Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Fiammetta: Quality opponent doesn’t diminish UW’s mishaps

This year, the Badgers just haven’t fared well in the state of Michigan.

Thanks to SportsCenter and whatnot, that Hail Marry Horror from Kirk Cousins to Keith Nichol is still fresh enough to allow us to forgo a reminder here. On the hardwood, anyway, is where most of Wisconsin’s tribulations have occurred in the Great Lakes State.

Thursday night in East Lansing, Mich., Wisconsin rode a steady streak of momentum into the Breslin Center, where the Michigan State Spartans hadn’t lost in 16 consecutive opportunities. Winners of seven of their last nine, the Badgers also hadn’t played in a week, allowing a much-needed respite for a team fresh off two consecutive riveting Big Ten matchups.


The Spartans, though, had recently emerged as the trendy selection for best team in the Big Ten following their 10-point upset of Ohio State last week. Draymond Green staked a sizable claim in the Big Ten Player of the Year race, and MSU showed every sign of being a team not to be messed with. Not this time, not on their home floor.

Well, what happened then?

The simple answer is Michigan State ran Wisconsin out of the building in a 69-55 win that, in many respects, wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. MSU shot 52.2 percent from the field – thanks largely to 15 fastbreak points that came all in the first half – while UW was a far colder 34.0 percent. From 3-point range, where the Badgers have made clear all season long they live and die from, they were just 5-for-24 (20.8 percent). Jordan Taylor was limited to just 13 points on abysmal 3-for-13 shooting, and only two players (Rob Wilson and Frank Kaminsky) scored off the bench. That duo combined for seven points.

In games such as Thursday night’s, it inevitably – and typically, not before long – becomes clear Wisconsin has no chance at winning when its shots aren’t falling.

Well, sure. You’ll never win if you can’t hit shots. But the Badgers have a devastating propensity to cling to the 3-point arc as if the area inside it was painted with that imaginary lava elementary gym school teachers would dream up to keep their turbulent pack of kids at bay.

Moreover, they appeared to have learned their lesson against Ohio State nearly two weeks ago. When the Buckeyes invaded the Kohl Center for the most anticipated game of the year, the Badgers attempted 27 3-pointers and made just five. The result was an offense unable to muster any late-game production – when they knew that would be needed, no less, against a more talented team ranked third in the nation.

Alas, it was bombs away once again Thursday night, and once again there was very little combustion. At least this time, UW got to the foul line 14 times (hitting all of them). Against the Buckeyes, the Badgers attempted just three.

Wisconsin’s offense, always replete with big men who not only can shoot but also deftly move their feet, inherently brings its post players away from the hoop. This limits the amount of free throws the Badgers attempt, but there are, of course, other ways to draw fouls. Taylor, Josh Gasser, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz are all adept (the first two, especially, as guards) at putting the ball on the floor and driving to the hoop.

Yet, entering last night’s game, Wisconsin had attempted only 405 free throws, third-fewest in the Big Ten. For a team that can also convert from the foul line (72.1 percent, fourth in the conference), the inability or hesitation to get there is straight-up baffling.

Several other issues emerged Thursday night, some more familiar than others. Michigan State’s 15 fast break points played an integral role in their high field goal percentage, though Wisconsin added literally nothing in that category on offense. On the few opportunities the Badgers did get on the break, they often ended up without Jordan Taylor handling the ball, and Evans, Bruesewitz and the like seemed wholly uncomfortable converting on the other hand in the face of limited defensive pressure.

Granted, Michigan State played one of its finest games of the season. Green, hyped (overly, in many respects) throughout the broadcast for his on-court leadership and basketball IQ, delivered a stout performance in totaling 20 points on 5-for-9 shooting (including 2-for-4 from 3-point range), 10 rebounds and five assists. Point guard Keith Appling also scored 20 and reserve center Derrick Nix contributed 12.

Aside from its advantage in the open court, the Spartans also benefited from a stretch in the second half where they tallied three straight and-one penalties on the Badgers. In total, Michigan State drew eight such and-one opportunities and converted six. That’s a half-dozen points made even larger by a deficit that seemed unlikely to narrow given Wisconsin’s offensive struggles.

Though the Badgers scored nearly nine points fewer than their season average, optimists will point to the Spartans totaling four less than their average. True, and MSU also was the first team to shoot above 50 percent from the field against UW this season.

But how much silver lining can be clung to when familiar problems manifest themselves time and time again? Inefficient outside shooting coupled with a weak presence from the free throw line will doom this offense, and its short rotation with weak contributions from the bench makes defending fast break teams a tremendously tall task.

Wisconsin lost one Thursday night to a truly great team inside its own arena, but the Badgers flaws aren’t diminished by the quality of their opponent.

Come Big Ten Tournament time, expectations will be sky-high for a squad fans hope will atone for last year’s brutal performance.

Come March Madness? Third-round losses are appealing only for so long.

Mike is a senior majoring in journalism. How’d you evaluate the Badgers performance in East Lansing? Let him know on Twitter @mikefiammetta.

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