There is always talk about how Wisconsin basketball doesn’t get enough respect, and for good reason. It seems every season sports writers, analysts and talking heads pick the Badgers to finish somewhere in the middle or bottom half of the Big Ten. But somehow, Bo Ryan and his time-tested methods bring the Badgers to the top tier of the Big Ten and to the NCAA tournament.
In a young season that has already seen the Badgers ranked as high as No. 7 in the polls, Wisconsin has tripped up lately in two back-to-back losses. A loss to North Carolina and a rare home loss against Marquette have many people questioning their stance on the Badgers this season and what the rest of the year holds for them.
It seemed like there were two schools of thought going into the season. The first was that the Badgers were well deserving of the preseason rankings and that Bo would once again turn out a great squad despite losing three starters from last year to graduation – and Jordan Taylor would lead Wisconsin once again to a deep tournament run. The other view was that the Badgers were overrated. People questioned the Badgers’ depth on the bench, the lack of a dominant scoring forward and the team’s reliance on Jordan Taylor’s hot shooting on possessions with the shot clock winding down. Others simply questioned if the Badgers could consistently win shooting a high number of three pointers each game.
With two back-to-back losses, it seems easy to give in to the naysayers. The Marquette game saw Taylor commit five turnovers and record zero assists.
“Teams will key on Jordan Taylor,” the negative fan will say. “He doesn’t even have a real supporting cast to back him up. What happens when his shots aren’t falling? You can’t always rely on the senior to have a hot hand.”
“Shut your filthy mouth,” the optimist will respond. “If these two losses have taught us anything, it is the fact that Wisconsin’s defense can keep them in any ball game no matter how poorly they shoot. North Carolina is probably one of the most athletic teams in the nation next to Kentucky, and the Badgers held them to 60 points. Wisconsin only shot .359 from the floor and still managed to keep the game close.”
“Yes, but they lost,” the pessimist will retort. “You can’t rely on the three ball that much in your offense and expect to consistently win. Nobody can keep up the high shooting percentage from beyond the arc, not even the Badgers. If they don’t find a real post presence besides Berggren, they won’t be able to score consistently in the paint, and that’s the only real safety blanket you have when you’re shooting cold from the field.”
“It’s still early in the season,” the optimist will reply. “Kaminsky shows promise. Berggren can only get better. Brust is a great athlete and Gasser will get his shooting stroke going from three again. You can’t abandon a team after just two games. Basketball is a long season; there will be ups and downs, peaks and valleys, highs and lows. It happens every year. All you can do is move on and learn from your defeats.”
Like the argument laid out above, there are some positives that can be drawn from the pair of losses. Wisconsin held both its high-scoring, ranked opponents well below their season averages for points – Marquette averaged 88 points, but Wisconsin held them to 60. North Carolina also averaged 88 points per game coming into the game against Wisconsin, yet the Badgers held them to 61.
While there were questions about Berggren coming into the season, the junior has largely shown a good feel for his talent, as the center averages 12 points and five rebounds per game. The big man is still shooting better than .350 from three, despite a rough outing against Marquette.
However, there is a point on the Badgers needing another scoring threat to emerge on the blocks. Besides Berggren, none of the Badger post players averages double figures.
Across the board, the Badgers don’t physically look much different on paper. Last year’s starting lineup included Tim Jarmusz (6-foot-6, 205 pounds), Keaton Nankivil (6-foot-8, 240 pounds) and Jon Leuer (6-foot-10, 228 pounds). Wisconsin replaced last year’s senior starters with Ryan Evans (6-foot-6, 210 pounds) Mike Bruesewitz (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) and Jared Berggren (6-foot-10, 235 pounds).
However, the new starters seem to be experiencing a bit of a learning curve as of late. During last week’s games, Wisconsin was outrebounded 26-39 against UNC and 28-41 against MU, giving up 16 offensive rebounds to the Golden Eagles.
Don’t worry about the Badgers. Bo Ryan is a great coach, and he has seen rough stretches before. As long as the Badgers continue to play solid defense, it seems logical that the team will continue to win games and make the strides necessary to improve in areas of concern and once again make the NCAA tournament as a high seed.
Nick is a senior majoring in History and English. Think Nick left out a major argument about the team? Think Nick is truly one of the pessimistic fans? He will never tell you, but he would be glad if you let him know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.