Author: Zack Cherney
MADISON- The Badgers entered the final two weeks of January with the hopes of improving to the point where they could prove they should still be in the Top 10 of the AP Poll. In these couple weeks, with smart basketball, they had a chance to go 4-0, instead, they went 2-2 and played some of their worst basketball of the season.
On Wednesday, Jan. 20 the Badgers came home to take on struggling Northwestern, where the Badgers were able to exploit their opponents’ weaknesses and come away with a convincing 68-52 victory. Struggling may be an understatement for this Northwestern team. They started the season 6-1 including a 79-65 win over Michigan State as well as a close 71-70 win over Ohio State the day after Christmas. Unfortunately for them, that is where the fun ended. They then went on to play six straight games against ranked Big Ten opponents where they went on a painful 0-6 losing streak, the last being to the Badgers. Northwestern had to endure one of the toughest stretches in all of college basketball. The Badgers, on the other hand, were also coming off a painful loss to Michigan on the road. Oddly enough, coming into this matchup each team had lost to a strong Big Ten opponent by 23 points. The Badgers, despite their loss, had fared much better in several of the games prior so the Badgers had a major advantage. At the halfway point in the first half, the Badger already had a comfortable 10 point lead at 25-15. Northwestern eventually pulled to within four, proving that they were not going to go away easily. At halftime, the Badgers held onto a seven-point lead up 41-34. After a decently high scoring first half, both offenses seemed to sputter in the second half. History repeated itself early in the second half with the Badgers. They got the ball to start the half and on their first possession, Tyler Wahl scored a bucket and was able to make it a three-point play. After those three points, the Badgers did not score again until the 14:18 mark, a scoring drought of 5:29. They then turned things around and went on a 12-0 run over the next 3:51. Despite the several minute scoring droughts for the Badgers, their opponents were in the same boat as Northwestern struggled to keep their head above water. A 10-0 run for the Badgers between the 5:49 and 4:15 marks pretty much drowned any hope of a comeback as the Badgers recorded their largest lead of 21. In the second half, the Badgers only put up 27 points, but Northwestern was even worse at only 18. The Badgers had four of their five starters record double-digit point totals (Micah Potter: 10; Brad Davidson: 11; D’Mitrik Trice: 12; Tyler Wahl: 14). Tyler Wahl has been a huge sensation as he moved into the starting role following the struggles of Nate Reuvers. Wahl played 30 minutes, went 5-7 including 2-3 from behind the arc, for six rebounds and 14 points. Despite the scoring droughts, the Badgers played like the Top 10 team that they are supposed to be and not the average team which they played like recently.
Good – Made it to double-digit three-pointers (10) for the fourth time this season.
Bad – Scoring droughts plagued their second half.
The Badgers faced off against another ranked Big Ten team on Sat. Jan. 23, where they stayed at home to battle it out against No. 15 Ohio State, but the Badgers appeared to get severely bogged down in the battleground as they lost 74-62. The usual areas of concern for the Badgers beat them bad again and it started very early on. In the first four minutes, the Badgers had attempted six shots, four of which were three-pointers and they were only able to make one of those shots. After seven minutes of the first half had elapsed, OSU had taken a commanding 13-5 lead as they were able to convert from inside the arc while the Badgers continued to shoot, and miss, from behind the arc. In the final five minutes of the first half, the Badgers went 1-5 from three-point range, but as they went into halftime, the OSU lead had been cut to 32-25. Most teams would notice that they need to work more from inside the arc after going 3-15 (20%) from three-point range, but they did not. The second half started off similar to the first half and it seemed as if the Badgers were doomed as OSU broke out to a 51-38 lead at the 13:12 mark, but the Badgers went on a 9-2 run over the next three minutes to make it a 53-47 game. The game really took a turn for the better for the Badgers when Aleem Ford made three from behind the arc in the span of two minutes. By the time Ford sank the third of those threes, the Badgers had snuck to within four at 62-58. Unfortunately, this is where the comeback came to a screeching halt. Over the final 4:37 OSU went on a 12-4 run where the Badgers went 1-6 from the field including 0-4 from the three-point range as well as 2-6 from the free-throw line. To add to the struggle they turned the ball over three times in that span. The Badgers were on the brink of pulling out a spectacular comeback win, but instead, every aspect of their game fell apart in the final minutes. As stated earlier, the Badgers spent almost just as much time from behind the arc in the second half as they went 4-13 and finished 7-28 (25%) overall. Looking at the hard numbers it screams for the Badgers to work inside the arc. Behind the arc, the Badgers went 7-28 (25%) whereas inside the arc they were 16-29 (55%). If they had spent more time working near the paint, they would have had no real trouble pulling out the victory, but instead, they continued to ignore the hard numbers and try for more than they needed which put them in a hole from the very beginning. They also faltered in the major area of free-throw shooting. In a game that was a struggle from the first minute, not performing well in the section of free points by missing six is just adding salt to the wound. The same mistakes are made game after game, but if they pay attention to where they are successful they will dominate.
Good – Played smart in their second-half comeback.
Bad – Spent more time than they should have from three-point range.
Following a forgettable game against OSU, the Badgers looked for redemption in their second game of the season against Maryland. This time the Badgers went into enemy territory and were able to come away with a hard-fought 61-55 win. The Badgers started off as good as they could have hoped as at the 12:41 mark of the first half they had pulled out to a 14-4 lead. This large early lead was in large part due to the stale offense of Maryland who after making their second bucket to get to four points went on a drought of 6:02. The Badgers continued their dominance throughout the rest of the first half, as they finished by going on a 14-4 run in the final 3:12 to head into halftime with a 38-20 lead. Their 18 point lead at halftime is their fourth-largest halftime lead of the season. The last game where Wisconsin led by more was their third game of the season against Green Bay, where they led by 22. Just when Badger fans had a glimmer of hope that this struggling team might have a runaway victory it was ripped away. The Badgers were unable to tally their first points of the second half until 4:19 had passed, and by that time Maryland had gone on an 8-0 run and made it a manageable game for them. After a three-pointer from Aleem Ford a few seconds later, the Badgers went on another drought of 3:21 which was just enough time for Maryland to go on a 9-0 run pulling them within three at 43-40. A 20-5 run for Maryland is exactly what the Badgers were hoping to avoid, but in the matter of a few minutes, an incredibly steep climb for Maryland turned into a level playing field. The tables had turned, but just as quickly they turned again, and over the next 4:25 the Badgers went on a 14-2 run to make it a 57-42 lead. It might be an understatement to say the Badgers are a streaky team, they either score a lot or go on a drought, there does not appear to be any in-between. After pulling ahead to a 15 point lead with 7:05 remaining the thought of a comeback by Maryland would not cross the minds of many, but nonetheless, it happened. In the final seven minutes, Maryland went on a 13-4 run where the only points from the Badgers were four made free throws by D’Mitrik Trice, the first of which came 6:17 after their last points (0:48 remaining). Based on the amount of time the Badgers went without scoring, Maryland should have come back to win but turnovers and fouls kept giving the ball back to the Badgers, interfering with any run they hoped to get on. Despite a second half where three major scoring droughts added up to 13:57, almost 70 percent of the half, and only being able to put up 23 points, tied for their lowest-scoring half of the season(First half against Michigan), the Badgers were still able to claim victory. The biggest impact came from Micah Potter who has been a consistently big impact player, and he recorded yet another double-double in a huge game. In only 23 minutes he went 8-12 from the field including 4-6 from three-point range, which resulted in 23 points as well as dominating the glass with 12 rebounds. It is not often a player averages a point per minute. This is the definition of consistent and reliable. A second notable performance came from Trice, who is hailed almost every game for his amazing performance. Although he only went 4-14 from the field, he was still able to put up 13 points and recorded eight rebounds. To make matters even better they made double-digit free throws (10) for the fifth time this season and were a perfect 7-7 (Potter: 3-3; Trice: 4-4) from the free-throw line. The Badgers continued to put the pressure on Maryland who should get a lot of credit for their attempted comeback, but ultimately their mistakes and the Badgers timely shooting made it impossible for them to sweep the season series.
Good – Never gave up, dominated outside of the scoring droughts.
Bad – Scoring droughts almost cost them the game.
Instead of starting January against Penn State, they finished the month by matching up against them on the road. Penn State has had a rough time of it this season whether it be losses as they came into this game 2-6 against Big Ten teams or health issues that caused them to postpone four straight games to start January. Even after all of that, they were able to go toe-to-toe with the Badgers and were able to come away with the highly unexpected upset with a score of 81-71. The Badgers have had a tough time proving they deserve to be ranked so high on the AP Poll, and after a loss to OSU and nearly blowing several double-digit leads to Maryland, they needed a clean win against a below average Penn State team. As the first half began, the two teams went back and forth as both of them traded the lead multiple times and by the halfway mark the Badgers only had a two-point lead. The two teams had a rare sequence where there were over two minutes there were seven straight possessions with a score which Penn State came out of with a 25-24 lead. By halftime, the Badgers held the lead, but against a team with a losing record, a 34-31 halftime score was not what the Badgers were expecting. Although it was not what the Badgers expected, it is not too far off what Penn State has seen during their five games in January before this one, which had an average difference of 6.8 points. As the second half started, Penn State made a statement. In the first three minutes, Penn State went on a 9-3 run where they took a 40-37 lead. After retaking the lead, they never looked back. The Badgers hung in it as they would trade basket for basket, but scoring and then immediately letting the other team score is a hard way to get close to taking the lead back. Penn State held onto a consistent lead between five and eight points, but as the clock continued to tick down into the final minutes it was clear only a miracle could get the Badgers back in the game. Even worse for them, they were forced to foul to keep the clock from going too far down which led to 12 made free throws for Penn State in the final 1:33 that ultimately put the game away. The Badgers kept at it as they scored in four straight possessions in the final minute, but it was too little too late. This was a game the Badgers should have won by double-digits, not the other way around, but when they continue to make the same bad choices they are likely to see similar bad results to their recent games. Before getting into the areas of criticism, there was a true bright spot that Badger fans could be extremely excited about: Their leading scorer was Nate Reuvers who in 23 minutes off the bench recorded 18 points. Reuvers was demoted to the bench due to an abysmal shooting season, and as the season gets into the really important games, it appears he might be getting back to the player Badger fans have loved over the past couple of years. Additionally, two starters who have had a hard time getting a consistent rhythm going had great performances. Tyler Wahl became the second Badger to record a double-double as in 32 minutes he put up 13 points and 10 rebounds. Aleem Ford also showed up as he was second in scoring with 15 points and brought in eight rebounds. Sadly though, that is where the praise ends. A strong performance by three struggling shooters does not go very far when the other three star starters only combine for 20 points. At some point already a coach or player for the Badgers should have noticed their horrible production from behind the arc and their great success from within and taken action. Instead, they go out of their way to make a sad home from behind the arc. They shot 7-28 from three which is a mediocre 25% and on the other side, they shot 22-38 from inside the arc which is an impressive 58%. Penn State although successful from inside the arc shot 53%, 5% less than the Badgers and they only made one more three than the Badgers. Had the Badgers spent more time inside the arc, their
chances of winning would most likely have gone up drastically because of all the time they spent missing from three and giving the ball back to Penn State without any points gives them the chance to make an easy two points on the other end and push the lead larger and larger. Their tendency to take nearly half of their shots from their worst range is the perfect example of insanity, doing the same thing and expecting different results. To add to the pain, the Badgers got into the time of desperation which placed Penn State in the position to get easy free points and they did just that. The Badgers went 6-8 from the line as Penn State played a smart game, and they were rewarded by making 19 of their 25 shots from the line. As soon as the Badgers were forced to foul, the game went too far out of their control. The final area which deserves plenty of attention is turnovers. In the case of the Badgers, all of their missed three’s should be put in the turnover column, but as of the actual mistakes which go in that column the Badgers racked up 12, double the amount committed by Penn State. The Badgers ended their second full month of the season by losing to a losing team because they have not evened out their rough areas.
Good – Got guys going who have had a tough time lately.
Bad – Were forced to put Penn State on the free throw line too much.
In the AP Poll, the Badgers fell from No. 9 to No. 10 but then in the most recent poll, they went down four from No. 10 to No. 14.
Looking ahead, the Badgers will start February by playing their second straight game against Penn State(6-7) only this time they will face off in Madison on Tuesday, Feb. 2. The Badgers get to look for redemption immediately. Following that game, they start a road trip against No. 19 Illinois(11-5) for the first of two games against each other in February. They will stay on the road to play Nebraska(4-8), who the Badgers beat by 14 in late December.