Every week this season, Herald Sports will look back on the previous two games of the Wisconsin men’s basketball team and offer a report card on the Badgers’ performance.
Wisconsin, sitting with a lowly 1-3 Big Ten record about two weeks ago, continued its resurgence on Sunday, winning its fourth consecutive conference game, 67-63, over Illinois on the road.
Prior to that, Wisconsin dismantled a visiting Northwestern squad in the second half and pulled away to win big, 77-57.
The wins bumped the Badgers (16-5 overall) to just a half game outside of first place in the conference — with Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan all sporting a 5-2 mark — and earned UW a spot back in the rankings, resting at No. 25 in both the AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches’ Poll.
The Badgers hit the floor again Wednesday, as No. 16/17 Indiana stops by for a round at the Kohl Center.
Offense — 4.5 out of 5
Against the Wildcats and Illini, the Badgers managed to score north of the 61.4 points they average every conference game and maintained an efficient offense throughout all four halves of play.
Overall, Wisconsin converted 47.2 percent of its shots over the two games while hitting 46.7 percent from the arc.
After eight games in conference play, UW has hit just 33.3 percent of their three-pointers but against NU and IU, the Badgers hit at least 50 percent of their shots from downtown in three of four periods. Their most inefficient half of scoring came in the first period against the Illini, sinking 41.7 percent of all shots.
On top of that, UW divvied up the scoring equally against Northwestern, with four players scoring between 10 and 17 points.
The only downfall was Wisconsin’s puzzling feebleness at the free throw line. Traditionally a strength for the Badgers under head coach Bo Ryan, Wisconsin drained just 65.6 percent (21 of 32) of its charity tosses.
Defense — 4 out of 5
The Badger defense remained solid against its two most recent foes, holding the Wildcats below its conference scoring average (61.7) and stopping Illinois before it scored much more above it (64.4).
The shooting of Wisconsin’s opponents fluctuated by half, with Northwestern baking the Badger defense on 54.5 percent shooting in the first half and hitting 3-of-5 three-pointers. Things changed in the second, however, as the Wildcats cooled down to a 30.4 percent clip and hit 2-of-9 threes while the Badgers began to pull away.
The Illini’s exploits went the reversal, starting cold (34.5) and heating up (53.8). Although both teams had a turn at imposing their will on the UW defense, the Badger defenders minimized offensive rebounds (a total of nine allowed in the two games) and managed to keep teams’ offenses at bay nonetheless.
Furthermore, guard Josh Gasser bottled up Brandon Paul, who is second in the Big Ten with 18.9 points per game in conference play. Against Gasser, Paul mustered 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
Bench — 3.5 out of 5
The first half of the Northwestern game featured a back-and-forth affair and as the lead changed hands, it left little time for Ryan to dig deep into his bench until the second period. Nevertheless, reserve guard Ben Brust provided a nice amount of support with eight points, three rebounds and a steal in 23 minutes.
As Wisconsin broke away in that eventual 20-point win, UW’s bench ultimately put up 17 points to Northwestern’s one.
But the help increased against the Illini and came before the game had already been won. Brust grabbed four rebounds and with guard Rob Wilson combined for 14 points while Illinois’ reserves never contributed to the scoreboard.
One caveat remains, however: In just six minutes of play against the Illini, Wilson turned the ball over twice.
Player of the week — Jordan Taylor
Also the recipient of the latest Big Ten Player of the Week honor, guard Jordan Taylor averaged 17 points, 6 rebounds and 5.5 assists against the Wildcats and Illini.
The senior hit 41.7 percent of his field goals (10 of 24) during the two games, as well as 46.2 percent (6 of 13) from the perimeter and acted as a clutch outlet for the offense. Of his 34 points in the two games, 26 of them came in the second half, including 14 in a game decided by four points against Illinois.
Perhaps most impressively, Taylor’s ball security went completely unmatched. Despite playing a total of 76 minutes and holding the ball more than anyone else on the team, the point guard conceded just one turnover.