The Wisconsin Badgers (2–1) faced their first legitimate test of the season this Monday night against the Providence Friars (3–0), as they squared off in the second game of the Gavitt Tipoff Games.
The Badgers looked to end their three-game losing streak against the Friars dating back to 1961. The big story out of the Kohl Center pregame was the news of Johnny Davis being held out due to a lower-body injury.
With Davis out, the Badgers brought Ben Carlson in his stead, adding height to the young lineup. As the two teams lined up to take the opening tip, the question hung in the air — who could cover for the production Davis brought throughout the season?
This question of scoring undoubtedly came down to the men taking the jump, Steven Crowl and the Friars’ Nate Watson, two talents that prepared to go toe-to-toe in the paint. As the game progressed, Watson flexed his muscles, piling on Providence’s first five points.
At the first media timeout, the Badgers looked fairly lost without Davis’ passing efficiency and only two paint touches in the first five minutes — a hallmark of their previous matchups. But, when the Badgers needed Brad Davison to step up, he answered by notching two important threes and hitting a free throw to give the Badgers the lead before the backend of the half.
While Davison’s hot shooting kept the Badgers in the game, big men Crowl and Chris Vogt were forced into foul trouble by a larger center in Watson. As both bigs were forced to sit for the final 10 minutes of the half, Providence put their foot on the gas, going on a 15–2 run and leading the Badgers 34–23 going into the half.
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As the second half got underway, the Badgers looked to grind back from an 11-point deficit.
A feat that would be made easier by the return of center Crowl, who would be needed to break down the sturdy Friar zone. As time progressed, the Badgers kept chipping away at the Friar lead, with Crowl playing key minutes passing through the Providence defensive zone.
Davison also showed his experience, carrying the offense down the stretch, shooting several threes to shorten the Friars’ growing gap. Even with this contribution, the Badgers struggled from behind the arc, shooting 4/23.
Tyler Wahl did his best to pick up the slack, scoring 15 points and playing strong down low. Even with a deep 3-pointer by Al Durham, the Badgers battled to the very end.
Jordan Davis showed off his deep range and the Badgers cut the deficit to just three points, but it was not enough as the Friars held on for a 63–58 win.
The Badgers struggled as a team offensively in the first half with only three players contributing to the scoring effort. With the absence of Davis, players picking up his minutes like Carlson and Crowl had poor showings on the offensive end.
Even with Davis coming back, Carlson and Crowl will be asked of a lot in Gard’s offensive scheme.
Watson’s physicality in the first half was glaring on the defensive end for Crowl and fellow center Vogt. There is still a lot of room to improve defensively, especially with the many impactful big men in the Big Ten.
The answer could be found in a more team-oriented defense, but this opens the team up for 3-point shooting, as we saw in the last part of the first.
Three-point shooting was terrible for the Badgers as they shot nearly 15% from behind the arc. Providence sat in a zone all game, daring the Badgers to shoot out of their slump, which they simply could not do.
This leads me to believe that there will be a high amount of zone being thrown at the Badgers this season.
The Badgers were against the most talented team they have faced by far in their short season — and without Davis, their lead scorer.
The five-point loss and poor shooting from the Badgers is not a cause for alarm quite yet. The team shot 19% from three and were virtually without a center in the first half.
Given the experience that this loss provides, I would not be surprised to see this as a catalyst for a spirited stretch in the season.
Looking forward, the Badgers will be back on the court against Texas A&M in the opening game of the Maui Invitational in Las Vegas. The game will be airing on ESPN — one of the first major nationally televised games of the season.