After a long week of traveling that included late-night busses to Milwaukee paired with two four-hour plane rides, I made it to the desert and back to cover the 2021 Maui Invitational in Las Vegas.

Having the pleasure to participate and cover the Badger’s first-ever Maui Invitational win, I believe I have learned quite a bit about this year’s Badger squad. Following a 61-55 win over the Gales of St. Marys, Wisconsin ended their week 3-0 and claimed their first non-conference tournament title since winning the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis.

Here is a look at what we learned about this year’s Badgers team in Las Vegas.

Who will take the big shot? 

Last season, the question of who will take the last shot was one that often went unanswered. While Trice showed up on occasion, the ball found itself sticking down the stretch, leading to painfully long periods where the Badgers could not score.

This season, the Badger’s have a team that is ready to answer that question. Across the tournament, players stood up precisely when needed, with Brad Davison making plays against A&M, Johnny Davis getting early buckets against Houston and Tyler Wahl torching St. Mary’s in the second half. 

Wisconsin’s versatile scoring core allows for each player to have off games without forfeiting success on the team level.

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Fundamentals and the swing offense work

When Badgers long time coach Bo Ryan was honored at the UW-Green Bay game earlier this season, his speech touched on his success and how much could be attributed to fundamentals.

This recipe for success was seen in the Badgers tournament run, with the swing offense being the team’s guiding light. When Wisconsin looked dazed, they could always reverse the ball and get a quality paint touch from any of their cutting players.

Additionally, the Badgers stuck to their guns, limiting turnovers with just nine in the championship matchup against St. Mary’s. As the Badgers continue, they will need to stick to their historical identity as a low turnover, grit and grind team.

Badger’s All-NCAA Defense

The team has touted their defense all season, but their talent was on full display against teams like Texas A&M and Houston. Each team averages over 70 points a game and were held well below that mark.

The Badgers will need to play similar brands of hard-nosed gritty defense as they enter league play with teams like Iowa and Indiana having marquee players who must be shut down. Finally, Wisconsin’s defense seems to be a point of pride and a fire that translates to offense.

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Gard will go deep into his bench

Wisconsin and Greg Gard saw success, specifically against Houston, when they went deep into the bench and gave multiple players chances.

Do we remember how the Badgers struggled against Providence without Johnny Davis and with Crowl in foul trouble? While having Davis back in play is huge for the Badgers, with him averaging nearly 20 points a game and earning Tournament MVP honors, the Badgers proved they can succeed even without him on the floor.

Gard could have easily chosen to stick to a seven-man rotation. He decided to give his bench players more opportunities than they got against Providence, bringing great experience and production to the games. Players like Carter Gilmore acted as a defensive asset and was able to score against some of the best defenders in the country.

Jordan Davis played with his brother for the first time since high school and began to show some of what I’ve seen him do in practice — hitting threes and getting on the ground with great effort. With a long season, a deep rotation will do nothing but help the Badgers down the stretch.

After a successful tournament win in Las Vegas, there was a lot Badgers fans learned about their team going forward. The team will look to keep momentum going against Georgia Tech Wednesday.