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Wisconsin Badgers: Are They For Real?
by Matt Fargo - 03/13/2008
I did a similar article on Purdue a few weeks ago stating how no one expected the Boilermakers to be where they were and that was at the top of the Big Ten standings. Well, Wisconsin can also be grouped with Purdue. The Badgers were expected to be a top tiered team in the Big Ten but that was mostly due to the lower half of the conference expected to be pretty bad. Wisconsin established a team record of 30 wins last season and it was considered a disappointment. What are they calling this season?
Wisconsin had to replace Alando Tucker and Kameron Taylor, the former being the 2006-07 Big Ten Player of the Year. Three starters were lost overall and with them went 36 ppg and 10.5 rpg along with tough defenders but rebuilding in Madison means reloading as Wisconsin withstood two early losses to Duke and Marquette and went on to win 20 of its final 22 games. The Big Ten was in a down year but for Wisconsin to do what it did what truly special and it will try to continue to build upon that.
First up is the Big Ten Tournament and a championship here will likely give the Badgers a number two seed, right where it was last season. They donâ€™t want a repeat of last season however as an early second round exit against UNLV cut the season short. At this point, a Sweet 16 is a must. Looking at the Big Ten brackets, Wisconsin has a pretty good road as the top seed and a chance to make the Championship game with only a road-challenged Michigan St. team standing in its way.
The Badgers have a bye in the first round and will play either Iowa or Michigan on Friday. Wisconsin beat each team twice in the regular season and only a trip to the finals could gave Wisconsin a third chance to play Purdue, which was the team responsible for both of its conference losses this year. Facing Purdue would be ideal since the Boilermakers are a very young team and definitely did not end the season with a strong run, losing two of its final five games.
This is not a very deep team and there is no real go to guy but Wisconsin limits its mistakes and it gets hard efforts every night from every player. No player averages more than 12.7 ppg and that is Brian Butch which is good for only 12th in the conference. Five other players average between 7.2 ppg and 11.8 ppg so there is a ton of balance. Of the top eight scorers, only one shoots below 45 percent and only two of those has a negative assist/turnover ratio. Efficiency is the key.
However, when you talk about Wisconsin basketball, it always starts with defense and this season is no exception. Wisconsin finished the regular season as the nationâ€™s No. 1 team in scoring defense, allowing just 54.3 ppg. Only three teams reached the 70-point mark against the Badgers this season and all three happen to be ranked teams, Duke Marquette and Purdue. Heading into the tournament where the field is made up of that sort of talent, will we see a similar trend?
As mentioned, this team limits its mistakes and that was certainly the case during conference action. In Big Ten play, the Badgers averaged a only 11.2 tpg and had eight single-digit turnover games. On the season, Wisconsin is 18-0 when it commits the same amount or fewer turnovers than its opponent. Every possession counts during tournament so if the Badgers can continue to play keep away, this team can make a serious run deep in to the postseason.
After shooting 66.0 percent from the charity stripe during the non-conference season, Wisconsin ranked second in the Big Ten in free throw shooting during conference games at 74.3 percent. That is a major improvement but it gets even better for the Badgers that will come into play during tournament time. Making free throws late in games is where a lot of games are won and lost and in Big Ten play, Wisconsin shot 81.3 percent from the free throw line in the last four minutes of the game. That is what you call clutch shooting.
Wisconsin finished the season 15-12 ATS and while that is considered average, it was what it did on the road that should make future backers happy. The Badgers went 9-3 against the number in games away from home and one of those losses came by just a half-point. While there are no stars on the team like last season, this team might have a better overall makeup and one that can go far in the tournament. Defense wins championships and there is no one better at that aspect than the Badgers.