When Wisconsin Basketball held on to win an ugly game at Ohio State, many were hopeful that the win signaled an end to a recent string of depressing results.
Then Northwestern came to the Kohl Center and stuck a dagger in the hearts of Badgers faithful everywhere.
Call me an optimist (I’ve been called much worse), but I am always looking for a way to qualify for playoffs or big season-ending tournaments. In a previous article, I broke down the path I saw that got Wisconsin Basketball dancing in the Madness.
I still think it’s possible, but getting harder by the loss. Tonight’s game against Penn State becomes a must-win. Here’s a blueprint of how to make that happen.
Crowl, Crowl, and more Crowl
Penn State runs mostly a 4-guard set and their big men don’t play much. In the game earlier this season, Steven Crowl posted a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Penn State simply does not have the capabilities to stop Crowl. For the better part of half the season, teams have been double or even triple-teaming Steven in an effort to reduce his effectiveness on the interior.
Initially, it looked as though this confused the team and was fairly effective for a few games. But give credit to head coach Greg Gard. He saw what teams were doing and implemented ways to combat these double teams.
The Badgers may not always hit their open looks, but they are continuing to get them and eventually the shots will start falling.
However, even with the double teams tonight, if Crowl positions himself to receive the ball and make his move without dribbling, he can still be effective down low.
Wisconsin Basketball fundamentals
All season long, Wisconsin’s lack of rebounding has been a glaring issue. Luckily, the Nittany Lions are almost as inept in rebounding as the Badgers. Crowl needs to duplicate his previous effort against Penn State.
Offensive rebounds lead to prolonged possessions and increased output in scoring. I know it sounds simple but that’s why it’s referred to as “fundamental”.
Unfortunately for Wisconsin, Penn State doesn’t suffer from poor foul shooting. The Nittany Lions come into the contest ranked #23 in the nation, sinking 76% of their foul shots..
By contrast, Wisconsin is #325 in the country, making a disappointing 65% of their shots from the charity stripe.
Now, one of the reasons that Penn State’s 11% advantage is that they simply don’t shoot as many free throws because their offense is perimeter-based. They have only 242 attempts, compared to 306 for Wisconsin.
One way to counter poor foul shooting, besides the obvious practicing, is to make up for those misses in the aggregate. Wisconsin basketball is not going to start hitting their foul shots miraculously overnight. But if they increase the volume of attempts, it can somewhat mitigate their poor shooting.
Take advantage of Penn State’s misfortunes
Similar to the adage, “kicking a man while he’s down”, Wisconsin has an opportunity to pile on the Nittany Lions’ recent woes.
In their most recent loss to Nebraska, Penn State looked lost and uninterested. Their once-promising season is fading quickly. Nebraska’s guard Keisei Tominaga went off for 30 points, on 12-18 shooting and 5-10 from long range.
Connor Essegian is more than capable of delivering a comparable performance. With Crowl dominating the interior and Essegian and Hepburn, firing away from downtown, Wisconsin is in a position to eclipse the 80-point mark for the first time since December 3 against Marquette.
The Badgers need to capitalize on their recent string of poor performances (3-6 over their last nine games).
The funny thing is, Penn State probably saying the exact same thing about Wisconsin.
Tip-off is set for 7:30 (CST) and will be televised on the Big Ten Network.