The Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team improved to 9-2 overall (1-1 in the Big Ten) on Wednesday night following a narrow win over Nicholls State. The Badgers entered the game as the overwhelming favorites but had to engineer a second-half comeback to secure the win and avoid embarrassment.
That was TOOOOOOOO close.— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) December 16, 2021
The #Badgers narrowly take down Nicholls State 71-68 at the Kohl Center.
Brad Davison led the team with 19 points before fouling out late.
Let’s dive into a trio of quick takeaways from the non-conference victory.
Three things that stood out:
No. 1: Defense
The defensive effort from the Badgers in the first half was pathetic. Nicholls State was able to drive to the basket at will against Wisconsin and shot a balmy 57% from the floor. The Badgers were unable to stay in front of the Nicholls guards, and there was no help defensive to speak of. For a team that relied on defensive intensity (and Johnny Davis) to carry them the first 10 games of the season, the first half was as poor of a showing imaginable defensively.
Early in the second half, it was more of the same, but the defensive effort gradually improved for the Badgers. Wisconsin did a much better job of contesting Nicholls in the lane, and as a result, the Colonels struggled to score in the second half for long stretches.
Wisconsin has had defensive lapses this season at times, but the first half of the Nicholls State game was by far their worst showing. The rotations and help defense were not as crisp as usual. Luckily the Badgers have two more tune-up games before Big Ten play fires back up once the calendar year turns over because they have plenty to clean up defensively.
Greg Gard’s opening statement in post game pic.twitter.com/SDzVa1hAwl— Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) December 16, 2021
No. 2: No Johnny Davis
Without Davis to turn to offensively, the rest of the roster looked lost in the first half. Players were more hesitant with the basketball, and outside of Brad Davison’s eight points in the first half, the rest of the squad shot only 33%. The ball movement was lacking and the group did not seem to be in rhythm during the first half.
Overall Davison led the team with 19 points, and the team shot markedly better in the second half, but Johnny Davis mentioned the need for a third scoring option to emerge following the Ohio State loss. I don’t think the Badgers found any answers in terms of another scoring threat, as the game further proved how important Davis is to the team.
Starting center Steven Crowl, specifically, had a tough game, as he was once again outplayed by reserve Chris Vogt. How the center minutes continue to be dispersed over the next few weeks will be something to monitor.
In addition to Vogt, one other player that had a solid game was Jahcobi Neath. Now healthy, he could be a player that takes on a larger role situationally behind Davison and Davis. Neath finished the game with nine points and seven rebounds on 50% shooting.
Brad Davison on the team playing short-handed pic.twitter.com/1T1mbVCc2o— Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) December 16, 2021
No. 3: Energy
Nicholls State took it to the Badgers in the first half. The Colonels played with enthusiasm and energy that was not matched by Wisconsin. Seemingly every loose ball went to the away team and their bench was up clapping and chanting in excitement. The Badgers did not come out with a ton of energy, and Nicholls seemed to feed off of a quick start.
In the second half, the Kohl Center was engaged and tried to will the Badgers back into it early. A pair of crucial buckets by Vogt brought the crowd, and team, back to life in the second half though as the Badgers grabbed a lead with 12 minutes remaining and never looked back.
Wisconsin will need to figure out how to avoid slow starts against inferior opponents the next two weeks however with Morgan State and Illinois State both coming to town for non-conference games. Playing down to competition, regardless of the situation can lead to disaster for young teams.
Chris Vogt on the second half pic.twitter.com/zDg55hpbES— Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) December 16, 2021
Up next: The Badgers will be back at the Kohl Center next Thursday, December 23 vs. Morgan State. The game will be aired on Big Ten Network at 6 p.m. CT.