As Wisconsin men’s basketball begins postseason play Friday, we asked a panel of our basketball writers — Ben Kenney, Harrison Freuck and Colton Mosley — for their thoughts on the current status of the team and its chances of cutting down the nets in the coming weeks.
1. How concerned are you by Wisconsin nearly choking against Ohio State heading into the tournament?
Ben: I’m extremely concerned about it. Wisconsin is a team built on playing at their pace and playing fundamentally sound basketball. If it’s true they lack the ball handling and discipline to face a press when up 23 points, teams more athletic than them will take advantage of it in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
Harrison: Wisconsin’s second-half collapse against Ohio State was extremely concerning heading into the Big Ten tournament. Despite the fact that the Badgers were on the road playing an Ohio State team that needed to get the win, it was still concerning that they allowed the Buckeyes to get back in the game with such a large lead and a usually strong defense.
Colton: I’m not overly concerned simply because I see this as an anomaly. Ohio State caught fire, and the Wisconsin coaching staff has time to analyze the tape and clean up the turnovers and poor shot selection before tournament time. The team started to look ahead to the B1G Tournament rather than closing out the game – their focus needs to be fixed on one game at a time.
2. Can Wisconsin win in March with its slower offensive pace?
Ben: Absolutely. A key to the Badgers’ success is keeping the game at their pace. Whether that pace is fast or slow, as long as they can control the flow of the game they can be successful. Whether they can win relies on things other than staying at their slow, consistent pace.
Harrison: I think that Wisconsin will be able to win in March, even with being a slower paced team. As we’ve seen in previous tournaments, slow teams can get wins, so long as they are able to speed up when necessary, or control the game flow themselves like Virginia tends to do. If Wisconsin is able to adapt to their opponent’s style of play, I think they can hang with just about anybody in the tournament field.
Colton: Without question. Their slow pace is the only thing that allows them to hang with teams with superior talent and athleticism. This team simply cannot succeed with a hectic, fast-paced offense. Their team is built for this pace.
3. Can Khalil Iverson keep playing sidekick to Ethan Happ?
Ben: Can he? Yes. Is it pivotal to whether the Badgers can have success in the postseason? Also, yes. Khalil Iverson’s recent play has been huge for this Badgers team, one which lacks athleticism and scoring options. Iverson continuing his lock-down defense and efficient scoring is crucial to Wisconsin succeeding as it takes pressure off of Happ, Davison and Trice on both ends of the floor.
Harrison: Based on the last month that we’ve seen out of senior Khalil Iverson, I think there is a real possibility that he keeps it up in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. Iverson’s support to Ethan Happ has been crucial down the stretch, helping Wisconsin to get wins and igniting the team when things start to look bleak. Iverson’s energy and strength have been important this season, and I think he can and will continue that style of play in both tournaments.
Colton: Yes, because he does not need an outside shot to succeed. The Badgers need Iverson’s production on both ends of the floor if they expect an NCAA tournament run.
4. What do you make of the Big Ten’s depth heading into the NCAA Tournament? Will the rigorous Big Ten schedule be an advantage going forward?
Ben: The Big Ten is by far the deepest conference in the country. According to Ken Pomeroy, all 14 Big Ten teams are in the top 78 in the country and the conference boasts five top 25 teams. This depth will make the Big Ten tournament extremely interesting, as there are 5-6 teams who have a legitimate chance to win it. Come NCAA tournament time, it is clear that the rigorous Big Ten schedule is an advantage for the teams in the conference as Joe Lunardi has eight Big Ten teams making the tournament in his recent bracket, with Wisconsin getting in as a four seed.
Harrison: The Big Ten’s depth is both good and bad — good because it means the conference will field perhaps more teams than any other, but bad because it also means that some teams will miss out due to their seemingly bad records against a stacked Big Ten. This includes bubble teams like Indiana and Ohio State. The depth of the Big Ten may also result in teams being more worn down than other teams heading into the NCAA tournament.
Colton: The Big Ten’s depth will be crucial come tournament time. The treacherous Big Ten conference slate (and the forthcoming tournament) will prepare the Badgers due to their constant exposure to late-game situations and usual triumphs.
5. What concerns you most heading into Tournament play?
Ben: Similar to who I think the X-factor needs to be, the most concerning thing has been D’Mitrik Trice’s struggles from beyond the arc as of late. If Trice isn’t able to stretch the floor and shoot, it’s hard seeing this team succeed in the upcoming tournaments.
Harrison: I believe that Trice and Davison’s shooting struggles are easily the most concerning thing heading into tournament play. The duo of usually sharp-shooting sophomores hasn’t been able to find any rhythm lately, even while the team has succeeded. If at least one of them doesn’t turn their shooting issues around quickly, I think this will spell trouble for the Badgers when it comes time to take on stronger competition later in the NCAA Tournament.
Colton: My biggest concern about tournament play is an obvious one — free throws. Ethan Happ’s free throw percentage has somehow increased after shooting 58.6 percent over the last three games. The Badgers cannot expect a deep run if they can’t clean up their performance at the line.
Men’s basketball: Ethan Happ becomes first three-time All-Big Ten honoree in UW historyFor the third consecutive year, Ethan Happ earned himself a spot on the first-team All-Big Ten team. Happ becomes just Read…
6. How far can the Badgers make it in the NCAA Tournament? Are they a second-weekend team?
Ben: All Badger fans know Wisconsin thrives as the 8/9 seed underdog who surprisingly upsets a one seed and makes a run after it. Now that the Badgers are ranked as high as a four seed, it’s scary to think how they’ll perform in a 4v5 seed matchup against a mid-level team like Auburn or Marquette. All things considered, I see the Badgers winning their first two matchups and falling in the Sweet 16. I don’t think this team has enough experience or offensive talent to pull off an upset against higher seeded teams like Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee or Duke.
Harrison: I think Wisconsin definitely has the potential to be a second-weekend team. However, considering how inconsistent the team has been over the last month and a half, I think they could also lose in a 4-13 or 5-12 upset in the opening round. I’m hoping that this isn’t the case, so I’m going to predict that the Badgers will make it to the Sweet 16 and lose to an elite ACC or SEC team.
Colton: The Badgers can definitely make a run into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, but this team cannot do so without a couple of key contributors. Khalil Iverson has impressed of late but struggled early in the year, and D’Mitrik Trice has made only five of his last 23 three-point attempts in their last four games. I don’t believe Trice and Iverson have had good performances on the same night. If both can find their groove, the Badgers are an Elite 8 team at their best.
7. Who will the team’s x-factor be down the stretch?
Ben: The x-factor to me is D’Mitrik Trice. At the beginning of the season, Trice was lights out from beyond the arc, and the Badgers had a lot of success. Trice has now fallen off in his three-point shooting and has hurt the team’s success as a result. If Trice can get hot and stay hot in the upcoming tournaments, the Badgers can have success. If he does not, it’s hard seeing the team beat the quality opponents they will end up seeing.
Harrison: The x-factor for me is Brad Davison. When Davison is hitting shots, he’s as clutch as they come, so it will be crucial for the Badgers as they get farther into Tournament play that he converts and stays cool under pressure. Davison’s play can also bring a lot of energy and chemistry to the team, so I’m looking forward to watching him in big moments late in the game.
Colton: The team’s x-factor down the stretch is D’Mitrik Trice. Trice kept the Badgers competitive to start the year with his outside shooting and clutch shot-making in the closing minutes. His play can turn this group into a possible Elite 8 team with the right matchup in the Sweet 16.
8. What is the best version of this team?
Ben: This team is at its best when it’s controlling the pace, Happ is dominating down low and Davison, Trice, Ruevers, Pritzl and Ford are making shots. If Happ is locked down, or the shooters can’t come up with makes, the team struggles to find any rhythm and loses as a result.
Harrison: Wisconsin is playing its best basketball when they are succeeding defensively. If the Badgers can stop offensive threats like Purdue and Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament, I can see them winning the Big Ten Championship. I also think this applies to the NCAA tournament, and you could see the Badgers upset a high seeded team like Duke if they are able to stop offensive threats in Cam Reddish and RJ Barrett.
Colton: Wisconsin’s best version is a balanced scoring attack where Happ is setting up an array of outside shooters while finishing consistently at the rim. Their pace and defensive efficiency give them a chance against any team in the country. But, their ceiling depends on their offense.
9. Big Ten Tournament prediction:
Ben: The Badgers beat Maryland/Rutgers/Nebraska and fall in the semifinals to Michigan State.
Harrison: Wisconsin is able to pull off a win against Maryland/Rutgers/Nebraska behind clutch free throw shooting late. They then somehow upset Michigan State in the semifinals behind strong defensive play from Happ and Iverson. Ultimately, I think the Badgers will then fall in the championship game on Sunday against either Michigan or Purdue, as those high-octane offenses are too much for Wisconsin to handle.
Colton: I believe the Badgers will lose in the Big Ten Championship after defeating likely opponents Maryland and Michigan State. I believe Wisconsin still has a bitter taste in its mouth after Cassius Winston and the Spartans stole a win earlier this year at the Kohl Center but will not be able to back that up with a championship performance.