Saturday's loss was a great learning experience for a young team
I finally got a chance to watch the UW men's basketball team's loss at UNLV Saturday and let me start by saying this: Wow, that was a great basketball game.
It felt like a game in March, not November. UNLV has some awesome basketball fans and that atmosphere looked and sounded 100 times better than the two football games I have attended out there in Vegas.
Anyway, I got out the notebook last night and watched the game. The majority of my notes are probably negative, but that's not a huge surprise considering the Badgers lost the game. However, my notes also reflect that the Badgers definitely would have won this game at home, probably would have won it on a neutral court and almost certainly would have won it in Las Vegas later in the season.
This is a mostly young team that will get better throughout the year and this has the makings of one Bo Ryan's tougher coaching jobs, possibly similar to the 2007-08 season when the Badgers won the Big Ten.
Let's get to the notebook:
Formula for winning
We talk about it every year. Wisconsin wins games when it wins the rebounding margin, makes more free throws than its opponent attempts and doesn't turn the ball over. This is a formula that allows the Badgers to win games when they don't shoot the ball particularly well, which is what happened Saturday when they only shot 36.5 percent from the field.
UW won the rebounding battle 37-27, made 21 free throws while UNLV only attempted 17, but the Badgers turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 15 times. UNLV only committed 12 turnovers.
This proved to be the difference in the game as UNLV hit 49 percent of their shots, yet only won by three points.
The Badgers led the nation in fewest turnovers last season with only 8.8 per game. So far, turnovers have been an issue this season, but knowing Bo Ryan, this seems like one category that will likely improve throughout the year.
In a month, I don't think we'll see Mike Bruesewitz throwing the ball away like he did at the end of the game. Overall, he had four turnovers, as did Ryan Evans. Those are two sophomores who are getting thrown into the mix more and will get better as they get more comfortable.
Of course if the Badgers had just made a few more shots, they would have won despite the turnovers. Jon Leuer only made 3-of-11 field goals and was in foul trouble in the first half. He has to be better. The Badgers need him to be better, especially on the road.
Leuer missed a lot of shots that he usually makes and he seemed to be pressing a bit after getting into foul trouble.
The story of the night was UNLV's Chace Stanback, who had 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-7 from behind the arc. I didn't particularly like Leuer guarding Stanback. He was too slow getting around screens and did not close on shots well.
Let's just say this was one of those games where he is going to see the film and not be happy with his defensive performance. There were too many times where Leuer chose to swtich off a screen rather than stay with the shooter. And on Stanback's game-winning shot, Mike Bruesewitz was too slow getting around a screen, but he got no help from Leuer who should have stepped out.
Again, these defensive issues will work themselves out as the season goes along.
Because I didn't see the game live, the first thing I did was look at the box score. The first thing that stood out was that freshman guard Josh Gasser played 37 minutes, which was the most on the team along with Jordan Taylor.
Overall, I thought Gasser played well. He only shot 2-of-8 from the field and 1-of-6 from three, but one of those threes was a shot he was forced to throw up wildly as the shot clock expired. It's obvious he is going to play a lot. Remember how Jason Bohannon struggled a little bit with his shot when he first arrived at UW? I think that's something we are going to see from Gasser, but as he gets comfortable, his shot will improve.
Badgers need a star
The Badgers last field goal was a Ryan Evans jumper with 4:38 left in the game that tied the score at 58. From there, the Badgers made 6-of-7 free throws, but missed their final four field goal attempts. Two of those misses were from Taylor and Leuer only took one shot, which didn't actually go down on the stat sheet because he was fouled and hit both free throws.
Wisconsin is going to need a go-to player down the stretch and it struggled to find that player in Saturday's loss.
While it's obvious the Badgers have a lot to work on, I think there were a lot of positives Saturday. UNLV is a really good team -- a tournament team that return all five starters this season.
Also, this was a huge resume game for UNLV and they knew that coming in. It was a more important game for the Rebels and it was obvious they wanted it more. Despite all that and the fact that Wisconsin committed way too many mistakes, the Badgers only lost by three points and had a chance to win it in the final seconds.
This was an NCAA Tournament-like game in November and a great learning experience for the Badgers. They have a game like this every year and I understand why Bo Ryan scheduled it before the Old Spice Classic. The players can take lot from this loss and hopefully correct it before a tough, but very winnable tournament in Orlando this week.