After a somewhat promising start to a season slated for rebuilding by many before the year began, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team has begun to slide with a string of consecutive losses.
At the onset of their non-conference schedule, the Badgers appeared to show some fight even when taking on top-ranked opponents. They fought strong against Saint Mary’s and even took down in-state rival Marquette.
At the foundation of each of these performances were Nate Reuvers and Brevin Pritzl. Against Saint Mary’s, Reuvers accrued a team-leading 22 points. He also managed to lead the team in rebounds and blocks with six and four, respectively. When facing Marquette, Pritzl — the lone senior on this incredibly young Wisconsin team — contributed an impressive 15 points, tied for best on the team.
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While Reuvers was expected to play a larger role offensively following the departure of Ethan Happ, Pritzl’s significant contributions in the team’s most important win of the season so far was nearly completely unexpected. In fact, one of the only reasons he received so much playing time that game was due to Kobe King’s minor leg injury sustained during practice.
Even with a few players stepping up to provide offensive production, the Badgers have struggled to put a sufficient number of points on the board. Wisconsin is averaging only 68.4 points per game through their first nine games of the season.
The Badgers’ scoring average during their losses this season have been understandably worse. In their first four losses of the season, they have managed to score a measly 54.75 points per game. This is sincerely concerning as the season moves forward and the Badgers continue to face stiffer competition in the Big Ten as their total points per game average has been significantly bolstered by their wins over non-competitive contenders.
In fact, the Badgers currently rank dead last in the Big Ten for scoring average. While this statistic does not paint the full picture as conference play is yet to begin in earnest, it does demonstrate that the Wisconsin offense is struggling relative to their conference opponents that are right around the corner.
Three of the most recent losses suffered by the Badgers demonstrate these offensive struggles quite well. In the Legends Classic tournament — when facing off against Richmond and New Mexico — the Badgers scored a cumulative 102 points. That’s just 51 points a game.
The story remained the same against North Carolina State as Wisconsin again failed to crack the 60 point mark throughout the entire contest. While Pritzl saw less game time due to the return of King, Reuvers continued to lead the team in offensive production.
Reuvers was the only player to put up double-digit points in all three of these contests as he averaged 15.3 points per game. In the two games the Badgers played at the Legends Classic, only one other team member managed to score in the double digits as King put up 10 against Richmond and D’Mitrik Trice had 11 against New Mexico.
Perhaps the biggest missing piece these last few games for the Badgers has been Brad Davison. At the onset of the season, Davison caught fire. In four of the Badgers’ opening five games, Davison had at least 15 points. The only game he appeared to struggle some was against Eastern Illinois as the Badgers triumphed by just three points. Their total score that game? Only 65 points.
Now, in each of their three losses to Richmond, New Mexico and NC State, Davison averaged only 3.7 points per game. That is a marked decrease from the offensive impact he made in the Badgers’ opening five games.
Obviously Davison’s failure to put up consistent double-digit offensive production is not the only reason that the Badgers have struggled as of late. It’s quite clear that the will need every single offensive weapon that they have to perform to the peak of their ability if they are to remain competitive in the ruthless landscape of the Big Ten this season. Yet, it remains that Davison’s absence as a scoring leader has been anything but insignificant for the Badgers.
Wisconsin’s defense has largely been what has kept it in competition throughout this opening portion of the regular season. The Badgers have managed to allow competitors just 62.8 points per game. Yet, this won’t be enough on its own for the Badgers to consistently take on the best of what the Big Ten has to offer.
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Remember that the Badger offense ranks dead last in the Big Ten in scoring.
Well, what about that impressive defense you might ask? Allowing 62.8 points per game is good for only sixth place in the Big Ten. For the two statistics that mean the most when the rubber hits the road — that is, how many points you score vs. how many your opponents score — the Badgers have an average conference ranking of 10th place.
The Big Ten is one of the most cutthroat conferences in basketball as things currently stand. If the Badgers are to succeed in it, they will have to maintain their already impressive defense. More importantly, they will have to close the 20 point gap in per-game scoring they have opened with those at the top of the conference.