Though tied at halftime, the Wisconsin Badgers found themselves exiting the NCAA Tournament on Friday in a 72-54 loss to the Oregon Ducks inside the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif.
Shooting struggles plagued Wisconsin (23-11) in the second half, while its normally stout defense—one that guided the Badgers to close victories the second half of the regular season—faulted in the final 20 minutes.
Now, Ethan Happ, Khalil Iverson and Charles Thomas ended their careers by getting Wisconsin back to the NCAA Tournament after a disappointing 2017-18 season, but ultimately the Badgers fell short of advancing to the round of 32.
Let’s go to the takeaways.
Wisconsin’s defense could not contain Oregon in the second half
We will get to the offense next, but the defense—that foundation of success for this program—failed when it mattered in the second half.
The Ducks made 17 of 24 attempts overall (70.8 percent)—including five of six from three-point range—in the final 20 minutes to hang 47 points (FORTY-SEVEN?!) on the Badgers. That’s one more point than UW allowed Northwestern to score just 46 points in two halves in a Jan. 26 win.
Forward Paul White scored all of his 14 points in the second half. He did so while making all five of his field goal attempts in those final 20 minutes that included two three-pointers. Freshman forward Louis King and junior guard Payton Pritchard recorded 10 and seven points, respectively, in the second half as well on a combined 6-of-10 shooting and 3-of-3 from deep. That duo finished with 17 and 19 points, respectively, in the win.
Forward Kenny Wooten also asserted himself well against Wisconsin in the final half with seven points (nine overall) and this dunk seen below:
"UH OH!"#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/bJfxywfccn— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 22, 2019
For that matter, Oregon dominated the paint 22-12 in the second half.
Cold shooting dooms the Badgers once again
The end of the first half saw UW go 5:35 without scoring until Iverson’s dunk with about six seconds remaining with less than a second on the shot clock.
Then again later in the second half, from the 5:43 to about the :57 mark, Wisconsin made just one of 17 from the field. Granted, UW attempted some shots out of desperation during that time with the team down double digits and trying to crawl its way out of the proverbial hole, but nothing hit.
The open shots, when available, just did not fall. Wisconsin shot a poor 33.3 percent in the loss, and that included the [insert several adjectives for cold] 30.6 percent in the final 20 minutes. The Badgers attempted 30 threes on Friday and made just six. For a team coming into the tournament shooting poorly from beyond the arc (just 28.8 percent in the last 11 games dating back to the Feb. 6 match up with Minnesota), it was a recipe for disaster.
But as one of this team’s weaknesses seen in this second half of the year, the inability to put points on the board at times showed up once again. The team had not been firing on all cylinders in that regard, and despite Iverson’s emergence as the main complement to Happ over the course of the final weeks of the season, others dropped off.
Which leads up to next year.....
This team will be drastically different next season, and others will need to step up
Gone will be Happ and Iverson. Wisconsin will lose one of its most unique and best players in program history in the former—despite the accentuated shortcomings with his limited range and free throw shooting—while the latter emerged as an assertive presence and playing his best collegiate basketball when it mattered most.
Gone also is senior forward Charles Thomas, and though he did not work his way in for more minutes, he provided some moments of relief for Wisconsin’s big men this season.
Without Happ, the offensive contributions will have to come from others. When he was on the court, the inside-out game often turned into a “pick your poison” situation early on—either double Happ and let an outside shooter beat you deep (which deteriorated for Wisconsin during the latter part of the year with shooting going cold) or take your chances with the second-team All-American one-on-one.
Now, Nate Reuvers, D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison and others will have to step up. Can they assert themselves as consistent scorers and defenders, and make key plays and shots when called upon?
We saw glimpses of this this season with Happ in foul trouble at Maryland and at Illinois, where Reuvers showed flashes of a potential “next big-time Wisconsin big man.” After that 22-point performance against the Illini on Jan. 23, he scored in double figures just three times in the last 15 games (though he scored nine points in four contests, including Friday’s loss).
This will be a big summer and early fall of development for Reuvers to take his game to the next level. Can he make another jump?
In the front court, Reuvers, Aleem Ford and Ohio State transfer Micah Potter will be called upon to sure up the frontcourt for the Badgers with the departing seniors. Development will need to continue for Ford, who will enter his fourth year in the program.
Potter has Big Ten experience and worked on the scout team while sitting out this season. He will be valuable to the team with his skillset once he is available to play, whether or not that waiver to play immediately for the 2019-20 season is granted.
Trice cooled down considerably from three-point range during the season—and no one believed he would continue that blazing hot 60 percent pace he set early on—but both he and Davison combined for a 2-of-19 performance from deep against Oregon. Both will be called upon for even more production and consistency.
I think everyone is ready for guard Kobe King to emerge with his ability to be a three-level scorer, as he showed that at times this season. How Brevin Pritzl, who became a glue guy this season in playing selflessly and making clutch rebounds and shots, finishes his playing days in Madison will also be something to monitor.
There’s also Trevor Anderson, who will have to return from injury, and Tai Strickland who could fight for minutes in the backcourt once again. Strickland intrigues me greatly with his ball skills, and another year in the weight room and adapting to the college game will help him.
Maybe a lot of talk here is from the offensive side of the ball, but make no mistake, Wisconsin also needs to keep its defense prowess for them to compete in the conference and beyond.