MADISON, Wis. — The No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers started conference play on a high note, going 2-0 in competition against Rutgers and Indiana, though they lost a big game against Purdue last Sunday.
There was much hype surrounding the Badgers in the offseason. They were one of the teams favored to win the Big Ten. Wisconsin put up a solid preseason contest, going 11-2 and starting conference play ranked 14th in the nation. Wisconsin’s two losses in the preseason came to Creighton and North Carolina, two ranked teams. Wisconsin ultimately finished 1-2 in preseason games, leaving some wary on whether the Badgers were actually legitimate threats come March.
No. 14 Wisconsin opened Big Ten play by dominating Rutgers, 72-52. Nigel Hayes had 20 points, while Zac Showalter had a season-high 18 points. Wisconsin stuck to the rim, scoring 26 of its points in the paint. The Badgers also capitalized on Rutgers’s mistakes, scoring 18 points off turnovers. Wisconsin took the lead from the start of the game, and the Scarlet Knights never managed to steal a lead. Wisconsin led by 21 at the 14 minute mark, thus nearly sealing the deal for the win for Wisconsin.
No. 13 Wisconsin faced a challenge when it traveled to Bloomington to face the No. 25 Indiana Hoosiers. Indiana was one of the other hyped-up teams coming in to the 2016-2017 season. Wisconsin bolstered to a 13-0 lead, after two back-to-back three pointers from Bronson Koenig and a fast-break layup from Showalter. Tom Crean had to call a timeout to stop the Badgers’ momentum. Wisconsin maintained a fairly solid lead during most of the first half, though the Hoosiers challenged the lead in the final three minutes. Indiana took its first lead of the game 35-34 after a three from James Blackmon Jr. Wisconsin had the lead going into halftime, 38-37.
Wisconsin took a seven-point lead, but Indiana responded back by taking the lead 48-46 around the 14 minute mark. The two teams battled it out for the next ten minutes, until Showalter’s three-point basket swished through the net, giving Wisconsin a seven-point lead. Both teams pushed to the last seconds, with Indiana needing to foul to get a chance at having the ball. This tactic didn’t help, however. Wisconsin won the game, 75-68. Wisconsin advanced to 2-0 in the conference.
The next Sunday, Wisconsin was on the road again, this time traveling to West Lafayette to face the No. 20 Purdue. Wisconsin has only won five games at Mackey Arena in the history of the stadium. Although it was early January, this game was important for determining who was expected to win the conference come March.
The two teams traded leads for a large portion of the first half. The game went scoreless for nearly two minutes, until Purdue’s Carsen Edwards made a jump shot to bring the score to 15-12 at 10:31. The game was physical from the start, and the referees called seven fouls in the next three minutes of play. Finally, the players started cleaning up their game and the game presumed. Purdue’s Dakota Mathias gave Purdue a 10 point lead just under four minutes to play in the half. Purdue went into the halftime leading 29-23.
The fans in Mackey Arena were crazy loud in the second half. Wisconsin came out for the second half playing with more urgency, putting pressure on the Boilermakers on both sides of the court. Purdue lead 40-34 after a layup from Isaac Haas. However, Caleb Swanigan had a costly turnover, which resulted in Wisconsin’s D’Mitrik Trice scoring a layup. The momentum started shifting in favor of Wisconsin. Another turnover from Purdue led to a two-on-one offense opportunity for the Badgers. Freshman Trice had the ball just under the net with Khalil Iverson running in for the dunk, with Ethan Happ right on his heels. Trice hesitated, taking too long to decide what to do with the ball. He attempted a layup, but missed the shot, giving all momentum back to Purdue. The Boilermaker fans went wild. Wisconsin could never recover a lead after that. Purdue won the game, 66-55.
With the loss, there remain no undefeated teams left in the Big Ten. Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan State and Nebraska are tied for first with a record of 3-1. Wisconsin and Maryland are tied for fifth with a record of 2-1. Already there have been some surprising upsets, including Nebraska’s win at Indiana and Minnesota’s win at Purdue in the first week. At this point, the Big Ten champion is still up in the air, though it seems Purdue has moved into the favorite to win the Big Ten. However, there is a lot of basketball yet to play. The most exciting part of the season is just beginning.
Wisconsin hosts Ohio State and Michigan in the next week. Ohio State is currently 0-3 in conference play, though the Buckeyes are ranked second in the Big Ten with scoring defense field goal percentage. Wisconsin shot 39 percent against the Boilermakers, and could struggle against the Buckeyes. Michigan is 1-2 in conference play, though the Wolverines have the second best scoring defense in the Big Ten, second to the Badgers. Wisconsin’s opponents average 59.8 points per game (ppg), while Michigan’s average 63.9.
If Wisconsin plays with focus on urgency, which seemed to be lacking in the game against Purdue, it should have no problem facing these two teams in the upcoming week.
University of Wisconsin, Class of 2019
Photo courtesy of uwbadgers.com