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%.
Badgers basketball lands pair of 4-star players in 2021 class
Witnessing a win over the Northwestern Wildcats must have done the trick, because two of Wisconsin’s biggest targets in the 2021 class both committed on Sunday.
First to commit was the more surprising name, as Top247 point guard Chucky Hepburn.
The No. 23 ranked point guard and No. 141 ranked player in the country per the 247Sports composite rankings chose the Badgers over offers from Minnesota, Nebraska, and Creighton. He also was beginning to see interest from some of the bigger names in college basketball, but chose to pick a team that had been on him for awhile.
“I called coach Gard 30 minutes ago and committed,” Hepburn told Badger247. “The education part was really great. I loved all the academic advisors are part of the basketball program and how they work with them.
“With the basketball side, I fit perfectly with the system they run. I feel like the assistant coaches will help me get where I want to be, because they all played professionally before.”
But, not long after that news broke, word of the biggest target on UW’s list committing would break as well.
Wisconsin would add 4-star forward Matthew Mors to the mix as well.
Mors comes to the Badgers ranked as the No. 115 player in the country and the No. 22 power forward in the nation as well.
The Badgers had been on Mors since his eighth grade year and the persistence paid off, despite other offers across the Big Ten and Big 12 coming to him.
Mors chose Wisconsin over names like Creighton, Iowa State, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, TCU, and more.
With these two pledges, the Badgers have solidified their 2021 recruiting class rather early and they hit on all their top priority prospects as well.
Hepburn and Mors join fellow 4-star player in 6-8 power forward Chris Hodges. With three 4-star players to their name, the Badgers currently own the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.
Yes, Wisconsin isn’t likely to own that No. 1 ranking by the end of the class, but there’s no doubt that the Badgers have done something special in the 2021 class.
It is a huge statement for head coach Greg Gard after the program missed out on some massive in-state names in the past few classes. Many had begun to wonder if the Badgers could ever hit on big targets with Gard as the head coach.
Those thoughts should be put to rest with this class and how the Badgers closed out the 2020 class prior to this.
It should also be noted that assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft was the lead recruiter on each of the last four overall commitments for the Badgers, including 2020 names Steven Crowl and Ben Carlson.
Of course, we won’t know for a while how these big recruiting numbers stack up once they get on the floor for some time. But, winning on the recruiting trail like this puts the Badgers in a much better spot to be competitive for a very long time than previously thought.
Carlson commits to Badgers 2020 basketball class
It appears the 2020 Wisconsin Badgers basketball class has come to a close.
The four-star center chose the Badgers over a who’s who of basketball offers in the Midwest including Ohio State, Xavier, Stanford, Purdue, Creighton, Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa State, Kansas State, Wake Forest, and others.
Much like Crowl, Carlson took his official visit to Madison earlier this month for the Central Michigan football game.
Carlson comes to the Badgers as the No. 15 ranked forward in the entire country per the 247Sports composite rankings, the No. 82 ranked player overall and with a .967 grade from the composite.
He was high up the Badgers list for a long time, even as they targeted other highly rate options at forward like Jalen Johnson. However, as the board began to shake out, it was clear the Badgers wanted Carlson no matter what Johnson or anyone else was going to do in this class.
It appears that the relationship that Carlson formed with the current roster while on his visit is what put the Badgers over the top in this lengthly recruitment.
“A big focus was on getting to know the players, so I hung out with them a lot,” Carlson told Badger247. “They talked about how the coaching staff tells you straight-up how everything is going to be, they don’t sugarcoat anything. They told me about how much they liked it there.”
“I had a pretty good idea of how Wisconsin was going in,” he continued. “The biggest thing was getting to know the players and I really liked them. I know about the history and the campus, but getting to know the players was big for sure.”
Adding this type of nationally known name to an already big class is huge for the Badgers. In fact, UW has the No. 4 ranked class per the 247Sports composite team rankings.
It would be the highest the Badgers have ever finished in the rankings, with the 2006 class under Bo Ryan the next highest at No. 20 in the country.
Wisconsin is getting easily one of the most skilled big men in the class and an instant impact type of player. What has been a question mark up front could easily be a strength of this team quickly thanks to Carlson and Crowl’s commitments to the class.
Badgers add 4-star center to 2020 basketball class
What could be a historic recruiting class for the Wisconsin Badgers got another boost on Tuesday as 4-star center Steven Crowl verbally committed to the Badgers.
He went on his official visit this past weekend and apparently it was all he needed to see.
Crowl has since cancelled trips to other contenders like Colorado, Iowa, and Northern Iowa. He also had an offer from the in-state Gophers and was thinking about a visit there.
However, his official visit for the Central Michigan football game weekend was all he needed to pull the trigger on a commitment to Gard and the Badgers.
Crowl joins an already loaded Badgers 2020 class that includes in-state star Johnny Davis and his twin brother Jordan Davis, as well as the No. 25 ranked point guard in the country according to the 247Sports composite rankings, Lorne Bowman.
This class also already has preferred walk-on Carter Gilmore, who chose that offer over other mid-major D1 offers and saw his recruitment pick up considerably in the July evaluation period.
While his name wasn’t a hot one on the recruiting trail, he was a late riser and currently sits as the No. 102 ranked player in the class overall and the No. 17 center in the nation per the 247Sports composite rankings.
The St. Paul, Minn. native is also continuing the pipeline of players coming from the cross-border rival Gopher state. He comes from the same AAU program — Minnesota D1 — that produced both Tyler Wahl and Nate Reuvers.
With Crowl in the fold, Wisconsin has added 12 players from the state of Minnesota in the 247Sports composite era, according to Badger247.
When you take a look at Crowl’s film, what you see is someone that has begun to both physically and mentally mature. He’s got the skill set that UW likes out of their bigs as well, with a nice looking shot from the outside.
However, what you also see on tape is someone that may need to take a year to adjust to the college game and that may be perfectly fine with the coaching staff as they still will have Nate Reuvers and Tyler Wahl to work with up front as starters.
It will be interesting to see how Crowl digests the speed of the college game early on. If he can adjust to that and the physicality, he may indeed find himself in the rotation quickly though.
He is certainly in the mold of what has become the classic Wisconsin big man.
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.
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