[Ed. note: We begin the first of two roundtable breakdowns, first looking at Wisconsin Badgers' non-conference season through 12 games. Please note, some statistics and answers were given prior to the Dec. 15 matchup against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.]
Starting with the positives, what have you liked from this Badgers men's team through the first 12 games of the season?
Drew Hamm: I have liked Nigel Hayes. I have liked glimpses of Ethan Happ. I have liked Bronson Koenig only missing six free throws all season. I have liked beating Syracuse and Temple. Otherwise, most everything has been terrible.
Phil Mitten: While it honestly is a little hard right now to come up with a positive angle, Wisconsin has provided a bunch of really exciting finishes so far this season. It's something we sort of expected coming in with an inexperienced team and they've lived up to it. Watching Koenig notch his first game-winner against VCU was definitely a highlight, while the Syracuse and Temple wins added encouragement in their own ways. I've seen enough of Happ to feel like he is what we thought he could be. The defense has been progressing overall, which is keeping the Badgers in some of these games.
Curt Hogg: I'm going to go with something that isn't directly seen on the court. I like the maturity that these guys bring despite losing more games through just 12 contests this year than in 40 last season. Hayes has walked into that Kohl Center thrice after a tough loss, and each time has refused to hang his head. A 7-5 start could easily just lead to a collapse, but these guys seem like they are refusing to go down without a fight.
Zach Sinykin: I have liked the overall improvement of the younger guys over the course of the young season. Happ looks like a rebounding machine and Charlie Thomas looks like a future starter at forward. Like Curt mentioned, I really think the maturity of some of the older Badgers like Hayes and Koenig has really shown early on. Oh, and a win on the road against a then-top 15 team in the country is nice.
Did you think the Badgers would lose five of their first 12 games, and what's ailing this team?
Drew: No. Losing at home to Western Illinois, UW-Milwaukee, and Marquette is inexcusable. Losing to one of them? Sure, I can see that. BUT ALL THREE!?!?! FOH with that malarkey. No one can shoot from beyond the arc, save Koenig occasionally, and defenses are packing the lane and daring the Badgers to hoist up ill advised (due to lack of ability to make them) threes. Hell, I think I'm suffering from Badgers Three Point Stockholm Syndrome because when Zak Showalter lines up for a triple I get mildly excited.
Anyways, getting a guy who posed a real threat from three out there would ease a lot of the team's problems. Also, I'll throw a danged pizza party for the entire state of Wisconsin if Happ ever makes all of his layups in one game and Vitto Brown stops shooting so much.
Phil: I didn't expect them to lose five, but I did suspect they'd lose three or four. When and where matters even more than the number of losses when you start thinking about a bubble team's resume.
The biggest problem on the team is that they just don't have enough good players so far. I've always argued that the caliber of player lost isn't as important as the sheer number of contributors lost. Wisconsin lost five. The two returning contributors, Koenig and Nigel Hayes, have to be UW's leaders, but they are still trying to do too much as if they don't know how to play with the guys around them yet. Brown is a junior power forward who without a single post move. The freshmen are still very much freshmen.
Curt: To answer the first question, no. I would put a link to my pre-season game predictions, but just take my word for it: I look like an idiot.
What's ailing this team is a lack of offensive efficiency. That stems from a variety of things. They don't have very many shooters, so they are taking three pointers at a low clip for any Bo Ryan team and taking long twos at a clip very high for a Bo Ryan team. On multiple occasions, the Badgers seem to get stagnant in terms of ball movement. Definitely not minor things.
Zach: No way did I expect five losses in the first 11 games. The primary reason is their lack of quality offensive contributors. One of the main reasons Koenig and Hayes played so well last season is because they had room to operate out on the perimeter. This is a very young team, and a solid defensive squad overall. But without an influx of quality outside shooters, or even above average ones, the Badgers have struggled to outscore opponents.
How do they alleviate their shortcomings?
Drew: Tell Brown that he doesn't need to shoot the ball every time he touches it. He leads the team, and is 16th in the conference, in percentage of shots taken on his team's possessions at 25.9%, while his True Shooting Percentage is 44.8% which is WORST ON THE TEAM BESIDES CHARLIE THOMAS! [Ed. note: This stat and answer are from before last week's game against Texas A&M] I don't know, sometimes he really frustrates me. Brown has been doing an excellent job rebounding, I wish he'd stick to that.
Finding someone else that can make 35 percent of their three pointers certainly would be nice, too. Also, running the offense through Hayes on most possessions would help alleviate their offensive shortcomings. I haven't even started in on the defense...
Phil: I can think of three straightforward tweaks that would help. First, Koenig has to get to the free throw line. He's been shut out five times already this year, three of them losses. Koenig can set the tone for the team with his aggressiveness and not rely on tough jumpers to generate offense. Secondly, feed Happ the ball more inside. He's shown growth there and is a guy who opponents will not double-team. Lastly, Hayes needs to improve his shot selection. Running the offense through Nigel on the post has resulted in some pretty assists, but when Hayes reverts to his newer, "wingier" self, the results haven't been great. Notice the theme here?
Curt: Practice. Every team has things to fix, but this team has lots of things to fix. You're not going to suddenly turn this team into a lethal three-point shooting team, but you can shore up plenty of the minor things, increase offense efficiency and try to start afresh in Big Ten play.
Zach: I think that this team needs to way more aggressive offensively. Sure Wisconsin teams in the past 15 years have never been super flashy, spare last season's incredible set of players; however, they have been able to beat the likes of UW-Milwaukee and Western Illinois-caliber teams forever. Happ has been a stud on the interior, and Koenig rarely misses from the charity stripe. Hayes also needs to gain some confidence in his shooting again.
Who's been a positive surprise, and who may need to step up?
Drew: Their offensive rebounding, as a team, has been awesome. They are grabbing almost 40 percent of their misses and that is great! [Ed. note: stat before Texas A&M-Corpus Christi contest] I am purposefully ignoring the actual question, because almost no one on this team has been a positive surprise. I guess Khalil Iverson has blocked a bunch of shots, that has been a positive surprise.
Bronson Koenig needs to step up. Nigel Hayes needs a sidekick, and it was supposed to be Koenig. Almost all of his advanced shooting statistics are down, his assist rate is down, his turnover rate is up, while his usage is up. He should be compared to the top point guards in the conference, but right now that would be inaccurate.
Phil: The fact that statistically, Showalter is the team's second-best three-point shooter (min. 6 attempts) and Brown is the best two-point jump shooter is borderline shocking. It highlights the fact that these players do possess useful skills offensively even though they run very hot and cold. If the only thing that changes from here on out is that Showalter and Brown get more consistent and commit fewer turnovers, that might help Koenig and Hayes get back on track.
Curt: I'd say Happ here, but seeing his play from practice translate onto the game floor isn't really a surprise. That said, there haven't been a whole lot of other greater surprises. Maybe Vitto Brown's defensive progress?
The Badgers bench showed its inexperience against Marquette, totaling 0 points in 14 minutes. It's hard to win when you're truly only relying on four people, but the bench realistically is three freshmen, and it's hard to ask for more from them than what they're contributing.
Zach: There hasn't been a whole lot of positive surprises, to be completely honest. Happ's interior presence has been really fun to watch, and Brown has held his own defensively. Koenig and Hayes hold the key to this squad and they need to improve dramatically and in a hurry.