Coming into the Big Ten Tournament, the Wisconsin basketball team has been one of the coldest-shooting teams in the entire conference. Their offense has been stagnant and inefficient. In their last eight games leading up to the Big Ten Tournament, the Badgers are 2-6 and are shooting 30.7% from beyond the arc and 37.9% overall.
It doesn’t matter how well they’ve been playing defense, if you don’t have an offense, you are still going to lose games. This team looked like one that could be an early exit in the conference tournament and then probably in the NCAA Tournament as well.
Wisconsin basketball comes out hot
The Badgers had a few days to rest after coming off a disappointing and controversial loss to Iowa last Sunday.
After the loss, coach Greg Gard and other players like Micah Potter and even the soft-spoken Jonathan Davis spoke out against the officiating of that game and even throughout the season. They seemed angry and frustrated, and for good reason. It felt as though this group had an edge all of a sudden and were ready to explode.
It showed on Thursday night.
The Badgers played Penn St. in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday night. The Nittany Lions were coming in off of a win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers the day before.
The game started off as a typical Wisconsin basketball game. The Badgers started off slowly offensively and it was a close game for most of the first half. That was until the Badgers went on a 23-5 run to end the half, including an Aleem Ford three at the buzzer to put them up 10.
The same continued at the start of the second half. The Badgers got up by as much as 68-50 with 7:48 left in the game. But in typical Wisconsin fashion, their offense became stagnant. Well, let’s be honest, there wasn’t even an offense. They got conservative and dribbled out the clock on the perimeter then attempted to go 1-on-1 with their defender.
Meanwhile, Penn St. started hitting some shots and closing the gap. They kept getting stops and chipping away and eventually got to within one point with just seconds to play. The Badgers were on their heels but had one last defensive stand and deflected a pass that Davison alertly caught and called a timeout as he was falling out of bounds with under a second left in the game.
The Badgers survived the scare, winning 75-74 and advancing onto the quarterfinal round to play Iowa.
Looking ahead to Iowa
Now, with just about 20 hours of rest, the Badgers need to prepare for Iowa. It seems poetic that the Badgers would get one more crack at the Hawkeyes after Sunday’s ending. They stuck with Iowa throughout the game, even while shooting 37.5% from three. Last night, the Badgers shot 52.2% (12/23) from long range last night. If the Badgers can shoot like that against Iowa, they should have a good chance at upsetting the Hawkeyes and moving onto the semifinal game on Saturday.
I think another thing from last night is the re-emergence of Nate Reuvers. He hit a couple of big threes and showed some physicality in the post, something he was missing for most of the season. He wasn’t without flaws last night, but when Potter was having a cramping issue with his leg, it was Reuvers in the at the end of the game and provided the crucial deflection that ended it.
We are going to need to see that same physicality and shooting tonight against Iowa. If both he and Potter can get in there and wear Garza down, that could be huge in their efforts to defeat the Hawkeyes.
The Hawkeyes were without Joe Wieskamp for much of the game when he went down with an ankle injury, and it sounds like he could potentially miss this game as well. Mark Emmert from Hawkcentral.com mentioned this just a couple of days ago:
"McCaffery said Wieskamp was feeling better Tuesday, but still wouldn’t practice. He will be evaluated every day this week before a final decision is made Friday about whether he can play in Iowa’s 8 p.m. tournament opener against either Wisconsin, Penn State or Nebraska."
It would be a huge blow to Iowa if Wiekskamp is unavailable to play. When he went down with his injury, Wieskamp had 12 points in just 12 minutes. He was killing the Badgers. After he went down, the Badgers were able to get back into the game and make it interesting at the end.
Between Wieskamp’s injury and the Badgers hot game last night, this could very well be an upset-in-the-making. The Wisconsin basketball team will need to be at their best to beat Iowa tonight, and luckily for the Badgers, they might be.