This past week, the Badgers had both one of the hardest and easiest games in the entire country. On Wednesday, Wisconsin dispatched Prairie View A&M, an 0-5 team that has played against the likes of VCU, Houston, UNLV and still has road trips at Baylor, TCU, Tulane, Nebraska and Louisiana Tech. Needless to say, this is a team that essentially travels the country to be the whipping boys for 40 minutes, tries to pull off a shock victory in the non-conference, and ultimately collects an enormous amount of money for the university playing against major high-profile teams for 8 or 10 games in the non-conference.
Regardless of the Panthers money-making tactics, they've been pretty abysmal on the court so far. Against Wisconsin, they only finished with 2 players in double figures and were forced into 19 turnovers. However, the Badgers allowed them to shoot 50% from the floor and 70% from 3, arguably the biggest weakness the Badgers have this season. In Sunday's telecast, ESPN's Fran Fraschilla brought up the stat the Badgers are allowing teams to shoot almost 50% from 3, which is both a combination of unlucky hot shooting from opposing teams and bad defense. Regardless, Bo Ryan teams don't allow opposing teams to shred them from deep, and this Badger team is getting absolutely shredded.
Against Prairie View, however, there were some bright spots. All five starters finished in double figures along with Charlie Thomas, and Khalil Iverson finished with 9. For the Badgers to continue having success, this is going to be a great recipe. Ryan seems to stick with these seven guys for the majority of the game, and given that Alex Illikainen was the only other Badger to score (one free throw), the rotation even in a semi-blowout seems to be set.
While Wednesday provided a nice cakewalk before Thanksgiving, Sunday's trip to Norman, Oklahoma was anything but. The Badgers had a 1:30 tip off against the Sooners, and maybe it was the turkey and stuffing from a few nights prior, but the Badgers started extremely sluggish. If we're being honest, they were sluggish the entire game, finishing with 48 points in 40 minutes, getting demolished 65-48. Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma's center who has been there since what feels like 2010, came out of the gate hot, knocking down his first two three pointers en route to a monster 20 point, 14 rebound performance. The Badgers were smart to let Spangler do his work outside early, as the Oklahoma native is a true bully inside who is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country. But his outside shots kept falling, and Wisconsin had no answer.
Once Spangler got cooking, the rest of the Sooners joined the party. Oklahoma's backcourt of Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard is one of the best in the entire country, but even with Woodard having an off game Cousins and Hield still combined for 26. The Oklahoma bench was pretty tame, but the Badgers simply just couldn't make shots.
For reference, here's a break down of the Badgers top 3 scorers in terms of shooting on Sunday. Bronson Koenig (3-18), Nigel Hayes (5-17) and Vitto Brown (3-15) all were awful. The entire game they were forced into 3-pointers, long 2s and just an awful shot selection all around. These three took 50 of 68 shots, and shot 22%. If your best 3 players shoot 22%, and your team shoots 7-31 or 21% from 3, you're just simply not going to win.
Wisconsin fans will rightfully argue that this could be one of the Badgers' toughest tests all season, and they're not wrong. But it's tough to get excited about a team that finishes with 8 assists on 16 total field goals in November. Perhaps most disappointingly was the disappearance of anyone else not in the Badgers' big 3, including Ethan Happ, Zak Showalter, Khalil Iverson or Charlie Thomas. Happ and Iverson had 5, Showalter had 3, and Thomas didn't score. For Showalter though, anyone that watched the game will acknowledge that the kid played his ass off and is one of the scrappiest "pound for pound" players in the entire country. Scrappy is great when Nigel and Bronson are combining for 40+, not when the entire team can only muster 48.
So the Badgers sit at 4-3 with a couple more tests this week. On Tuesday, they travel to Syracuse to play one of the hottest teams in the country fresh off their Battle 4 Atlantis title. Jim Boeheim has a shockingly talented team despite all the sanctions and issues facing Syracuse, and his patented 2-3 zone keeps working all these years later.
Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije lead the charge, but freshmen Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon have been two of the biggest surprises in college basketball this season. I could see Bo matching up Lydon with Ethan Happ or Vitto Brown, as Lydon is a stretch 4 that just drains shots. Like Wisconsin, Syracuse has absolutely no bench, as Boeheim played 7 guys in their last win against Texas A&M, and Kaleb Joseph played only 4 minutes. Essentially, if the Badgers can limit their fouls and force Syracuse into foul trouble, they have a shot to steal a much-needed victory on the road.
While the Badgers travel on Wednesday, Saturday's game against Temple is back in the friendly confines of the Kohl Center. The Owls are traditionally a very solid mid-major team, but started off the season losing to UNC, Butler and Utah, all very likely NCAA Tournament teams, and beating Minnesota and Delaware, likely not NCAA Tournament teams. Honestly, that doesn't really tell you much about this Temple team, but they're desperate for a great non-conference win.
Senior guard Quenton DeCosey leads them with 14 points and nearly 6 rebounds per game, while Obi Enechionyia and Devin Coleman also average in double figures for the Owls. Senior Jaylen Bond is the fourth leading scorer, but has been in double figures three games and scored four points or less in the other two. If the Badgers can find a way to limit Bond, it could have a huge impact on the outcome of the game.
At 4-3, there's no reason to panic yet for Wisconsin. But if the Badgers could pick up a massive win at Syracuse and knock off Temple, they're looking at 6-3 heading into a much easier part of their non-conference schedule. Here's to hoping Bo figures out how to get these guys to shoot better than 22% from the floor.