I got my letter of acceptance to the University of Wisconsin-Madison the day that Bronson Koenig hit his last-second buzzer beater over Xavier to advance to the Sweet Sixteen 2016. Since that day I have been all about the Badgers, even more so now that I officially am a Badger myself. I really wanted to write this piece as it’s been on my mind now for weeks. I confidently feel the Badgers have the potential to get to at least the Elite 8, and here is why:
Coming into the tournament, it is obvious Wisconsin got shafted in the seeding. Big Ten Championship runner-ups, while being nationally ranked at a 25-9 win/loss record, they do not deserve the title of “weakest eight seed.” If you make the argument for Minnesota to be a 5 than you can’t deny the notion that Wisconsin has just as much of a right to the 5 seed. Regardless, the Badgers are hot. They are rebounding, shooting at a high three percentage, and playing defense like a well-oiled machine. Finally, the offense and defense are clicking together. In order to go deep into the tourney however, Greg is going to have to show that the Badgers both have the tempo and depth to pack into every game, as the challenge they face is far different than the weekly two games. The team is going to have to focus on their strengths if they want to win and advance.
The Badgers do one thing well, and that’s feed their beast. The offense relies around motion passing in order to create inside space to get the ball into the hands of what is the best center in all of college basketball: Ethan Happ. Happ averaged 13.9 PPG and about 10 rebounds. He has a slew of post moves in his arsenal, and is lethal anywhere within the paint. The Badgers are going to have to continue with their offensive attack of feeding Happ the ball and letting him do his thing. On the defensive side, the team works well using the size of hybrid-forward Nigel Hayes, and Happ to out-rebound, and downright beat teams with their physicality. Those two, along with Khalil Iverson are going to be the Badgers main source of rim protection and boards that are much needed against the big men of Virginia Tech and most likely Villanova. The tempo is probably going to overall be the main reason why the Badgers could go far. Gard’s patient offense is like that of the Wisconsin football team, slow and steady. Wisconsin needs to enact their slow tempo in order to pick at defenses, find their weaknesses, and attack efficiently.
If Wisconsin wants to get past ‘Nova, they will need to make two main improvements or mechanic changes. The first being all about Ethan Happ. We have seen flashes of his excellent awareness. When the Badgers played the University of Illinois, Happ recorded a triple-double, recognizing double teams, and dumping off to his hot shooting teammates. Since then, he has been somewhat lackluster in terms of the assist and only recorded 1.9 per game this year. Ethan is going to be double teamed, and if the Badgers are going to have any chance at pulling some wins off, they will need to 1) keep shooting hot and 2)rely on Happ to find them open at the arc.
The second change the Badgers need to make is driving. Wisconsin lacks a guard that possesses the sheer mentality to drive. Bronson, Showalter, and Trice all definitely possess the ability, but do not have what seems to be the ultimate confidence to drive. When they drive, it creates so many more options for the team. Defenses back off them allowing them to shoot the 3, they can more efficiently run the pick-and-roll with both Happ and Hayes, and they get closer looks to the basket, instead of settling for the thrown up jumper that often seems to ill-effect the squad.
Ethan Happ- Ethan is going to have play as efficient as he usually has this year. Displaying his big man finesse, and continuing to be a defensive presence in the paint.
Nigel Hayes- Nigel was awful last March, every Wisconsin fan knows that. We know Hayes has NBA potential, and we saw flashes of it in this Big Ten Tournament. I am predicting Nigel to go off this March, watch him become the go to guy on both offense and defense and finally step into his role of being the play maker in his last hurrah.
Bronson Koenig- Koenig’s leadership is crucial to the team. It is going to be his three point shooting (.387 this year), his ball-handling, and his court awareness that make key contributions that will propel the Badgers.
Zak Showalter- Showy is a March player, your typical hustle guy. They are going to need his tenacity on defense to ramp up the intensity when the game matters most. A side note is he has averaged 12.1 PPG in March this year so if he keeps that up it’ll be a major spark on offense.
Vitto Brown- Vitto has had a lackluster performance this year (in basketball, not singing), however his defensive efficiency and career high 38 three pointers this year highlight his senior season and are the two key pieces to his game that will be fine additives come the tournament. If Vitto can hit shots, his contributions may be the driving force that puts Wisconsin over the top.
Jordan Hill: Hill is my favorite player on Wisconsin’s team. His defense minded play and effort he puts out while possessing his court swagger make him one to watch. His calm-minded persona will help the Badgers maintain there tempo as he is a key role player off the bench.
The Matchup: Wisconsin vs. Virginia Tech
The Hokies were on fire to start the season, much like the Badgers, however the teams match pretty unevenly. The Hokies strong point is there offense, but they are predicted to be defended easily by the Badgers. Their main focus on offense is their three point shooting, so it will be up to the guards, Bronson and Zak to keep their hands in the faces of guards like Seth Allen, the Badgers dominate in size, so it will be up to Happ more than ever to control the paint on both offense and defense. The Badgers are predicted to overwhelm the Hokies with their defensive intensity and their slow offense. All signs point to a Badger win should they play like they are supposed to.
Wisconsin is a March team. I have the utmost confidence in them to go far. The seniors are ready for one last effort, they’ll give it everything they have. Only thing to do is wait and see what magic happens in March.
From the heart of Madison’s campus,