To say Wisconsin basketball needed to beat Michigan Tuesday evening would have been an understatement of epic proportions. What does the 64-59 victory over the Wolverines mean for a struggling squad that still has aspirations of “dancing in the Madness”?
Wisconsin Basketball can rebound and shoot foul shots
All season long, I have constantly harped on some of the fundamentals that this team seemingly could not do. Tuesday night showed that Wisconsin can, in fact, control the glass and hit their foul shots.
Facing arguably his toughest test in the shape of Hunter Dickinson, aka “The Dancing Queen”, Steven Crowl answered the call. Posting only his third double-double of the season with 11 points and 12 rebounds, “Big Steve” more than held his own against the ski-mask-wearing Dickinson.
Hunter came into this contest averaging 17.8 points per game. While he posted his own double-double, the 11 points he tallied were far below his season average. Maybe he should have focused a little more on playing a more effective game than taunting the crowd every time he did something.
Wisconsin basketball came into the game ranked 332nd in the nation in free-throw percentage with an abysmal 65.7 %. Folks, that’s 332nd out of 358 teams.
Last night, they were money from the line, hitting 14-18 for a scintillating 77.8%. In a feat that is both impressive and alarming, the Badgers’ only points for the last 10:47 came strictly from the foul line.
Connor Essegian is a bonafide star-in-the-making
Maybe the “in-the-making” part should be removed. Since being inserted into the starting lineup, Essegian has responded by averaging 13.9 points per game. This includes going 17 of 45 from 3-point distance.
Last night, Connor set a career-high in points scored, going off for 23 points. What makes this mark even more impressive is the balanced manner in which he scored these points.
Connor is rapidly developing the weapon of driving to the basket, as four of his six field goals were inside the arc. Having this weapon in his arsenal is only going to set up his already dead-eye long-range shooting.
Ranked as a 3-star prospect coming out of Central Noble out of Albion, Indiana, Connor is proof that the lack of stars handed out by these “recruiting gurus” doesn’t always mean the player won’t play as well as those with four or five stars.
Wisconsin Basketball still struggles in closing games out
Coming on the heels of the 2nd half collapse of a 17-point lead against Nebraska (an excruciating loss to watch), the Badgers failed to score a field goal in the last 10 minutes and 47 seconds of the contest against Michigan.
The difference last night was Wisconsin basketball’s ability to knock down their free throws. The team went 12-14 in that time, with Essegian personally going 9-10.
These two most recent games are not an aberration, as the Badgers have struggled all year in finishing their opponents off.
Last night they got a little lucky in the fact that Michigan also went ice-cold during that time. But unless they can figure out how to finish off the wounded opponent, another catastrophic collapse, like the one against Nebraska, is looming.
Where does Wisconsin basketball go from here?
Headed into last night’s game, ESPN’s “Bracketologist” Joe Lunardi had Wisconsin basketball as being in the first four out category.
While last night’s win by no means insured an at-large bid, a loss more than likely would have sealed their fate.
If the Badgers play as they did for the first 30 minutes of last night’s contest, every one of their remaining games is winnable, including the matchup against #3 Purdue.
Rutgers University pays a visit to the Kohl Center on Saturday. Last night, Rutgers was upset at home by Nebraska. Tipoff is set for an early 11 a.m. (CST) and the game will be televised on the Big Ten network.
One last note. Whoever plays the music during the brief interludes of the game deserves their own award. Playing ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” when Dickinson elbowed Crowl in the face and then flopped to the floor to get the call was, in a word, perfect.