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Has Wisconsin basketball actually turned a corner?

Wisconsin is red-hot as of late, winning 5 straight, but is this a sign of a turnaround or just a fluke?

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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 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

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).

Ethan Happ

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.

Competition Level

A five-game win streak sure looks great on paper, but who have the Badgers been playing? No seriously. Let’s take a look at where the five most recent opponents rank in RPI and on KenPom shall we?

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?

Conclusion

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.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Can Badgers get OSU transfer Micah Potter eligible for start of next season?

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When looking forward to the 2019-20 season for the Wisconsin Badgers basketball program, one sees a massive void in experience up front. 

Ethan Happ, Charles Thomas and Khalil Iverson will all graduate after this year. That leaves only one man who plays in the regular rotation up front in sophomore big man Nate Reuvers. 

Wisconsin got some big help as former Ohio State forward Micah Potter announced his commitment to the Badgers in his transfer away from the Buckeyes.

The 6-9 forward was a high 3-star recruit with a who’s who of offers coming in to the 2016 class. He had offers from the likes of Ohio State, Purdue, Clemson, Iowa, West Virginia, North Carolina State before ultimately picking OSU. 

But, there may be a bit of a snag in the transfer process because Potter chose to transfer just before the season started and technically wouldn’t be available until the second semester next season. 

Wisconsin needs some experience up front and they need Potter to be eligible right away to maximize the potential of this front court. UW will likely have to apply for a waiver with the NCAA since technically Potter didn’t play a single game this season. 

What is the likelihood of the Badgers getting that waiver granted? That’s the big question that no one really knows the answer to. In many cases the NCAA has been willing to grant waivers in favor of the player, but this is a more unique case that may require some real documentation as to why this transfer happened so late in the first semester. 

As for Potter’s importance to next season? Well, UW will have to see if the redshirt years of both Joe Hedstrom and Taylor Currie paid off and they are ready for major contributions. 

Going in to the 2018-19 season neither were physically there, otherwise we may have seen one or both of them getting some minutes to get ready for the next season. 

However, Potter is a known commodity and he has produced well coming off the bench for the Buckeyes early on in his career. 

Potter played in 29 games last season, including four starts. He averaged 4.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and 0.4 blocks per game and was becoming a key player off the bench. 

At Wisconsin, Potter is likely to create real competition for a starting spot in the Badgers lineup next season and that is important to say the least. 

With the Badgers getting very young up front next year, Potter being available from the first tip of the season and beyond is vital. 

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Badgers Basketball

Marquette outlasts Badgers 73-69 in OT

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Everyone expected a big time battle between the No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers and Marquette Golden Eagles and the two teams didn’t disappoint.

It even took an extra five minutes to decide the winner, but ultimately the hosts prevailed in a 73-69 overtime thriller at the Fiserv Forum. 

With a game this close small things mattered and that was to Marquette’s advantage. The Golden Eagles were able to catch Wisconsin, who led for large stretches of the game, thanks to its free throw shooting. 

Marquette cooled off a bit in overtime, but the Golden Eagles hit 22-34 from the free throw line compared to UW’s 10-21 performance at the line. 

It was a good thing for Marquette, because they struggled to shoot from the field overall. Wisconsin’s defense clamped down most of the night and Marquette shot just 35 percent (23-65) from the field. 

Wisconsin shot 50 percent (27-54) from the field in the loss and even Ethan Happ setting a new career high with 34 points wasn’t enough for Wisconsin to overcome its bad free throw shooting. 

Marquette’s star player, Markus Howard, was held to just 7-29 shooting from the field. However he offset that with an incredible 11-13 night from the free throw line in putting up 27 points to lead all Golden Eagles in scoring. 

The hosts got off to the hotter start, thanks to early turnovers from the Badgers. However, hot was a relative term for the half because Marquette was never able to get a bigger lead than four points in the half thanks to its lack of efficiency from the field. 

Six straight points by sophomore forward Nate Reuvers gave the Badgers their first lead immediately following Marquette going up by four at 17-13 with 10:36 to play in the half. 

Reuvers run helped spark a larger 14-5 run that gave UW its largest lead of the half at five points (27-22) with 4:09 to play. 

Howard would stop the run and score eight of Marquette’s final 10 points of the half. The final of those came on a layup with a second left to play and put Marquette down by just one point at 32-31. 

The second half was all about Happ and fouls. On the one hand, Marquette couldn’t stop Happ and on the other hand, Wisconsin couldn’t stay out of foul trouble or hit free throws to keep pace with Marquette. 

Happ poured in 10 of Wisconsin’s first 14 points to give the Badgers a pair of six-point leads. 

Marquette continued to struggle shooting the ball, but they hit 7 of 7 free throws in the first eight minutes to mitigate anything the Badgers were able to do on the other end of the court. 

It led to the Golden Eagles cutting UW’s lead from 47-41 with 14:16 to play all the way down to 47-45 with 12:05 to play in the game. 

Marquette would eventually re-take the lead for the first time since just over 6:30 was left in the first half on a Theo John lay-in to go up 52-51 with 5:56 to play in the game. 

It was all part of an 11-4 run by the Golden Eagles. 

The two bitter rivals were tied 10 times in the game and saw 13 lead changes, most of it coming over the final five minutes of play. 

But, all the effort led to just a 61-61 tie to end regulation. 

Marquette got the job done in overtime on the defensive end, as the Badgers could muster only two made field goals and couldn’t stay out of foul trouble either. 

Ironically, UW was really only able to stay close thanks to finally making some free throws. The Badgers went 4 of 7 from the free throw line in overtime, but it just wasn’t enough to overcome some big moments by the hosts. 

The game completely turned as UW sophomore guard Brad Davison was called for a Flagrant 1 foul as he appeared to low blow Sam Hauser who was attempting to screen for his teammates with the score just 65-63 in overtime. 

However, Marquette made both free throws to make it 67-63 and a two possession game thanks to Davison’s ill-timed decision. The Golden Eagles weren’t able to fully capitalize though, as the ensuing return of possession resulted in a missed three-pointer. 

But, the flip of the game from a two to four-point lead for Marquette made all the difference. Wisconsin found itself having to scramble and make up for the needed extra possession the rest of the way and never found a way to do it. 

Wisconsin has now lost three of the last four in this series and are just 1-2 in this game under head coach Greg Gard. 

Savannah State is up next for the Badgers on Dec. 13 at the Kohl Center. Tip is scheduled for 7pm CT and can be seen on BTN. 

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Badgers Basketball Preview: Marquette edition

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It’s been a busy and competitive past few weeks for the No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers. Things won’t get any less competitive on Saturday afternoon as I-94 rival Marquette awaits.

 This series has been crazy over the last decade, with six of the last eight games won by the team on the road. It’s the first matchup in Marquette’s new home at the Fiserv Forum, so will the trend continue on from the Bradley Center or will something new start? 

Wisconsin has won four games away from home already this season, one of just seven teams to do such on the year. That total also matches the total from all of last season. 

But, Marquette has shown an ability to protect its house and play at a pace that could make the Badgers uncomfortable. Who wins on Saturday? 

We’ll all find out starting at 4pm CT on FOX, but let’s take a look at the matchup too. 

No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers

Record: 8-1 (2-0 B1G)
Head Coach: Greg Gard, 4th year at Wisconsin & overall (65-37 UW and overall)
Notable: Ethan Happ is averaging 17.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists on the season. He’s the only player in the country to average over 17 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists and if he can hang on to those averages he’d be the only player to do it over the past 20 years. 

Probable Starters:

G – D’Mitrik Trice – 17.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.4 apg
G – Brad Davison – 8.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.4 apg
F – Khalil Iverson – 5.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.2 apg
F – Nate Reuvers – 6.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.9 apg
C – Ethan Happ – 17.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 5.0 apg

Marquette Golden Eagles (They haven’t changed their nickname this year, right?)

Record: 7-2 (0-0 Big East)
Head Coach: Steve Wojciechowski, 5th season overall (80-61)
Notable: Fiserv Forum has been kind to the Eagles so far this year, as the opposition are averaging just 58.5 points per game in the new digs, compared to 66.4 points per game over all games this year. Opponents have combined to shoot just 34.0 percent from the floor in the new arena and just 29.0 percent from behind the 3-point line as well. 

Probable Starters:

G – Markus Howard, Jr. – 22.4 pgg, 4.6 rpg, 4.8 apg 
F – Sam Hauser, Jr. – 14.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.1 apg
F – Joey Hauser, Fr. – 10.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.4 apg
F – Sacar Anim, Jr. – 7.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.7 apg
C – Theo John, So. – 6.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.2 apg 

Matchup to Watch: D’Mitrik Trice vs. Marquette defense

Wisconsin fans keep thinking eventually Trice is going to have a horrible day from beyond the arc and then what happens to the team? Well, so far this year Trice has been unreal. 

The sophomore point guard is leading the nation in 3-point field goal percentage, shooting 60.0% (30-for-50) from long range. His 3.3 3FGs per game also ranks 3rd in the Big Ten. The sophomore guard entered the season with a career high of 16 points, but has already topped that in 5 of the first 9 games this season. 

Marquette is going to be tall challenge for Trice though — something he hasn’t faced much this season. The length of the defense that MU can throw at you can be tricky to deal with, especially considering Trice is 4 inches shorter than anyone on the MU starting roster. 

Watching to see how the Badgers attempt to get away from that length on the perimeter is going to be interesting. Do they use Happ as a decoy and allow Trice, Davison and others to shoot from beyond the arc with a collapsing defense or do they go with a pick-and-roll style? 

As long as UW finds a way to allow Trice to take more than a few triples on the afternoon, I’d expect a productive game from the star guard. 

Prediction:

Wisconsin 72, Marquette 64

What better revenge for last season’s butt-kicking than to kick off the Fiserv Forum era in this matchup than with a win? You can bet last season’s 82-63 loss at the Kohl Center is fresh in the minds of UW and they’ll be highly motivated to prove last season was a fluke. 

Marquette is a matchup that can give the Badgers all sorts of fits, as we saw last year. But, with a healthy Trice and Kobe King, this Badgers team just plays with more confidence and more efficiency on both ends of the court. 

Look for the Badgers to edge Marquette thanks to a more disciplined style of play and fewer mistakes. Markus Howard is likely to get his buckets, but UW has been great at not allowing more than one guy to hurt them on the scoring front and I expect that to happen again today. 

Season Prediction Record: 9-0 

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Badgers guard Trevor Anderson undergoes season-ending knee surgery

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The Wisconsin Badgers 2018-19 roster got a bit thiner on Thursday morning as the program announced that sophomore point guard Trevor Anderson will miss the rest of the season. 

He will undergo knee surgery on his right knee, which he already has had a previous surgery on. 

The UW Sports Medicine staff was seen working on Anderson’s knee after he left the game against Iowa. 

“We wish Trevor all the best and he’ll have our full support as he goes through his surgery and rehab,” head coach Greg Gard said in a statement. “We look forward to having him back on the court with us in the future.”

Anderson, a transfer from Green Bay, had appeared in all eight of the games prior to his injury and had totaled 13 points, nine rebounds and three assists in those eight games. 

He was the primary backup to UW’s star point guard D’Mitrik Trice. That job will now fall to freshman Tai Strickland. He hasn’t played a ton to date, but is likely to get more playing time should Trice need rest or the Badgers don’t slide Brad Davison out to the point guard in a shifting lineup scenario. 

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