With 10 Big 10 games left in the regular season, Belz, Ryan, Kevin and I shared how we felt about how Wisconsin basketball had been performing, and what the expectations were for the rest of the season. With a large trophy proclaiming the Badgers the champions of the Big 10 already in the Kohl Center, let’s look back at that discussion and see how close we were to the mark.
Going back to the beginning of the season, is this where you thought the Badgers, 12-9 overall and 5-5 in conference, would be at the midpoint of B1G play?
|Rock||"Poor non-conference, but a difficult start to Big 10 play."|
|Belz||"Poor non-conference, but optimism in some close conference losses."|
|Kevin||"Middle of the pack team capable of beating or losing to anyone."|
|Ryan||"Finds a way to win in conference, but has lost some as well."|
Everyone was on the same page: this team has some ability, but can’t seem to put everything together. Nobody mentioned “clearly able to win eight straight games” or “in a position to win a conference title.” Kevin and I were on the exact same page - .500, middle of the pack team, which are not synonyms of a conference title winner.
After collapsing on the road against a tough Iowa team and seeing, potentially, Kobe King leave the team all on the same day, what are your thoughts on Greg Gard’s job security?
|Rock||"Gard has to have more issues around roster makeup before we even talk about this."|
|Belz||"If struggles continue with next year's senior leadership and influx of young talent, then people can grumble."|
|Kevin||"Gard's recruiting class covers some questionable ingame decisions to buy him another year."|
|Ryan||"If the hyped freshman and returning stars can't turn it around next year, we could see his potential exit."|
Everyone was in agreement that Greg Gard, a strong candidate for Big 10 Coach of the Year, should stick around for another year. Belz, Kevin and Ryan all cited his highly regarded recruiting class, none of whom played in any game in this regular season championship winning season. I questioned Gard needing to roll out transfer Micah Potter, who is shooting 57%/45%/86% on the year, in order to field a competitive team.
Who has been the team MVP so far? Who has been the biggest surprise?
|Rock||"Nate's been the MVP. Aleem Ford has been surprisingly dissapointing since he shot 40% from deep as a freshman."|
|Belz||"Nate's been the MVP. Wahl's energy been the biggest surprise, but Potter deserve a mention for his offense."|
|Kevin||"Nate's been the MVP. I expected Wahl to play sparingly or redshirt, but he's been a key bench contributor."|
|Ryan||"Nate's been the MVP. Micah Potter has been the biggest surprise, and needs to involve him more in the game."|
To help answer this question, I grabbed the sports-reference.com box score for every Badger that played meaningful minutes. After splitting the season into the six relevant non-conference games and each 10 games of conference play, I looked at who improved the most over the course of the year using game score as my benchmark.
(Game score is a number that sums up a player’s impact on the game - higher is better.) Potter was the victim of a small sample size (playing in only the Tennessee road trip for good non-conference games) so his out-sized effect was clearly a huge surprise. Nate was clearly the MVP early in the season, but took a slight step back in the last 10 games while everyone around him flourished.
Who really improved? Aleem Ford and Brad Davison doubled their average positive impact on games in the most recent stretch, even after I specifically said Ford was disappointing. D’Mitrik Trice and Brevin Pritzl also shook off some early conference slumps and made better impacts on the court.
What is the Badgers record in the last 10 games and where do they finish in the B1G?
|Rock||"7 or 8 wins, 5th place in conference."|
|Belz||"A managable slate leads to 6 to 8 wins. Winning at home will be key to finish in the top six."|
|Kevin||"6 wins - take care of the non-MSU home games and steal one on the road."|
|Ryan||"6 wins, 5th to 7th in the conference."|
Belz came the closest. While we both said eight wins was a possibility, which was still one short of the actual 9-1 record, I foolishly specified ‘fifth in the conference’ instead of a general top-six placing, which the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament technically includes. Kevin and Ryan both said 6-4, full stop. It is currently impossible for the Badgers to lose three more games this season.
Does this team make the NCAA Tournament?
|Rock||"Yes, especially with one BTT win."|
|Belz||"19 or 20 wins should do the trick. Beating MSU would rejuvenate this team and secure their spot barring a collapse."|
|Kevin||"For now, thanks to a tough conference, yes. An NIT bid could be at the end of a collapse though."|
|Ryan||"I’m going to go with a cautiously optimistic, yes. However, it’s going to take a strong finish to get in. And college basketball is weird this year."|
Ryan and Belz both said a strong finish would take Wisconsin to the dance. The Badgers finished 9-1 and are currently projected to be a 4 or 5-seed in the NCAA tournament, and not participate in the NIT.
Keep reading Bucky’s Fifth Quarter for more discussion of Wisconsin basketball, but only pay attention to what Matt Belz says for insightful discussion of Wisconsin basketball.