove and the Huskers were reeling from the loss of star Isaac Copeland. Adding to Nebraska’s misery in a place in which the Badgers haven’t always had success was a nice touch considering the upcoming schedule.
It may be a cliché to say any road win is a good win, but this certainly holds true in a league in which anyone seems like they can win on any given night (sorry Penn State).
Nebraska took Wisconsin’s big punch, punched back and the Badgers gave the final knockout punch. That’s a mark of teams with confidence and poise.
Watching this game and seeing a team effort on offense, great defensive production for the vast majority of 40 minutes and making quick adjustments to bad situations was massive.
Getting a four-game win streak going heading in to a stretch of Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan and Michigan State in the next four games is huge for confidence.
We’ll see if this type of win translates to teams in the upper division with the Badgers.
Up next is a Friday night contest at the Kohl Center with No. 21 Maryland. Tip is scheduled for 8pm CT on FS1.
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