The Wisconsin Badgers (4-3) saw their four-game win streak come to a screeching halt this weekend at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, New York as they were upset handily by both the Richmond Spiders (5-1) and the New Mexico Lobos (6-2).
The losses were bad ones for Head Coach Greg Gard’s team and were a result of two things: a collective inadequacy from beyond the arc and an apparent lack of improvement from two key upperclassmen.
Wisconsin’s legendary former Head Coach Bo Ryan set a high standard for Gard when he retired suddenly in 2015, but it’s still surprising that Gard’s teams have found so little success through nearly four seasons. One thing that Ryan’s teams always did well was shoot the basketball and have upperclassmen in the backcourt that could lead the team, but recent Badger squads have struggled to find similar success.
Not all basketball programs are constructed this way, but when you build your team around an efficient inside presence — this year in the form of Nate Reuvers — you need to actually have the “out” aspect of an inside-out attack.
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How bad was the shooting and backcourt play during these losses?
The Badgers came into the Legends Classic shooting 37% from beyond the arc, a number that would have been bested by the four Badger teams that preceded this one.
Wisconsin then proceeded to go 9-for-53 on 3-point attempts between Monday and Tuesday, good for a lowly 17%.
Against New Mexico they shot 2-for-26 behind the arc, good for 7.7% and the lowest three-point percentage in a game by a Badger team since 2003.
Again, these numbers are bad ones for any team, but they’re especially concerning for a team built around defense, a seven-foot center and outside shooting around him.
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Now to the backcourt.
Last year Badger fans saw D’Mitrik Trice average 11.6 points and shoot nearly 40% from beyond the arc, good numbers for a redshirt sophomore stepping into a lead role on the team.
So far this season, those numbers have dropped significantly, and are doing so against the Badgers’ weak out-of-conference schedule. Trice is averaging just 8.4 points, shooting 35% from the floor and only 31% from three.
Trice finished the Legends Classic with 16 total points, shot 27% from the field and shot a measly 2-for-13 on three-point attempts, all this in an average of 34 minutes a night.
One thing seen with nearly every Ryan team was the backcourt leaders improving as they moved through their college careers and playing efficient basketball as upperclassmen. Seven games into Trice’s junior season that has not been the case, and this weekend Brad Davison’s story was no different.
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Davison finished the two games with a combined seven points, shot 13% from the floor and shot 10% from three, including a failure to make any baskets against New Mexico.
Davison started off the season strong, scoring more than 15 points in four of the Badgers’ first five games. But, along with seemingly everybody on the team, was unable to buy a bucket against far inferior competition.
Badger fans should hope that this weekend was an anomaly and that the start of conference play will light a fire under Gard’s team, as the team is scheduled to play the current No. 17, No. 10, No. 5 and No. 3 teams in the nation in the coming weeks.
Many analysts see the Big Ten as the best and deepest conference in the country this season. If the Badgers have any chance to succeed in conference play and make the NCAA Tournament, they will need to find a rhythm from beyond the arc, get upperclassmen-like contributions from their backcourt leaders and avoid any more slip-ups against inferior competition.
The Badgers are back in action Dec. 4 as they visit the North Carolina State Wolfpack (5-1, 0-1 ACC) for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.