A reader messaged Matt and asked him if the staff had any thoughts on how the end of the season might go. As we discussed it in Slack, it turns out that we did have a number of thoughts on the matter! Here, Matt, Tyler and J.J., discuss how they think the Badgers will do over the last week of the season, the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.
What will Wisconsin’s record be in the final week of the season in games at Purdue and at Iowa? What do they need to do to go 1-1?
Belz: I think the hope has to be to split the two games, but in all honesty it’s hard to imagine them winning these two road games given the way that they are playing. The recipe to have a chance against Purdue and Iowa is fairly simple: MAKE YOUR SHOTS. The Badgers have had far too many stretches where they can’t generate anything on offense this season. At some point the “live and die by the three” strategy has to swing in favor of Wisconsin, but time is running out.
I am very leery of Purdue’s bigs, and of course Luka Garza is a whole different animal. In addition to shooting well from the field it is uber important that they don’t allow PU’s Trevion Williams and Garza to dominate the game in the paint. Wisconsin has struggled against quality front court players all season long, and Nate Reuvers will need to play big in the final two games to give Greg Gard’s bunch a chance on the road. I don’t have confidence in the Badgers to turn things around in the final two games, so I will guess 0-2.
Tyler: I mean, I hope it’s 1-1 but I cannot say it will be with any sort of confidence. Right now, based on what I have seen from Wisconsin going against teams better than them with talented bigs it’s hard for me to say they will win either one. Purdue has strong bigs in Trevion Willams and Zach Edey who is 7-foot-4 (where tf does Purdue pull these guys from?) and good inside and out.
If they want to go 1-1 they’ll need to limit the production of those two, but lets be real, they are going to get their points. Micah Potter is getting more minutes so their bigs are going to score. The big thing Wisconsin needs to do is make shots. It’s cliche, but I think it’s the biggest issue. The clank of the rim is burned into my head after watching this team the past few weeks and if that doesn’t improve it’s curtains for this squad.
J.J.: Bring in every 2021 recruit early and just start fresh? Honestly, I think a significant amount of this team’s recent struggles are mental. These are the same players and same coach that looked like a title contender for stretches of last season. These are the same players and same coach that looked like a title contender for significantly smaller stretches early on in this season.
For some reason Gard, and the rest of the team with him, appears to have just hit a wall and stagnated. The shooting ranges from at best inefficient to at worst outright bad. The bigs look outclassed. Hopefully D’Mitrik Trice’s senior day “fine, I’ll do it myself” attempted comeback will inspire the team to break out of the rut it’s been stuck in for the last month or so, because the Badgers have almost no shot of taking down Purdue or Iowa the way they’re currently playing.
Right now (Tuesday morning) the Badgers are the No. 6 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, giving them a first round bye. They would play the winner of Nebraska vs. Minnesota and then if they won that game would face off against Iowa. How far do you think UW goes in the BTT?
Belz: Assuming they indeed stick as the No. 6 seed, I think they should be able to take down the winner of Nebraska/Minnesota. The Badgers have done a decent job of winning the games they are supposed to win this season, but I don’t see them taking down any of the top four or five teams of the conference at a neutral site.
Tyler: I think they’d win that first game. If you lose to Minnesota, a team that just lost to Northwestern, you may as well not even accept your invite to the big dance. That first game is very winnable and we’ve seen Wisconsin win the games they should win and lose the games they should lose. I’ll say they win that one, and I could see them winning against Iowa if they lose the regular season finale. It’s just hard to beat a team three times and maybe Iowa falls into that trap if Wisconsin finds a little bit of shooting confidence. We’ll see, don’t hold your breath.
J.J.: I’m relatively confident that even if the team stays sluggish and a shell of it’s slightly older (younger?) self that they’ll still be able to scrape by either an overwhelmingly poor Nebraska or a rapidly sliding Minnesota. Frankly, they could probably still get even worse and manage a win. On that same token, the team we’ve seen over the past weeks doesn’t get close to beating Iowa.
Despite a disappointing season, based on preseason expectations, the Badgers are pretty close to a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. I know everything is extremely matchup dependent, but holistically, how far do you think Wisconsin goes in the Big Dance?
Belz: The answer to this is obviously very dependent on matchups, but I think COVID has really made this season tough on the players. While all of the players want to win, there has to be a lingering desire for the season to be done after not living up to expectations and having to go through all the protocols to play in the first play.
With the struggling Badgers set to likely take on a mid-major program the want factor and excitement for their opponent will probably be higher. This version of the Wisconsin Badgers has also struggled to bring their own energy and respond to adversity, both of which are critical components to success in postseason play. They have the talent to be a wildcard in the tournament, but the way they are currently playing I don’t anticipate them getting past the second round.
Tyler: It depends on the seed and the matchup they get, but I don’t think they survive the first weekend based on what I have seen. Right now ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Badgers as a 5-seed taking on Toledo. In that matchup it’s curtains for Wisconsin. Of the 12-seeds you could draw that is the one you don’t want to see. They’re a team that is top-25 in scoring offense, and Wisconsin just cant score at that pace and doesn’t have the defense to slow an opponent down.
CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm has the Badgers as a 7-seed taking on Colorado State. Don’t love that matchup either, but I think Wisconsin could win a game against the Rams. Maybe depending on the draw they get to the round of 32, but I don’t see this team taking out a 2 or 3 seed and I would be surprised if the Badgers end up on a 5-seed line.
J.J.: The pessimist in me is screaming 5/12 game upset fodder. And, frankly, if the Badgers end up a 5-seed (though I don’t think they’ve earned that in the slightest) I will probably pick against them. But I’d like to think this team has the raw firepower to, even at its current level, be a Sweet 16 team, but that’s a ceiling and a pretty generous one at that. There would need to be some significant changes and form-finding over this final, all-important, March stretch of games for them to be anything more. Until I see more, I’ll probably have them losing in the round of 32.