The Wisconsin Badgers (4-4 overall) are struggling on the hardwood right now. They are now losers of three in a row to North Carolina State, Richmond and New Mexico, which is not exactly a Murderer’s Row of teams to have lost to.
The defense has been pretty solid so far but the offense...hoooo boy the offense has been a sight to behold. And not in, like, a Wonder of the World way but in a train careening down the tracks with no way of stopping way. You know it’s going to end poorly but you watch anyways.
Let’s see what Belz, Tyler, Neal, Drew and Ryan have to say about how the season is going so far.
What is the ceiling of this year’s Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team?
Ryan: At this present moment, it’s looking like they will be a middle of the pack team in the B1G at best, unless they can sort things out. They need to figure out how to win on the road/on neutral sites.
Drew: If the Badgers make it to the NCAA Tournament I’ll be shocked. They don’t look like a team that can win any games on the road and probably only half of their remaining games at home. Hopefully Micah Potter is better than advertised or this is going to be a long season.
Neal: I am in the minority here, but I think this is still an NCAA tournament team and top half of the Big Ten team. College teams go into slumps from time to time. The 2015 National Runners-Up team inexplicably lost to Rutgers. Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky have all lost to vastly inferior teams already this season as well, it happens.
The last three games have been abysmal sure, but prior to that they beat the best team (according to KenPom efficiency ratings) on the non-conference schedule, Marquette, by 16. I suspect over the next month we will see the team play more like they did against Marquette.
Allow me to present one last hypothesis. I have no evidence to back this up other than on court performance, but it seems after the final denial on Micah Potter’s eligibility the entire team is in a funk. Almost as if the tyrannical and capricious NCAA deflated the team’s collective will.
Tyler: I don’t want to completely jump ship on this team making the tournament but I have not seen much from them to get me to buy into it turning around. Still plenty of teams on the schedule to beat and turn this thing around, but I’m not holding my breath.
Belz: I think the Badgers ceiling is getting to the NCAA tournament by the skin of their teeth. At this point though that is not realistic, unless this years iteration of Wisconsin basketball turns it around in a major way.
What has been the biggest problem for the Badgers this year?
Ryan: 3-point shooting and inconsistency. No one that plays 20+ minutes per game is shooting better than 33% from outside and as a team that famously lives and dies by the 3-pointer, they’re struggling. I think they are also in sort of a Happ-hangover. They got so used to him being the center of their game plan, they need to break out of their funk.
Drew: A team that shoots as poorly from three as this Badgers team should not be taking so many damn three pointers! I know you are supposed to shoot your way out of a slump but damn...work it inside a little too. Wisconsin is shooting free throws well (second half of N.C. State game excluded) and should try and start earning more points at the charity stripe.
For example: Wisconsin shoots 44.4% of their shots from three but only scores 32.7% of their points from there (No. 140 in the nation). Vanderbilt also shoots 44.4% of their shots from three but scores 36.9% of their points from there (No. 60 in the nation). Belmont, who shoots 44.5% of their shots from three scores 39.3% of their points from there (No. 33 in the nation). IPFW also shoots 44.5% of their shots from three and scores 39.6% of their points from there (No. 29 in the nation).
You get the point.
Neal: Shooting obviously is the biggest culprit but guard play has been inconsistent as well. Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice are shooting a combined 17% from three point range the past three contests. Both players are better shooters than dribble drive scorers, so the shots from deep will continue. They need to find a way to get back to shooting closer to their career marks of 34.8% and 37.7% respectively.
Tyler: Missing more shots than they’re making, and by a pretty large margin. Additionally, there’s not a guy that you can turn to when the scoring is tough and you need a bucket (a la Ethan Happ). Finding that identity is going to be the hardest thing for them to do.
Belz: The offense in general. While the shooting woes are very apparent, some of the reasons for the struggles offensively are due to hesitancy. The Badgers are at times using pump fakes and looking to pass when the shot is wide open. The swing offense is predicated on ball movement, and there has been plenty of stagnation as of late as well, leading to forced jump shots and turnovers. While the past three games have been the worst stretch, this team has struggled across the board to make plays on the offensive end.
Who needs to step up and play better now that conference play is starting?
Ryan: Most of them? Reuvers is having a solid season, but the rest of the starting five needs to play well more consistently. They need Pritzl also to contribute more off the bench and Ford needs to step us as well. He’s shooting 24.2 percent from deep and he should be a match-up nightmare for opposing teams with his size and athleticism.
Drew: Belz brings up Davison, and that’s a good choice, but I think Ryan is right about Brevin Pritzl. He doesn’t start but when he plays well, the Badgers play well. In Wisconsin’s four losses this year Pritzl has been held scoreless twice and scored a total of 11 points. In four games. Woof.
In Wisconsin’s four wins, Pritzl has scored in double-figures in three of them and nine points in the other and averaged 11.8 points per game. Rebounds it’s the same story: in the losses he’s totaled 14 boards and in the wins he’s grabbed 28 (including 11 on the offensive end). Losses, two threes made. Wins, eight made.
On a team full of primarily role players, every one of them has to play well in every game in order for the team to operate at full capacity. Pritzl has been operating at half capacity and it’s hurting the team.
Neal: I think all the perimeter guys, Davison, Trice, Brevin Prizl and Kobe King are going to be the key to getting back on track. During the shooting doldrums of the past few games, teams have been able to collapse on Nate Reuvers and jam up the paint. Knocking down a few and re-gaining the confidence shown early on this season is a must.
Additionally, the Badger’s desperately need someone that will consistently create his own shot. Kobe King appears most capable of taking this on, but needs to finish better. The team has been primarily centered around outside shooting as Drew notes. When those shots aren’t falling, like the last three games, no one has been able to get to the hoop for higher percentage shots.
Tyler: I don’t know if there is really one person you can single out. They’ve all had flashes but if you’re 4-4 and shooting the way this team is it really takes more than one guy improving. I think Greg Gard needs to step up and find a solution for this team based on the guys he’s got. We all talk about the players executing, but what if they’re executing an offense that doesn’t work for their skill set? Adapt or die, fellas.
Belz: I think the entire starting lineup is a good response here, but I will say Brad Davison. I touched on it in the N.C. State recap article, but he has only scored 10 points in the past three games combined on 15% shooting. With very little behind him at the two-guard position, he is one of the most important players on the team. While the communal team scoring identity at play has some advantages, it is necessary that a player or two pops up to lead the team definitively in the scoring column at times. That just has not been happening as of late for Davison or anyone else involved.
Why will Brevin Pritzl go games without shooting more than once or twice?
Ryan: It seems that has been his thing, he will barely shoot the ball for a few games and then he will take 10 shots, out of nowhere. He is one of their key players, as the main guy off the bench, so shooting more is important, but there needs to be a balance, where it’s quality over quantity.
Drew: I DON’T KNOW! I JUST KNOW I WANT HIM TO SHOOT MORE!!
Neal: At this point in his Badger career I think we have to accept Priztl will never be the type of player to go out and hunt for a dozen shots a game. I hesitate to place a ton of blame on the coaching staff, they can’t yell or threaten the shots to go in. But in regard Pritzl, it’s on the coaches to get a few sets each game for Priztl to get some rhythm going. He seems to have been dubbed ‘the ‘best shooter’ on the team, which if true, should warrant more attempts, especially if/when everyone else is struggling
Tyler: Early in the season he mentioned he was pretty hard on himself after losses. I think he might struggle with confidence when the shots aren’t falling. However, he’s one of the better pure shooters and the age old saying is….. Shooters shoot. Keep firing kid they’ll fall.
Belz: Pritzl has tended to be a rhythm player in his career. He needs to get involved early defensively, and in the rebounding department, to get him really into the game. In the three games where he has been in double figures this year he has also filled out the box score in other ways, generally rebounding and assists. He needs to get into the game early and bring a spark of energy off the bench as the pseudo sixth man. When he does that he is aggressive with his shot.
When does Wisconsin get their first B1G win this year?
Ryan: I will say in its second B1G game, against Rutgers for sure, but I really want them to win on Saturday, because I’ll be in attendance.
Drew: Indiana hasn’t won in Madison in two decades. Does that change on Saturday? I hope not, but I have limited confidence that Wisconsin can win that one. Wisconsin is picked to lose to Rutgers on KenPom and if the Badgers don’t win that one I could see them going until Jan. 21 (Nebraska at home) before winning a conference game.
Neal: Welp, this is what it has come to huh? Concern over Rutgers? YIKES! I will remain the optimist and say they beat Indiana to kickoff (pun intended) a multi-sport Badger upset weekend.
Tyler: Lose to Rutgers in any sport and it’s time to punt on the season. Dems da rules.
Belz: Probably against Rutgers like Ryan said. Undefeated Indiana is coming in with some serious momentum on Saturday, while Wisconsin is in scramble mode. I don’t see the Badgers beating Indiana as it stands, especially with the crowd likely being a bit lighter with the recent struggles and the football team playing shortly thereafter.
Should a team that shoots 29.7% from three really be taking 44.4% of their shots from there?
Ryan: No…? But welcome to Wisconsin basketball, where we live and die by the 3-pointer.
Drew: I feel like I answered this already, but just to make sure you didn’t skip that part...no, they should not.
Neal: I am not sure they have a ton of other options at this point. However, one of the bright spots versus NC State was Aleem Ford and Kobe King flashing some willingness to attack the hoop. If either or both can remain aggressive, perhaps that will be enough to open more shots in the paint.
Tyler: No, but it falls on the offensive scheme to work to find other open shots which they are just not finding right now. It’s hoist and pray.
Belz: No. Wisconsin has shot 48 more three-pointers than their opponents this year, including double the number of three-pointers that New Mexico shot. It is not a recipe for success, and it never will be given this team’s skillset.
Point blank, one word answer...does this team even make the NIT?
Ryan: Yes, at the very least.
Drew: Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. (That’s it. That’s my word.)
Neal: Absolutely. We will all look back at this stretch in March with hilarity on Selection Sunday. Drew - please be prepared to edit this out. (Editor’s note: you got it!)
Tyler: No………. ( at this point the CIT would withhold invitation. I’m not even trying to be funny. .500 doesn’t get you in any dance big or small. How this thing shakes the next few weeks will be make or break.)
Belz: Maybe. The Badgers are at a crossroads so to speak. How they move from here will be key.