Back before this basketball season started I recall having multiple conversations with groups of friends that care about Wisconsin basketball and noting how excited I was for the new season. Not because I was expecting a deep NCAA Tournament or a ton on wins, but because there would be new players stepping up and building something for future seasons.
Well, we’ve definitely gotten the latter and because of new players stepping up we’ve also gotten the former. The Badgers sit in a tie for first place in the Big Ten at 10-3 and are 19-4 overall while having spent much of the past two months ranked in the top-20 nationally.
The main reason for Wisconsin’s season far exceeding everyone’s expectations is none other than sophomore guard Johnny Davis. Davis has been playing at an All-America level and will be seriously considered as both Big Ten Player of the Year and National Player of the Year. We all thought that Davis would be much improved this year as he was going to be the focal point of the offense after last year’s large and talented senior class (mostly) moved on, but I don’t think anyone outside of Davis’ immediate family saw this coming.
What has been most amazing about Davis’ season is how he has responded when the opposition is the best. Davis is averaging 20.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 2.5 apg on the season overall but when he is playing teams rated as “A” matchups by KenPom he is averaging 26.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg and 2.1 apg. You’ll also note (in the table below) that he is shooting better and more efficiently all while playing more minutes and having a higher usage rate.
The bright lights of big games seem to literally turn Davis into a better player. His signature performance of the season is his 37 point, 14 rebound, three assist masterpiece at Purdue (a top-five team in the AP and KenPom), a place where the Badgers basically never win. He also scored 30 points against Houston at the Maui Invitational and just dropped 25 at the Breslin Center on Tuesday to beat Michigan State.
Johnny Davis in wins away from home vs. Houston, Purdue and Michigan State this season:— Jim Polzin (@JimPolzinWSJ) February 9, 2022
92 points on 31-of-53 shooting from the field and 22-of-26 shooting from the line.
The second half of those games:
57 points on 16-of-28 shooting from the field and 22-of-26 FT shooting.
The Badgers have seven games left in the regular season. They travel to some tough road venues still (Rutgers, Minnesota, Indiana) and have a home date against a revenge-minded Boilermakers in the penultimate game of the season, so there are, per usual, no nights off remaining.
With Davis on the court, though, the Badgers should feel extremely confident heading into the stretch run.