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Wisconsin men’s basketball: UW cruises to victory in opener vs. Saint Francis Brooklyn

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The Badgers win their regular season opener 81-58.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 09 St Francis (BKN) at Wisconsin Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Looking to tip-off their season with a win, the Wisconsin Badgers (1-0 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) welcomed the Saint Francis Brooklyn Terriers (0-1 overall, 0-0 NEC) to the Kohl Center on Tuesday night.

Holding a significant height and talent advantage, the Badgers made quick work of the Terriers with an 81-58 win behind a completely revamped roster from a year ago.

In the opening moments of the game, the Badgers were able to shake out of a two minute scoring drought to take an 11-3 lead into the first media timeout as Jonathan Davis and Chucky Hepburn combined for nine points. Wisconsin would continue to build on their lead over the next handful of minutes and make it 19-9 at the ten and a half minute mark.

Following a Saint Francis three, Wisconsin would go on an 11-0 run that was punctuated by a one-handed slam by Jonathan Davis to push the advantage to 18 with just over eight minutes left in the first half.

Over the course of the final minutes of the half, the Badgers were able further distance themselves from the Terriers thanks to a Lorne Bowman three-pointer to take a 21-point edge into the half.

In the second half, Saint Francis (Brooklyn) scored the first six points as Wisconsin came out of the intermission slow. However, Jonathan Davis would take matters into his own hands and string together eight straight points to push the Badgers to a 27-point lead with 11 minutes left in the half.

Chucky Hepburn and Steven Crowl continued to impress in the second half as well, as they each reached double-figures with over eight minutes to play on efficient shooting to give Wisconsin a 30-point advantage.

Over the final few minutes, the Badgers would release the bench mob and manage to close out the game with a 23-point victory over the Terriers.

Notable stat lines:

  • Chucky Hepburn —> 13 points (4-of-7 from the floor), one rebound, one assist
  • Jonathan Davis —> 15 points (6-of-15 from the floor), three rebounds, five assists
  • Steven Crowl —> 11 points (4-of-9 from the floor), eight rebounds, one block
  • Patrick Emilien (St. Francis) —> 18 points (8-of-11 from the floor), five rebounds

Three things that stood out:

No. 1: Playing time

Moments before the game it was announced that true freshmen forwards Chris Hodges and Matthew Mors would redshirt.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 09 St Francis (BKN) at Wisconsin Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

However, it was a different freshman, point guard Chucky Hepburn, who was the story. Hepburn became the first first-year player to start the season opener since former Wisconsin great Devin Harris. Beyond Hepburn, it was the Brad Davison, Jonathan Davis, Tyler Wahl, and Steven Crowl who rounded out the starting lineup.

In terms of the rotation, Chris Vogt and Ben Carlson were the first two players off the bench in relief of Crowl and Wahl. Jahcobi Neath and Lorne Bowman were the next in line for Hepburn and Davison.

Based on the way minutes were distributed early those nine appear to form the core rotation that Greg Gard, with forwards Carter Gilmore and Markus Ilver also factoring in with minutes at times as well.

Frequently it can be hard to take too much from early-season games like this against inferior competition, but the way in which Gard spread out the minutes to those 11 players seems like a strong indication of what the rotation will look like early in the season.

No. 2: Transition time

Wisconsin has traditionally been one of the slowest teams in the country in terms of tempo and adjusted tempo. While I don’t necessarily see this team looking to get into track meets this season, they did seem more willing to push the ball against an albeit bad Saint Francis team.

In the first half the Badgers took advantage of multiple turnovers and some nice outlet passes to secure 10 fast break points. In the second half, Wisconsin had fewer transition opportunities, but they still finish the game with 13 points in transition and held Saint Francis to only one fast break point.

One interesting aspect of this year’s team is that when you look at the starting lineup they have four players (everyone outside of Crowl) that are willing and capable of leading the break and bring the ball up the court. That was something that was apparent in the opener, and I would not be surprised to see that continue this season.

No. 3: Shooting

Wisconsin’s defense was pretty good on Tuesday night, but given the limitations of Saint Francis that was somewhat expected. One of the positive developments from the game was the way in which the Badgers shot the ball.

Most anticipated that this year’s squad would have some growing pains in the shooting department, so to see Greg Gard’s bunch shoot 47% from the floor, 50% from three, and 78% from the free throw line in the first half was encouraging. Lorne Bowman and Brad Davison each connected on a pair of three-pointers in the first half, while Chucky Hepburn also made one of his two attempts.

In the second half Wisconsin came out a little flat, but I was still really impressed by the way the team moved the ball. Shooting wise they finished the game shooting 44% as a team and 45% from three, and a big reason for that was the way the team distributed the ball to the open man.

A final note, it was reassuring to see Jonathan Davis hit back-to-back threes in the middle of the second half as well. That is an area he was looking to improve upon, and while his overall shooting numbers were not overly impressive, multiple threes was nice to see.

Up next: The Badgers will be back in action at the Kohl Center on Friday, Nov. 12 against UW-Green Bay. Tip-time is set for 7 p.m. CT and it will be aired on BTN+.