Wisconsin Badgers Men’s team had an eventful, if not an overly busy, week. They had their star forward return from a 3-game absence, ended the longest losing streak in 2 seasons, and finally had their second game of the season unexpectedly changed.
Wahl returns and the Badgers claw out a win against Penn State
The start of 2023 turned out to be a bumpy start for the Badgers cagers. Minutes into their game against Minnesota, Tyler Wahl severely injured his right ankle. While Wisconsin was able to hang on for a 63-60 victory, it was clear that Wahl’s absence would soon be felt.
Entirely missing the next three games, Wisconsin seemed lost without their star forward. Soon the Badgers were in the midst of a 3-game losing streak, something that hadn’t happened since the end of the 20-21 season. Tuesday’s game against visiting Penn State promised to be a tough contest, without or without Wahl. Even though the Nittany Lions had never won in the Kohl Center, this squad was bringing the Big Ten’s best, and 11th overall in the nation, 3-point shooting team.
New players, new offense, same result. Wisconsin simply refuses to lose, at home, to Penn State. The games are almost always incredibly close, hard-fought contests. But Wisconsin finds a way. Tuesday night was no different.
Penn State took a 36-30 lead into halftime, on 5-9 shooting from long distance. Halftime deficits have not been kind to Wisconsin, as they had a 1-5 record this season when trailing after the first stanza.
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard made some crucial changes in the perimeter defense strategies that clamped down on Penn State’s high-powered offense, holding the Nittany Lions to 3 of 11 3-point shooting in the second half and their 3rd lowest point total of the season.
While Wahl’s return garnered all of the pre-game publicity, once the game started, it became the Steven Crowl show. The 7-foot Junior from Eagan, Minnesota notched his second double-double of the season with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Connor Essegian made his first career start for the Badgers and scored 10 points in his starting debut.
The game might not have been the cleanest or best-played game of the year for Wisconsin, but it showed the true character of the team. Faced with the second-largest halftime deficit of the season, they show grit and determination in fighting their way back into the game. They showed the kind of moxie that it takes to win the Big Ten.
Northwestern game postponed til Monday leads to a busy week
Looking to carry the momentum from their come-from-behind victory with them, the Badgers found that trip temporarily derailed, as their game on Saturday against Northwestern was postponed due to the COVID-19 protocol.
Initially looking at early February as a possible time to re-schedule, Big Ten officials decided to make the game up this coming Monday, January 23rd at 2:30 p.m.
The silver lining of this unexpected schedule change is extra days of rehab for Wahl’s tender ankle, as well as Max Klesmit’s injury that knocked him out of the 2nd half of the Penn State game.
The dark side of that change is 2 road games in just over 48 hours, followed by the 3rd game of the week against Illinois, who have already beaten the Badgers by 10 points. It’s situations like this upcoming week where the grit and moxie that Wisconsin has shown will be put to the test.
House’s crystal ball
When I was in the Navy, I got the nickname “House” because I usually ran the “strictly for entertainment purposes only” wager pools. Anybody who has gambled knows the one irrefutable fact: In the long run, the house always wins.
O.K., folks, while “House” is my nickname, I don’t ALWAYS win. But I do follow college sports very closely and can give you a pretty educated “guess” as to what might happen.
With their hard, gritty style of play and a little luck, Wisconsin COULD go 3-0 this week. In an attempt to be objective and provide good analysis, I think they’ll go 2-1, getting tripped at Maryland. Since the Terps joined the Big Ten in the 2015-16 season, Wisconsin is 3-3 when traveling to the crab state. Like most college teams, Maryland is a completely different animal when it comes to its home court.
Wisconsin comes back home next Saturday against Illinois and will avenge the 10-point loss they suffered earlier in the season. Hopefully, my second foray into prognosticating ( I called Crowl’s double-double against Penn State) is as good as my first.