The University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers took the court last night for their cancer awareness exhibition game against the UW-Whitewater Warhawks. The buzz in the Kohl center was alive for what feels like the first time in decades, an enthusiasm exemplified by a rousing cheer for Walt Mcgrorry, a former Badger walk-on who is currently battling bone cancer.
While Division III UW-Whitewater is far from the kind of competition the Badgers will face during a tough Big Ten season, this was the first real game for a vastly untested Badger squad. As the clock hit zero on what was a physically dominant performance by the Badgers, questions still lingered in the air. Going into November, here are some major takeaways and constants from what was our initial look at the spry young Badgers in action.
After watching two solid practices and the Red v. White scrimmage, much of the exhibition game upheld my expectations for multiple players.
Steven Crowl and Chucky Hepburn both had solid performances with Crowl leading all scorers with 18 points. Crowl had a slow start and was battling his nerves, according to Coach Greg Gard, who said, “Good. It means he cares.”
“I really caught my wind,” Crowl said around the eleven-minute mark of the first half. Crowl continued to defend effectively and even stepped out for a smooth three.
Coming into college, Crowl had had a lean frame that he has really worked on. With the addition of this change, Crowl and Ben Carlson created a truly exciting duo combining for thirteen rebounds.
Additionally, Hepburn, a player who has had his fair share of the media spotlight, lived up to the assurance he gave to me at the start of the month when he said, “It’s [picking up full court] very important to me. I really take pride in my defense.”
Finally, the Badgers denoted an enormous amount of practice sessions this year to defense, and this showed as the Badger squad forced 13 total turnovers.
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While many expectations were upheaved, the night saw some relative surprises in the form of individual performances. First, for all extensive purposes, Johnny Davis came out flat and didn’t quite show much of the dominance you would expect playing against a team that has a much more elite high school feel than a larger college.
With this being said, Davis turned it on in the latter part of the second half being more aggressive with the ball and making plays because of it. It will certainly be up to his teammates and coach Gard to instill the need for a dominant mindset as the season begins.
While players like Davis relatively underperformed, the one player who truly blew my expectations up was Chris Vogt. Both Vogt and Brad Davidson’s experience shone through, playing their best basketball when it mattered during game time. Vogt was all over the court, tipping balls and blocking nearly anything that came his way. If Vogt’s size translates even a fraction to the larger competition, he will be a very valuable piece in winning.
“He’s great … staying on that backside help for all of us,” Crowl said, referring to Vogt.
As players get used to a new offense and play with several fresh faces lining the roster, the ceiling is quite high for the Badgers. Going into the season, there are a number of unknowns from the team — from an undefined rotation to turnover issues. One area that will be intriguing to see is who can go out and get a bucket. The answer may lie in Tyler Wahl, Crowl and Davis.
“There isn’t much we don’t need to work on at this point,” Gard said. The team is gearing up for their next match Nov. 9 with the St. Francis College Brooklyn’s Terriers at the Kohl Center.