Wisconsin basketball: Final regular season review

Author: Zack Cherney

MADISON- The Badgers finished their brutal regular season with three-straight games against ranked opponents which put their final total for the season at 11, which is the most games against AP Top 25 teams in school history. Just like many of their previous games against powerful opponents their last three games matched the trend.   

Record: 16-9

The final home game for the Badgers came on Saturday, Feb. 27 against a top-five Illinois team which made easy work of the Badgers in their previous matchup. Although this was not a blowout, Illinois was still able to come away with a 74-69 victory to sweep the season series. Despite the sad truth that multiple long stretches without scoring are expected from the Badgers, it was a shock to see how early their first one came. At the 18:57 mark, Nate Reuvers made a rare basket to make it a 2-2 game. Sadly their first drought began immediately after that and lasted until Micah Potter drained a three at 12:45. In the 6:10 between those two made shots Illinois went on an 11-0 run to make it a 13-2 lead. The comparison of the team numbers is staggering. Illinois was 6-8 (75%) from the field, Wisconsin was 1-15 (6.7%). Illinois had 12 rebounds, Wisconsin only had four. Illinois had 5 assists, Wisconsin laid a goose egg. Seven minutes into the game and the Badgers were making an embarrassment of themselves in every category. After Illinois’ lead was stretched to 22-10 the tables turned and the Badgers went on a 10-0 run to pull within two with five and a half minutes to go before halftime. They had suddenly taken control and had the chance to take the lead before heading to the locker room. Not quite unexpectedly, they were unable to keep it going in any capacity, and in the final five and a half minutes Illinois went on a 15-6 run and went into halftime up 37-26. The second half was a consistently dominant all-around performance by Illinois, who held onto a double-digit point lead for the majority of the half. With 2:53 to go Illinois was up 60-47, then D’Mitrik Trice showed up. In the final 2:16, Trice scored 19 points on 5-5 from behind the arc and 4-4 from the free-throw line. 19 points in 2:16 are video game numbers, but every shot Trice put up found a way through the net. All of a sudden Illinois lead was shaved down to 70-69 with eight seconds left. Thanks to perfect free-throw shooting in the final couple of minutes, Illinois was able to fend off the Badgers in a nailbiter. The result could have been a bit different. After two made free throws by Illinois to push the lead to 72-69 there were only about five seconds for Trice to work his magic. There was a high likelihood Illinois would foul to keep Trice from putting up a shot, but if that was the case Trice should have held onto the ball and put up a deep three with the chance of getting fouled and being put on the line with a chance to tie. For some reason, Trice didn’t do any of those, instead, he passed it up to Trevor Anderson, who had an open look for a three but passed it up and dribbled inside the arc where he was fouled. To pour salt all over the wound Anderson missed both free throws and sealed the game. It was a high-pressure moment, but what was running through the heads of these two may never be known. There are plenty of questions about the final seconds, but the questions began much earlier with why they failed to take advantage of the massive number of mistakes by Illinois. Great teams like Illinois are not going to make a lot of mistakes so when they do it is necessary to get points out of it. Illinois turned the ball over 20 times, a remarkably high number, but the Badgers were only able to score off eight of those 20 for 19 points. On the other side, Illinois was able to score off of five of Wisconsin’s eight turnovers for nine points. The goal is to score more points than turnovers which Illinois did on a small number, but when given gift after gift Wisconsin failed to be as efficient. In the first half, the Badgers scored on the first and ninth turnovers they got but went scoreless on the seven in between. So many chances to make Illinois pay early on were squandered. Another area of concern was second-chance points from offensive rebounds. Illinois had seven offensive rebounds and Wisconsin 11. Illinois scored 12 points from those seven and Wisconsin only scored five off of their 11. Failure to take advantage of these opportunities cost the Badgers time and time again in this game. The two bright spots from this game were the performances of Trice and Potter. Trice finished with 29 points on 6-9 from the three-point range and 5-6 from the line. Potter came off the bench to record 15 points on 5-12 shooting and 3-3 from the line as well as a team-leading six rebounds. The other four starters combined for 15 points, which is incredibly disappointing, but even with their struggles, they were able to hang with Illinois at the end. A five-point loss after so many painful blowout losses is a welcome sight. 

Takeaways: 

Good – Trice went off in the final two minutes. 

Bad – Unable to take advantage of turnovers and offensive rebounds.

Record: 16-10

The second to last game of the regular season was the most likely chance for a win in their final stretch as they took on No. 23 Purdue, but that chance was put in the shredder. Purdue came away with a 73-69 win that pushed them up in the Big Ten standings. This was a must-win game for the Badgers because they have been on the most difficult stretch in school history. With Iowa as their final opponent, they hoped to stay away from getting to 10 losses for a few more days. The way the game started it appeared the Badgers were hungry for a much-needed victory. At the 14:50 mark of the first half, Micah Potter knocked down a three to put the Badgers up 13-5. If there is one thing that this season has shown it is that no lead is safe. Over the next 7:34, Purdue was able to capitalize on some stale offense by Wisconsin. They went on a 13-2 run and took an 18-15 lead. Just like that Purdue had the lead. What made that stretch so painful was the help Wisconsin gave to Purdue. Up until the 9:22 mark Purdue had only gone on a 6-2 run, but the next two minutes saw Wisconsin turn the ball over three times, all of which resulted in points for Purdue. When given gifts the Boilermakers gladly accepted them. As the first half progressed Purdue was able to hang on to a lead which at 2:22 reached seven but was whittled down to two at halftime. If the second half was given a title like the chapter of a book it would have a couple of F words. Fouls and free throws. In the first 4:32, Wisconsin committed three fouls resulting in three made free throws for Purdue; Purdue committed four fouls resulting in one made free throw for Wisconsin. In just over four and a half minutes, the two teams committed a combined seven fouls which is an absurd amount. Yes, there is always the possibility the referees were calling any contact a foul, but either way, it is a lot. Even crazier, it was not even the most embarrassing stretch. At 14:52, Wisconsin made a basket to make it 40-39. 20 seconds later at 14:32, Purdue made a basket to retake the lead at 42-40. Then it fell apart for both teams. Over the next 6:59, Wisconsin and Purdue both committed six fouls. Purdue shot 4-6 from the line whereas Wisconsin shot 10-12. 18 total attempted free throws in seven minutes in the middle of the second half. Instead of playing smart basketball, it turned into a free throw fest. In that stretch, Purdue was able to do what their counterparts could not: score baskets. Along with the four made free throws Purdue made three buckets, but the 10 points from free throws were the only points the Badgers could put on the board. The next Badger bucket came at 7:32, 7:18 after their last one, to tie the game at 52. Thankfully, despite their inability to make shots, the Badgers were able to take advantage of the majority of their time on the uncontested shots line. The final minutes consisted of an unnecessary amount of three-pointers, missed two-pointers and too much wasted time ultimately leading to a disappointing loss for Wisconsin. 40 combined fouls and 47 combined free-throw attempts made for an ugly and frustrating game for both sides, but the Badgers’ failures extended much further past their 21 fouls. All season-long rebounds have proven to be a sore spot. For some reason, the Badgers are extremely lazy on defense which was the case again against Purdue where they were outrebounded 26 to 17 on the defensive glass. Most would assume Wisconsin did not stand a chance in the points off defensive rebounds column of the stat sheet, a stat which oddly enough is not popular. Purdue only scored after seven of their 26 rebounds resulting in 16 points, Wisconsin scored after eight of their 17 rebounds resulting in 17 points. Despite failing to get defensive rebounds, the Badgers were still able to do more off of them which is really interesting. One area that did not have a positive hidden within a negative was points off turnovers. Purdue turned the ball over 10 times, Wisconsin scored off three of those for seven points. Wisconsin turned the ball over six times, Purdue scored off four of those for eight points. Once again the team with less of a chance to get take-away points made the most of it more often than the team with the best chances. The Badgers have shown they are capable of taking advantage of opponents’ mistakes, (look at their last game against Northwestern) yet they consistently fail to do so against any relatively good team. It really raises the question of their confidence in themselves and their playing ability. Their three-point shooting also needs to be addressed. After starting the game 3-3, they reverted back to their struggles and went 4-26 the rest of the game. Their reliance on the three is head-scratching especially considering the fact that they shot 16-28 (57%) from inside the arc. At some point, a coach has to tell them not to spend any more time from behind the arc. It does not help the team to waste time where they struggle the most. All was not lost with this game though. The team morale got a boost when five Badgers finished with double-digit points including D’Mitrik Trice who had 10, Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter and Aleem Ford all had 11 and Brad Davison led the team with 15. This is a good team, they just don’t utilize their strengths. This game should not have resulted in an extremely long review littered with criticism, but the Big Ten tournament is coming up and these mistakes need to be addressed. 

Takeaways: 

Good – Five Badgers finished with double-digit points.  

Bad – Not playing smart basketball. 

Record: 16-11

The Badgers came into the final game of the season against No. 5 Iowa as major underdogs, but they fought tooth and nail until the end. Unfortunately, as the final buzzer sounded for the regular season, Iowa came away with a 77-73 win. This was the 11th game against a ranked opponent, which is the most in school history, and with this loss, the Badgers ended with a 2-9 record in those 11 games. Although they lost so many, they kept the games close. Four of their last five such games were within eight points, which is impressive considering how many categories they have really struggled with. In the first half, the Badgers were only down 9-10 at the 13:38 mark, but over the next 4:39, Iowa went on a 12-1 run stretching their lead to 11. Wisconsin was able to pull within three at 20-23, but Iowa was able to hold on to a nine-point lead going into halftime. The second half was easily one of the best halves of the season. At the 17:44 mark, Iowa went up 42-30, but after that, Wisconsin turned on the jets and made bucket after bucket to take a 49-48 lead with a Brad Davison three at 12:04. A 19-6 run in favor of the Badgers is unheard of this season, yet it happened and they were giving Iowa a run for their money. The two teams battled back and forth for a couple of minutes and then all of sudden both teams dried up. At 8:27 Iowa tied the game at 56 apiece, but the next bucket was not scored until 5:12 for the Badgers and 4:55 for Iowa. Another rare stretch where not only were the Badgers struggling, but so were their opponents. The final four minutes were some of the most stressful minutes of the season. With 2:32 to go, Jonathan Davis hit a corner three to go up four at 69-65. With 54 seconds left, Jonathan Davis came up clutch once more with two huge free throws to put the Badgers up 71-70. Then, the wheels fell off. With 46 seconds left, Tyler Wahl was called for a petty foul which gave him his fifth foul and put Connor McCaffery on the line for Iowa. He made the first one to tie it at 71, then the biggest moment of the game occurred. McCaffery missed the second free throw and Aleem Ford, in for Wahl who fouled out, failed to react leading to an offensive rebound for Keegan Murray of Iowa. The Marquette game should have taught the Badgers the importance of boxing out. This is where the referees decided to swing the game in favor of Iowa. On the Iowa possession following the offensive rebound, Jordan Bohannon attempted a three and he missed. Sadly, the refs called a foul on D’Mitrik Trice, his fifth and final foul, on the three even though he was walking away from Bohannon! He connected on all three and gave Iowa a three-point lead with 34 seconds to go. Somehow it got even more frustrating. On the Badgers’ next possession, Keegan Murray was called for a foul on Brad Davison, but the referees went to the monitor for no reason and called a ridiculous foul on Davison as well. Davison got to shoot his two free throws and made both, but Iowa also got to shoot two free throws and made both, but the foul on Davison not only gave Iowa free throws, but it also gave them possession. On the inbound, Ford was able to grab enough of the ball to get a jump ball call which gave Wisconsin the possession with 18 seconds left. Unfortunately, the Badgers rushed the shot, missed and ultimately gave the game to Iowa. Badger fans should be furious about the events of the final minute because they failed to get the easy rebound, and then the referees made questionable calls that made it impossible for Wisconsin to pull off the upset. Nevertheless, in a game where nobody gave Wisconsin good odds to win, they played excellent in the second half and put themselves in a position to win. Offensively, as usual, Wahl, Reuvers and Ford were practically non-existent with a combined 15 points. On the positive side, the Brad Davison that Badger fans are used to seeing finally made an appearance as he put up 15 points, five rebounds and four assists. Davison needs to get going because he is highly talented, but he has wasted it on terrible shots all season so to see this kind of performance is encouraging. Additionally, Micah Potter finished the regular season with another spectacular performance. He shot 9-12 from the field including 4-6 from behind the arc for 23 points. The season Potter has had, especially since coming off the bench, has been special to watch. In a season of pain, it has been nice to see at least one guy playing consistent basketball. Moving into the Big Ten tournament and March Madness, it will be crucial for Potter to play well, but even more so to have multiple strong performers each game whether it be Trice, Davis or one of the several who have been struggling. This game, despite the additional tally in the loss column, showed this team can play with the best of them and maybe they can prevail as a dark horse.  

Takeaways: 

Good – Played smart basketball in the second half.

Bad – Racked up 21 fouls.

In the AP Poll, the Badgers dropped from No. 23 to No. 25 but then in the final regular-season poll, they dropped out of the Top 25 for the only time.  

Looking ahead, the Badgers will continue their gauntlet through the Big Ten with the Big Ten Tournament which begins Wednesday, March 10 in Indianapolis. They are the six seed and will play either Nebraska or Penn State. If they win their first game, Wisconsin will have a redemption game against Iowa.