By no means is Wisconsin basketball having a bad season. At 21-4, they are off to one of their best starts in program history.
The Badgers are also sitting at 11th in the AP Poll and are projected to be a five seed in most NCAA Tournament mock brackets. But despite all that, the feeling that the team is not performing to their capabilities is warranted.
The Badgers returned nearly 100 percent of their minutes and scoring from a team that won 11 out of their last 13 regular season games and went to the Sweet 16 last season. So naturally, expectations coming into this season were sky-high, and Wisconsin fans had their eyes set on another trip to the Final Four.
But despite Wisconsin’s record, they have not looked the part of a Final Four contender. In their only three games against top-25 teams, the Badgers were outscored by a total of 38 points. They also have struggled over the last five games, dropping a home game against a depleted Northwestern squad, barely being an even more depleted Indiana team, and needing overtime to beat bottom feeders Rutgers and Nebraska.
This isn’t meant to sound negative. As I said before, Wisconsin is having a good season. No matter how down the conference is, being at the top of the Big Ten standings is always something to be proud of. But if this team wants to reach the Final Four or win a national championship, there are a few areas they need to improve in.
Right now, Wisconsin’s biggest problem on offense is spacing. The lane is always clogged and congested, and there are always multiple players standing near each other on the perimeter. That means less space for Wisconsin’s post players and drivers.
Some of that can’t be fixed due to the personnel. This is the rare Wisconsin team that has a lot of players that struggle from the perimeter. Ethan Happ has never attempted a three-pointer, and Khalil Iverson, Nigel Hayes, and Charles Thomas aren’t exactly sharp shooters. So some of the congestion is unavoidable. But some of it isn’t. And that needs to be fixed if Wisconsin wants to bring it’s offensive efficiency up from it’s current KenPom ranking of 36th.
Attacking Double Teams
Creighton, Nebraska, and Northwestern taught the country that in order to shut down Wisconsin, all you have to do is double-team the post. Nigel Hayes is a great passer out of double-teams, but Ethan Happ is still learning. He isn’t turning the ball over because of double-teams, but he isn’t able to produce nearly as much.
He also is slow in getting the ball to the right places in order to take advantage of the five-on-four situation. Part of that has to do with spacing, which again, must be improved. If Wisconsin wants to advance in the tournament, they are going to need to learn how to take advantage of double-teams.
Wisconsin teams are usually among the best in the country in turnover rate. Their two final four teams certainly were. But this season, Wisconsin has been particularly sloppy with the ball. Given their slow and plodding tempo, that is inexcusable. They are currently 74th in the country in turnover rate, which isn’t horrible, but also isn’t up to usual Wisconsin standards.
Playing stellar transition defense has been one of Wisconsin’s trademarks since Bo Ryan took over, but there have been some lapses this season. Once again, it isn’t bad, and no team has really lit them up in transition. But Wisconsin has been losing track of their guys and giving up open three-point looks or coast-to-coast drives in transition.
Nice feed from Green. pic.twitter.com/4qHr8LNhvm
— Big Ten Geek (@bigtengeek) February 5, 2017
Once Wisconsin’s defense sets up, they are great, but teams like UCLA, Kentucky, Kansas, and Arizona won’t give them that chance.
Free Throw Shooting
I considered not putting this one in here because there isn’t much they can do about this. Obviously Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes are working as hard as they can to improve their performance from the charity strike. But it just needs to happen faster. The Badgers are currently one of the worst free throw shooting teams in college basketball.
It will cost them a game at some point if they can’t improve. It’s especially important for Ethan Happ, because it has gotten to the point where he is on the bench late in games for fear of the “Hack-a-Happ” strategy.
Last 3 #Badgers on court tonight: Happ, Hayes and Trice. Happ FT after FT after FT. Same thing every day.
— Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) February 15, 2017
Shot Selection/Ball Movement/Patience
It doesn’t take a basketball expert to know the Badgers are at their best when they move the ball and get Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes touches in the post. When there’s a lot of individual dribbling and perimeter isolation, Wisconsin’s offense isn’t nearly as effective.
Consistency from Bench Players
Coming into the season, this was expected to be one of Wisconsin’s deepest benches ever. And to an extent, it is, because there are a lot of players that could contribute each game. There are seven players on the Wisconsin bench that have contributed meaningful minutes this season. But none of them have been even remotely consistent.
Right now, Wisconsin is going through a shooting slump. It happens all the time in college basketball, especially around this time of year. Over their last five games, Wisconsin has gone 29/106 from beyond the arc. That is a steep drop from their usual 35% three-point shooting percentage. All teams go through slumps like these, including the 2013-14 Wisconsin Basketball team that reached the Final Four. Water will find its level.
serious question is wisconsin drunk? pic.twitter.com/aHIG1toQ3F
— Big Ten Geek (@bigtengeek) February 10, 2017
This might be the most important thing. Wisconsin is obviously very banged up right now. Vitto Brown has been dealing with a nagging leg injury for a while. Bronson Koenig suffered a calf injury against Penn State, and the next game, Wisconsin’s offensive woes started. In addition to looking much slower, Koenig has only shot 25.4% from the field and 22.6% from three-point range since the injury. It might not be a bad idea to rest Koenig for a week or two to get him healthy for the tournament. The Badgers won’t be able to reach their full potential without him at 100%.
Former Badger Jon Leur traded to Milwaukee Bucks
They say you can always go home, and for one former Wisconsin Badger he’s coming back to a state he called home for four years.
Former Badgers forward Jon Leuer was traded early on Thursday morning from the Detroit Pistons to the Milwaukee Bucks. In exchange for Leuer, the Bucks gave up the 30th overall pick in tonight’s NBA Draft and traded away Tony Snell.
Last season, Leuer played in 41 games for the Pistons and made just one start. He averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in his ninth season in the NBA.
Leuer is a very similar player to Snell, but comes at a much more team-friendly salary.
In trading away Snell, the Bucks free up an additional $4 million in salary this year and another $12 million next year.
This could be seen as a way for the Bucks to pony up the big money that Khris Middleton wants from the team in order to stay in Milwaukee.
As for Leuer, he is 17th on the all-time Badgers scoring list with 1,376 points to his name. He also finished his career with 551 rebounds.
Leuer’s final season in Madison was his best statistically, as he helped lead the 2010-11 Badgers team to the Sweet 16. He averaged 18.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game that year.
Badgers basketball land Davis twins
After missing out on the Hauser brothers late last month, the Wisconsin Badgers added a different pair of siblings on Saturday night.
Following an offer to the brother of 4-star shooting guard Johnny Davis and an appearance at a team camp this weekend, the Davis brothers announced their pledge to the Badgers according to Badger247.
It took less than a week after head coach Greg Gard gave the O.K. to offer Jordan for the pair to commit to Wisconsin.
Johnny held offers from Marquette, West Virginia, Iowa, Minnesota, DePaul, UNLV and others.
Jordan had offers from UW-Milwaukee and Green Bay, while also becoming a sought after recruit on the football field as well. Once he became serious about wanting to play basketball first, it seemed like a matter of time before Wisconsin offered.
That time came after seeing Jordan play in a camp last weekend.
It also came because it was time to figure out if Johnny was serious about the Badgers or not.
With the July evaluation period coming up, Wisconsin’s coaching staff put the final chips in the middle with this recruitment and it appeared to pay off.
Johnny joins as the No. 141 ranked player in the country and the No. 14 ranked combo guard in the nation according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
The twins will join Detroit, Mich. native Lorne Bowman in the 2020 class.
Wisconsin still has one scholarship available in the class as well, which is likely being held for 5-star and Wisconsin native Jalen Johnson.
After missing out on talented in-state players over and over again, this was a major win for Gard and his coaching staff considering how hard schools like West Virginia and Marquette were after Johnny’s commitment.
As for Jordan, it appears the coaching staff believes he is improving enough to get a scholarship and continue his improvement with this program.
Offers don’t come out just because it may win over a different recruit at Wisconsin. That wasn’t Bo Ryan’s style and it also isn’t Greg Gard’s style.
The trio of players put the Badgers at No. 8 in the country and No. 3 in the Big Ten in the 2020 class as of today.
Former Badgers get No. 2 seed in The Basketball Tournament Columbus regional
Who doesn’t want $2 million? That’s the prize at stake for winning The Basketball Tournament and a group of former Wisconsin Badgers want in.
On Tuesday it was officially announced that the Kohl Blooded team — spearheaded by former Badgers point guard Kam Taylor — will be the No. 2 seed in the Columbus regional.
They will take on No. 7 seed Mid-American Unity, which is making its second appearance in the TBT after a year off. That group represents teams from across the Mid-American conference.
As for the Badgers, the roster will be made up of some very strong names from the past. The headline names include members of the back-to-back Final Four teams in Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown. Also joining will be Jordan Taylor, Ryan Evans, Trevon Hughes and recent grad Charles Thomas. You can see the full roster here.
The regionals will take place July 19-21 in Columbus with the winner of this regional meeting seven other winners in Chicago for championship week.
All games will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks, so you should be able to find them either streaming or on cable television.
Kohl Blooded vs. Mid-American Unity will tip at 1pm ET on Friday, July 19.
The winner will take on the winner of Red Scare (Dayton alumni) and The Region (players from Northwest Indiana) in the regional semi-final the next day.
Badgers play final card in attempt to land 2020 G Johnny Davis
A week after losing out on Joey and Sam Hauser, the Wisconsin Badgers basketball program needs some positive momentum on the player acquisition front.
With three scholarships available in the 2020 class and two top in-state players in their sites, the Badgers coaching staff has been about as patient as possible.
On Wednesday, Badger247 reports that UW has offered Jordan Davis, the twin brother of top target Johnny Davis. It’s not a walk-on or grayshirt, but a full scholarship offer.
After two years of waiting for that offer to come, it finally did.
Jordan is an unranked player in basketball at this time, but I expect that to change once the scouting services catch wind of this offer. Johnny Davis is the No. 131 ranked player in the country, a 4-star rated prospect and the No. 3 ranked player in the state of Wisconsin in the 2020 class.
With the brothers set to make a weekend visit for team camp in two weeks, this is a move that undoubtably puts the pressure squarely on Johnny Davis at this point.
Simply put, the Badgers need to know if Davis is going to commit or if they need to move on.
Offering Jordan a full ride is about the only thing left in the Badgers quiver at this point. If getting the dream of playing basketball together at the same school and in-state no less doesn’t tip the scales, at least the Badgers know they can move on.
Is it a desperate move? In some ways one could see it as such. Clearly the Badgers want Johnny in a major way and they see offering Jordan as a critical move that could separate themselves from the competition.
However, this also isn’t a coaching staff willing to just throw away a scholarship in an effort to get a coveted player to play for them. That’s simply not Greg Gard’s style.
Jordan is also a player they see as a contributor, or he wasn’t getting an offer. Plain and simple.
There’s no doubt that this move ups the pressure, like I mentioned before. But, that’s not a bad thing, as UW needs to know where they stand heading in to July’s evaluation period.
If the Davis brothers can’t commit or at least internally give the coaching staff the information that will make them feel comfortable, they need to start getting offers out to other big time players whom they’ve been waiting to offer.
Consider UW is an underdog to land in-state five-star prospect Jalen Johnson, and you have to consider this move a smart one for the long term prospects of the 2020 class.
Will the Davis twins jump at the offer to play together at Wisconsin?
Some in the recruiting world believe this was the situation that was holding Wisconsin back all along. So, don’t be surprised to see this affect the recruitment of both players in a big way.
As for Jordan, his game has also caught the attention of Iowa and Minnesota and he did have scholarship offers from both Green Bay and Milwaukee prior to this one.
What may have really held the Badgers coaching staff and others back was the fact that Jordan is also a good player on the football side and wasn’t sure which sport he wanted to pick.
It seems like UW has gotten the clue that Jordan may be more receptive to a basketball future and pulled the trigger on the offer.
We’ll see how much longer the two stay uncommitted, but don’t be surprised to see something happen following July’s AAU season.
Letting that play out and getting all the offers out there on the table is just a smart move for the twins. From there, it’s up to them and clearly the Badgers have left no stone unturned in this situation.
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