Author: Zack Cherney
MADISON- The Badgers entered February on a skid where they have looked extremely lackluster. Based on their recent struggles, February looked rough from the start, as they faced Penn State, who they lost to at the end of January, Illinois who is one of the best teams in the country and a struggling Nebraska team that the Badgers already beat earlier in the season.
Following an embarrassing loss to Penn State to finish January, the two teams faced off to start February at the Kohl Center. This time the Badgers came away with a convincing 72-56 win. This was a game that gave the Badgers and their fans hope that the season might be getting back on track, as they were able to dominate in all of the areas that they struggle with game after game. These feelings came about when the final buzzer sounded because the first half was much too similar to the first half of their previous meeting. It was a back and forth half to start the game, in which the Badgers held on to the lead for the most part, but Penn State would usually respond quickly. The longest scoring drought of the game came in the first half and it only lasted 3:38, but it was a crucial 3:38 because it allowed Penn State to go on a 7-0 run and tie the game up at 25 apiece. To the fear of the Badgers, they were unable to hold the lead as Penn State took a 31-30 lead with 12 seconds remaining in the half, but Brad Davidson sank a three-pointer at the Buzzer and sent the Badgers into halftime with a 33-31 lead, a smaller lead at half than the previous game. To the delight of Badgers fans, Wisconsin dominated the second half from start to finish. The half started off with a 9-0 run by the Badgers in the first 4:06, and they never looked back. By the halfway mark of the second half, the Badgers were on a 24-9 run. Smart basketball led to an extremely efficient and consistent second half making the lead nearly impossible to eliminate by Penn State, as the Badgers were able to avoid long scoreless stretches. Wisconsin outscored Penn State 39-25 in the second half in a much needed stressless end to a game. As mentioned earlier, there were not any major scoring droughts which is one of the major areas of improvement, but some other areas are more obvious in the stat sheet. First of all, the Badgers went 9-18 (50%) from three-point range which is a huge improvement from their usual 25% or 30% because they’re spending around half of their shots from their weakest range. Instead of half, they only spent 35% of their time from three range and instead worked more inside the arc where they have thrived. After too many games of making bad shooting decisions, it was a welcomed change to see them driving closer to the basket where they are more successful. Additionally, the Badgers were able to record 36 rebounds compared to Penn State’s 28. Penn State brought down one more offensive rebound, but the defensive glass was won easily by the Badgers with nine. Each of their worst categories saw significant improvement. On the side of individual performance, there were several who had great performances including a couple who were in dire need of big games. Jonathan Davis, a star freshman who made a big name for himself early on the season that quieted down quite a bit once Big Ten play began, started off February with a bang. In 18 minutes, he went 6-7 including 4-4 from three-point range for 17 points. Another struggling presence is Brad Davidson, but he was finally able to get things going as he finished 3-6 from three-point range for 13 points and seven rebounds. Finally, Micah Potter was the third Badger to put up double-digit points with 12 as well as eight rebounds. It took longer than most had hoped to see a convincing win with all of the kinks smoothed out, but it was a great way to start the final full month of the regular season.
Good – Spent the majority of their time inside the arc.
Bad – Allowed 13 offensive rebounds.
After a great win where the Badgers seemed to have fixed all of their major problem areas, they traveled to Illinois where they lost 75-60 in a game where those problem areas were worse than ever before. This was a highly anticipated matchup as the Badgers were ranked No. 19 and Illinois was ranked No. 12, but the way this game shaped up it looked as though the Badgers should not have been ranked. Just under five minutes into the game, the Badgers were already down by nine, but throughout the half, the closest they ever got to catching up to Illinois was five. They would get close and then fall, and they went through the same cycle to the point where they got into the final seven minutes of the half, they could not get a flow going in which they had a chance to close the gap. In the final 7:09, Illinois went on a 16-8 run and went into the half leading the Badgers 36-23. The second half was a much more evenly matched competition. In the first few minutes, Illinois was able to stretch the lead to 16, but the Badgers battled back to make it only a seven point deficit with 12:33 remaining, plenty of time to make a push for a tie or take the lead. Unfortunately, over the next two and a half minutes Illinois was able to stretch the lead back to 12. Once again, the Badgers fought their way back to within seven with 8:28 remaining, but the cycle continued over the next two and a half minutes until Illinois went on a 7-0 run to make it a 14 point lead. The Badgers looked to make a comeback with plenty of time on the board but following a three-pointer by Davis with 3:27 remaining to make it an 11 point game, they stalled and weren’t able to post any more points until D’Mitrik Trice hit a three with five seconds remaining in the game. There are several stat lines that make it clear why the result was such a disaster. The first issue is one that most would not have assumed could somehow get worse: three-pointers. At the end of the first half, the Badgers were 0-9 from behind the arc and after not being able to make a single shot from behind the arc, a coach or player should have stepped up and said they need to move inside the arc as much as possible, which did not happen. In the second half, Wisconsin went 4-13 from three-point range giving them a total of 4-24 which is an abysmal 16.7%, their lowest total and percentage of the season. Trice was the only one who was able to record multiple threes as Potter and Davidson each went 0-5. It appears that someone on the Badgers has still not paid any attention to the vast differences between the results inside and outside the arc. This is apparent with this game as their shooting inside the arc was a spectacular 21-36 which is a dominant 58.3%. It is unclear why they have been ignoring numbers as important as these, but these upcoming games are going to be a dumpster fire if they continue down this road. Continuing with the disgraceful numbers, the Badgers’ rebounding was nearly nonexistent. Illinois finished with 46 rebounds, 11 of which were offensive, the Badgers finished with 19, two of which were offensive. That is a difference of 27 which in college basketball is the difference seen in games in which a top team plays a no-name team. When the opposing team absolutely dominates the glass it is suffocating because it is impossible to score when the ball is always in the hands of the other guys. There are a couple of bright spots though for the Badgers. D’Mitrik Trice, who was unable to get anything going against Penn State, went 9-18 from the field and recorded 22 points in 38 minutes. Off the bench, Nate Reuvers was able to record 11 points in 21 minutes. Winning also becomes a challenge when one starter and one bench player score 55% of the points and the other four starters are only responsible for 28%. In the span of two games, the Badgers were at complete opposite ends of the spectrum of success, but they need to take a long hard look at what they did against Illinois and make sure they never do it again. The Badgers have shown to be the strongest in the second half as they did in this game where the two teams were almost even, but when they get blown out in the first half, a strong second half is not enough to make up for the failures that put them so far behind early on.
Good – Forced 18 turnovers.
Bad – Got out-rebounded by 27.
The Badgers looked to rebound from a disgusting game against Illinois as they finished off a short road trip in Nebraska where the Badgers were able to redeem themselves and finish the season sweep with a 61-48 win. Although this was a big win, many of the same shooting issues made this game more difficult than it should have been. In the opening few minutes of the game the two teams went back-and-forth keeping it very close, but after a three by Brad Davidson at the 14:36 mark to make it a 14-10 game, their old friend the scoring drought made a visit. By the time they scored their next bucket, 6:19 had passed and Nebraska had gone on a 13-2 run. The only two points in that stretch were free throws, where Nebraska took a 23-19 lead. In that span of over six minutes, the Badgers went 0-8 and six of those eight were from behind the arc. Thankfully for the Badgers, their opponents were not much more consistent, as over the next 4:23 the Badgers were able to go on a 6-2 run to tie it up at 25 apiece. As Aleem Ford hit a rare three-pointer at the buzzer, he was able to send the Badgers to half with a 30-27 lead. Another close game against a bad team at halftime shows to what level the Badgers have been playing, but it is understandable why it is like that when they went 4-19 (21%) from behind the arc, an absolutely revolting number of three-point attempts at half time. It appeared both teams were still in the locker rooms for a while as the second half began because it took 3:12 for either team to put up second-half points which, ironically, was a three by the Badgers. By the 14:53 mark, the Badgers had started the half on a 9-2 run, making it a 39-29 lead. As the second half progressed the Badgers were able to score at a rather consistent rate; whereas, Nebraska struggled to get any points on the board. With five minutes remaining, Nebraska had a sudden burst of offense as they went on a 7-0 run over the next 1:21 to sneak within nine. There was a sense of panic which is common late in games for the Badgers this season, but any hope of a comeback following that burst was destroyed since Nebraska was only able to record two points in the final 3:39. The Badgers were able to pull away with a convincing win due to their strong second half and an extremely dull second half from Nebraska that only recorded 21 points. Although this was a rare double-digit win, the Badgers still found ways to make it unnecessarily difficult but were aided by Nebraska hurting themselves in even more ways. The first unbearable and infuriating story which has not seen any improvement is three-point shooting. Going 4-19 in the first half should not happen. Although their percentage got better in the second half with 5-13 (38.5%), it still was too many shots for a second-half blowout. The frustration rose to a new level when Brad Davidson took a three with 38 seconds left in the game when up by 14. Based on recent results from three the Badgers should not be shooting more than 15 a game, but instead, they more than doubled that suggested number. The final result was a ridiculously disappointing 9-32 (28.1%). What makes this such a struggle to express, is that their 32 three-point attempts are 51.6% of all shots they attempted. There is no excuse for attempting that many three-pointers when it has been obvious for months that they are dreadful from deep, and the only reason they should continue to make these choices is if they are the Badgers from 2014. To make matters worse, their shooting from inside the arc was not much better where they only went 11-30 (37%), when they usually are between 45-60%. Had they taken more shots from inside the arc, their percentage would have most likely gone up, but it seemed their confidence was lacking in any spot they chose to shoot from. Taking a look at the up-side, Nebraska turned the ball over 17 times, nine more than the Badgers, which resulted in 13 points for the Badgers. The biggest performance came once again from freshman Jonathan Davis who recorded 10 points in 18 minutes. Not a single starter reached double-digits but Aleem Ford, Brad Davidson and D’Mitrik Trice each recorded nine points. This was definitely more of a solid all-around game rather than a game that relied on just one guy which is really nice to see. Wisconsin needs more games where a bunch of guys have decent days, rather than one spectacular performance with a bunch of goose eggs. Once again the Badgers had to rely on a strong second half because excessive three-point attempts put them in trouble early on, but a win is a win and this was much needed.
Good – Contributions by the majority of the guys.
Bad – Took 51.6% of their shots from three-point range.
In the AP Poll, the Badgers fell from No. 14 to No. 19 but then in the most recent poll, they went down from No. 19 to No. 21.
Looking ahead, the Badgers will begin an extremely difficult final stretch which includes five games against ranked opponents out of their final six games. Their first of these ranked teams is No. 3 Michigan(13-1), who the Badgers will take on at the Kohl Center on Sunday, Feb. 14. This will be a redemption game for Wisconsin who lost to Michigan by 23 in mid-January. Following that game, the Badgers will stay at home to face off against No. 15 Iowa(14-6) which is their first of two matchups in the final few weeks of the season. Then they will head on the road to Northwestern(6-11), who the Badgers beat in January. This will be a crucial game for the Badgers to win because Northwestern has been on a downhill slide since they lost to Iowa at the very end of December that started their current 10-game losing streak.