The Wisconsin Badgers have started the season 1-1, putting up a Kohl Center-record 105 points in the opener against Arkansas State before dropping an 80-70 battle to the Tennessee Volunteers last Friday.
Through two games, although it’s come in different forms, the Badgers have found ways to score, even when they’re being inefficient, as they were still able to drop 70 points on a top defense in 2022 in the Volunteers.
However, through two games, the Badgers have faced some issues on the defensive side of the ball, which isn’t the area that fans are normally accustomed to seeing problems at.
Following the loss to Tennessee, head coach Greg Gard chided on the team’s defense, although he thought the wake-up call this early in the season would be good for the Badgers’ future.
“I thought they exploited some things consistently throughout the game. Really. We could never get a handle on us ourselves defensively, and I think it showed,” Gard said. “We got a lot of work to do defensively, which I thought we had a lot to do, but to get it exposed like this is in the long run, it’ll be good for us. I’m proud of the guys, how we battled. We were there and could never get a stop or a rebound or possession without a foul when we needed it the most.”
“So learn from this one. We’ll break it down and do a lot of teaching and make sure we’re getting better quickly because we obviously turn the page and get ready for what’s coming next. So this group will bounce back and learn and continue to improve as we go through the non conference schedule.”
What were the specific issues for the Badgers defensively?
“Well, it was a little bit of everything or a lot of everything. There was under ball screens. We lost guys at times, especially in the first half,” Gard said. “15 points on their first ten possessions gives them a lot of confidence. And then we get to a point where they got to make tough shots like Knecht. Did down the stretch, and he’s a heck of a player, which we knew coming in, but we had given him enough clean looks early to get going a little bit, and then when he has to make plays, he can.”
“But yeah, it was off the dribble. It’s again going under a screen, not sending the ball to the help. Straight line drives, defensive rebounding, fouling, when some of that’s where the ball got driven to giving up baseline. So a lot of things, everything that happened is correctable, and we’ll continue to teach and show them how it needs to be done.”
However, seeing the issues on tape early in the season will provide opportunities to learn for the Badgers, as they navigate through a tough nonconference schedule, which continues Tuesday against the Providence Friars.
“But, I think that’s one of the benefits of playing this type of team this early, is that we get shown a few things that maybe we in other games wouldn’t get exposed as easily. So we’ll grow from this and be better because of it.”
Now, the Badgers had other issues against Tennessee, as the team struggled to finish and hit free throws, which were problems for Wisconsin during their disappointing 2022 season.
“We wanted to play in the paint, which I thought in the second half we did a little better job of. We didn’t finish well enough in the paint. We’ve got to be better in there,” Gard said following Friday’s game. “I think we were 16 of 30, which is not at a high enough percentage when we were playing that much in the paint. From that standpoint, I thought we broke offense off at times, too, and went into dribble backdowns and busted out of possessions way too early.”
“When we did let the offense work for us, we got better looks and I think that’s part of the reason the second half we go two for 13 from three ones we did take were tougher shots because we had broken off offense and we’ve got to continue to put the ball inside and Steve and Tyler’s hands and they got to finish and we got to make free throws. When you get there, you got to convert and they did. We didn’t and that’s part of it.”
However, the defensive end was the biggest problem for the Badgers, and Gard pointed to the recurring issues as an early concern.
“But the defensive end, I think is my biggest concern because we were too porous and we’ve got to get better. It’s not the first time it’s bitten us like this. We gave up too much off the bounce Monday night, too. We gave up too much off the bounce against Stevens Point. So we have to improve. We’ve got a long ways to go defensively here and these guys will figure it out. We’ll get better.”
The Badgers will get their first opportunity to change things up against the Providence Friars on Tuesday, who have scored 78 and 79 points, respectively, in their first two games, but are shooting 44 percent from the field and 29 percent from three.
Can Wisconsin turn things around with a win?