The Wisconsin Badgers have been one of the biggest revelations during the 2023-24 season, bouncing back from a disappointing campaign to be arguably the most improved team in the country.
Much of the attention has been directed to A.J. Storr, who has broken out with a strong sophomore campaign after transferring from St. John’s, scoring a team-high 15.9 points per contest.
However, one of the team’s biggest standouts has been Steven Crowl, who has improved in nearly every category in 2023-24.
Crowl, criticized last season for his inconsistencies at the rim, has been a key contributor for the Badgers this year, averaging 11.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game on 58.3 percent shooting from the field.
But, much of Crowl’s impact goes beyond the stat sheet, as the big man has become a better decision-maker and, frankly, looks much more comfortable in his role.
As a premier part of the Badgers' interior attack in 2023, Crowl was subject to consistent double-teams, which had limited his value as he was occasionally hesitant with his decisions, stalling the offense at times.
This season, however, Crowl has improved on his already strong passing, and seems unfazed when teams look to double him, consistently making the right decisions, which has led to open shots for an efficient Wisconsin team.
Moreover, with the added talent on this season’s team, Crowl hasn’t seen as many double-teams, given that Wisconsin has scoring threats all across the court, leading to more 1-on-1 opportunities this season.
“I think the biggest thing is the team we have makes it so much easier having new guys like AJ [Storr] or John [Blackwell] that can get a bucket whenever and Connor [Essegian] coming off the bench and it obviously all the starters, they can really score it,” Crowl said. “So there’s not really one guy you can focus on, whereas last year, there’s kind of three or four main guys last year. But the other thing is, I think confidence is every year you get a little more confidence. That’s just naturally how it goes. So I think those two things combined have been huge.”
“You can’t really choose one guy to go at because then someone else will beat you. And I think that’s what makes a good team and it credits all those other guys and myself. We play so well as a team and it’s shown this year and hopefully, we can keep it going.”
One of Crowl’s biggest goals over the past two offseasons has been looking to get stronger.
The work has clearly paid off this season, as Crowl has been one of the team’s better 1-on-1 scorers down low, shooting 59.7 percent on twos, while looking to be much more aggressive with his opportunities.
“For me, whenever I’m one-on-one, I’m going to try and go score. Now, I kind of view it as disrespectful when they leave me one-on-one,” Crowl said.
“So I’m going to try to go get a bucket. But I think the big thing is, like you said, balance. Balance when you know you need to pass it to when you know you need to be aggressive. So I think that’s the big key, is balance.”
With the Badgers having a number of scoring options this season, Crowl hasn’t always been relied upon to be the top guy.
But, that doesn’t mean that the Badgers' big man can’t take over games, as Crowl has scored at least 14 points in nine games this season.
Even when he isn’t scoring as much, the Badgers make it a habit to flow their offense through the bigs, which has led to 10 games of at least three assists for Crowl this season.
While Crowl took some time to develop into his frame, the work has paid off for the Badgers, who will get their top center for another season, as the big man is coming back for his final year of eligibility in 2024-25.