Wisconsin Badgers Basketball: Youth of the (Badger) Nation Enduring Growing Pains Early On


I think most of us knew coming into this season that this Wisconsin Badgers basketball team and their youth would endure some growing pains. That was couldn’t have been more evident Friday night when they suffered a shocking loss at the hands of the Western Illinois Leathernecks.

Bo Ryan knew it coming into the season and has been saying it for some time now. He reiterated that sentiment after the game Friday.

"Now you know why I was saying all the things I was saying earlier about ‘Whoa, some days we got a long way to go. Bet you guys thought I was saying the same old stuff, but I think you see now"

One player the Badgers have a lot of faith in to be a go-to guy this year is Nigel Hayes. He proved a reliable threat in the first half of Friday’s game, scoring 17 points and helping Wisconsin head to halftime with a seven point lead. But in the second frame he was almost non-existent, missing on the five shots he took and scoring zero points.

Bronson Koenig did his best to pick up the slack, matching Hayes’ 17 points and shooting 3-of-8 from beyond the three-point line.

With the two veterans doing as much as they could, the youth movement would have to step up. Unfortunately, that did not happen for Bo Ryan and the Badgers.

The rest of the Badgers starters Ethan Happ, Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter combined to score just 23 points, 11 of which came from Brown. Showalter was able to contribute eight points and grab six rebounds, but shot just 3-10 from the floor including 2-7 from three-point land.

Perhaps the biggest disappoint was Happ, a redshirt freshman that carries a lot of hype with him to Madison. Many, myself included, think Happ is a big time player that can contribute a lot to this team this year. However, against Western Illinois, he could not live up to the hype. Happ did record six boards, but scored just four points and sat on the bench towards the end of the game.

And coach Ryan was critical of the forward from Milan, IL. It wasn’t so much his shooting Ryan was concerned about, but rather another body part of his.

Coach is right, it wasn’t just Happ who struggled. The entire team struggled, especially on one aspect of the game that Ryan prides himself on-defense. Wisconsin as a team struggled to stop Western Illinois, especially on help defense. The Leathernecks ran screens with ease as Wisconsin had a hard time rotating over and keeping them out of the paint. Western Illinois would end up scoring 30 points in the paint.

One bright spot of the youth movement was Khalil Iverson, who tried to do what he could to jump start a sluggish Badger squad. Iverson finished with six points, but led the team with seven rebounds, three blocks and three steals. Not eye-popping numbers, but a solid game nonetheless.

There were a few bright spots in Friday’s game but youth and inexperience certainly showed on the Kohl Center court. For a Ryan-coached Badger team to let so many plays finish at or near the rim with ease is frustrating. And until the relatively young team that does not have one senior on scholarship on the roster can starting playing as more of a cohesive unit, the growing pains will continue for the foreseeable future.