Offense — B-
The magic number for the Badgers has been 60 this season. Wisconsin’s record in games in which the team scores 60 points or more is an impressive 15-2, compared to 2-7 in the games the squad has scored less than that amount.
Both of UW’s wins this past week came thanks to steady offensive production in the Michigan game and timely scoring during its contest with Iowa. The Badgers actually outshot the Wolverines this past Saturday, shooting 43.9 percent from the field.
The Badgers once again relied heavily on the three, shooting a combined 49 attempts from beyond the arc, making 17 of them for a 35 percent conversion rate. The reliance on the three almost cost Wisconsin in its double-overtime win against Iowa, highlighted by senior forward Mike Bruesewitz’s 0-for-6 shooting performance from deep.
But the team has displayed a recent renewal in attacking the paint, getting increased touches to redshirt fifth-year seniors Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans on the blocks. The aggressiveness has paid off, mainly because of the athletic prowess of the pair, forcing doubles from both the Hawkeyes and Wolverines.
Although at times the offense went through prolonged droughts that almost cost them both games, the move toward balancing the offense with an added emphasis of attacking down low has helped to free up open Wisconsin looks from all over the floor.
Also of note, the team went 1-for-1 on 45-foot heaves this past week. So, they have that going for them, which is nice.
Defense — B+
Michigan’s Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are the type of players who can make even the strongest defenders look silly by regularly sinking shots with a hand in their face. Such was the case when Hardaway hit a three-pointer with little more than two seconds on the clock despite a lockdown defensive possession from Bruesewitz.
Hardaway had an efficient 8-of-17 night from the field and finished with 18 points, while Burke, the Batman to Hardaway’s Robin, scored 19 on 8-of-21 shooting. Sophomore guard Traevon Jackson defended Burke for much of the game and kept him to only seven points in the opening half. The Wolverines’ star point guard took over the way elite players do for certain stretches of the second half, but when guarding a player of Burke’s caliber, it’s about limiting the damage as opposed to fully taking him out of the game.
Similar defensive play against Iowa was critical to the Badgers pulling off the victory over Iowa Wednesday night. While the Hawkeyes lack the athletically gifted players of Michigan, star forward Aaron White managed only 30 percent shooting from the field and 13 points. Iowa shot less than 34 percent as a team and a dismal 21.7 percent from three-point land, allowing UW to earn a victory despite an equally ineffective night shooting the ball.
Starters — B
Besides junior guard Ben Brust, who was just named co-Big Ten Player of the Week, and Berggren, the Badgers’ starting five on offense were far from perfect at times this past week.
Sure, Evans had a combined 26 points in the last two games, but his efficiency and shot selection were less than stellar. Evans made just one 15-foot jumper while going a combined 10-for-29 from the field. The majority of Evans’ made baskets came from his renewed presence in the low blocks, posting up his defender and getting easy looks inside. Evans was also one of the Wisconsin starters who was much cleaner and aggressive in his cuts to the basket, not only helping lead to open looks but also freeing up outside looks.
Jackson was solid at the point, but still continued to struggle with limiting his turnovers, committing a combined 10 in the Badgers’ two wins compared to just nine assists.
Defensively, the group held Michigan to less than 40 percent shooting from the floor and Iowa to less than 35 percent. And although star UM players Burke and Hardaway got their points, almost every look was contested by UW’s starting lineup. Sometimes, good players just make shots — as seen by the three-pointer by Hardaway over Bruesewitz in the waning seconds of regulation.
Berggren played well, but aside from the explosive dunk against the Wolverines, he has still yet to put on a dominating offensive performance. Whether that’s because teams are doubling him or he draws attention away from the ball doesn’t matter, Berggren will still need to score more than the 11.9 points per game he averages down the stretch if Wisconsin hopes to win the conference for the first time since 2008.
Bench — C
In what is becoming an increasingly familiar tale, freshman forward Sam Dekker is turning into the one-man star of Wisconsin’s bench. He provided 14 critical first half minutes and actually led all scorers with nine points at the break, lighting a fire under his teammates each time he stepped onto the floor. Dekker’s defense still comes with an “under construction” sign in tow and his four turnovers — including an ill-advised behind-the-back bounce pass that rolled through the paint and out of bounds — speak to his youth.
Dekker also hit a timely three-pointer with 6 minutes, 19 seconds left to cut into the Wolverines six-point lead, their largest of the game. Sophomore forward Frank Kaminsky and freshman redshirt guard George Marshall were the only other non-starters to see the court, with Marshall sinking one of his two three-point tries.
It was those three players, and only those three, who came off the bench against Iowa and the group did not match its modest contributions against Michigan. Dekker only fired off four shots, finishing with five points and collected two rebounds. Marshall had a rough night, missing all four of his shots and going scoreless in 14 minutes of play.
With Berggren logging 43 minutes against the Hawkeyes, Kaminsky only saw six minutes of action but did convert a three-ball early in the second half.