Nearly 18,000 Wisconsin fans wormed their way through rush hour traffic and an untimely pileup on exit 305A to Chicago to settle on the American Family Field for the University of Wisconsin’s first neutral site game of the 2022 season against the Stanford Cardinals.
After what was frankly an uneven matchup against South Dakota University, Greg Gard’s Badgers hit the road to play the Cardinal, who were slotted to finish fifth in a talented Pac-12 conference. Much of Stanford’s projected success rests on their bigs — guard Michael Jones and seven-foot center Maxime Raynaud. With a frontcourt whose rotation is in question, this game proved to be a good test of what the Badgers may deal with in the coming Big Ten season.
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While the post-matchup was the competition’s main course, the serving table was equally compelling. The Badgers came to American Family Field in a matchup far from unintentional. The decision shows that Gard knows Big Ten teams struggle in March. The opportunity for a fresh-faced team to play in a large stadium — a venue usually conserved for final fours — provides experience that will permeate through the season.
With this fact in mind, as a viewer, American Family Field was not made for basketball, almost to the point where it infected the game with an off-pitch feel. Whereas stadiums like the Kohl Center act as a boiling pot of water steaming through a capped lid, American Family Field felt like a sputtering open sauce pot with any momentum spilling into the retracting rafters. From a fan’s perspective, the only bright spot was a strategically timed “Jump Around” with just over five minutes left in the game.
Additionally, the size of the building made for a terrible shooting night for both parties, with Wisconsin shooting just 25% from three and Stanford shooting a rotten 6% from behind the arch. While both coaches credited this to the stadium, the Cardinal’s numbers cannot lean slowly in poor depth perception. After holding a highly efficient South Dakota team to just 13% from three, Gard and his team are starting an early trend. The shooting skill of the group as a whole plays a part with highly efficient shooters stretching far down the Badger bench, meaning that even the second stringers pose excellent practice for guardian elite deep threats.
Stanford coach Jerod Haase highlighted the nature of the Gard’s defense.
“They were clogging up our driving lanes a lot, making it difficult to kick out,” Haase said. “I think we saw that in the second half when we ran the offense for a little longer, we were able to get some better looks, but they were really clogging it up.”
While the defense was the keynote of the Badgers’ victory, forward Steven Crowl and guard Jordan Davis delivered noteworthy performances.
Cast as a leader on this 2022-2023 squad, Crowl came into Friday needing to show a swagger that was lacking against an undersized South Dakota squad. Unlike some players, Crowl plays best when he is angry, using it to his advantage to fight for physical rebound and banging with seven-footers in the post. Luckily for the Badgers, Stanford effectively angered big Steve as he grabbed 11 rebounds over a Stanford team, touting multiple big men touching seven feet. Needing to fill a blank spot in the frontcourt, Crowl’s efficiency needs to stay at these heights, both in the Badgers test in the Bahamas and into a strong Big Ten schedule.
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Jordan Davis showed that this year’s squad will depend on multiple guys to fill the scoring chase created by the departure of Johnny Davis and Brad Davison. Davis scored a career-high 13 points and played solid minutes on Friday. His role, as well as that of freshman Conner Essegian, were expanded as Max Klesmit dealt with foul trouble. The ability of both Davis and Essegian to come in and add to the stat sheet, similar to Kleismit’s against South Dakota, shows that the Badgers are exponentially deep.
The Badgers showed that they could battle out a hard-nosed game in a neutral site. They also gained confidence which will be valuable in the coming weeks as the team heads to a challenging tournament in the Bahamas. Gard highlighted that the strength of the team lies in its numbers — a fact that will make each Badger game thoroughly entertaining. It would not be surprising if crucial role players change game to game, adding investment to an already intertining Wisconsin team.