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Can Wisconsin Win In Maui?

Three games in six days, including a trip to Hawaii, Wisconsin has been busy.

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational-Tennessee vs Wisconsin Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

We’re only four games into the season, so still early to make sweeping judgements. After all, last season is a recent memory, when Wisconsin came back from the NCAA Tournament dead. Judgements were made last year with a far larger sample size. With this year’s incarnation, we’re still not sure what the Badgers’ ceiling is.

Wisconsin’s played a bunch over the last week (three games in six days), going 2-1. Even though it’s early, we’re beginning to see developing trends, though, or a few things worth watching at least.

3-Point Shooting

Nobody had been shooting particularly well from the three. Bronson Koenig’s under 30 percent from three, and until a 3-for-3 performance against Tennessee, so was Nigel Hayes. (Hayes is now shooting 40 percent, which demonstrates how quickly early season statistics can change.) Zak Showalter is also 21 percent (3-for-14).

Likely, Koenig will return to his last two seasons, during which he shot around 40 percent. Koenig’s been lights out taking the ball to the basket and creating inside the three point line. On those shots, he’s over 80 percent.

Hayes, on the other hand, is starting to become more comfortable; against Tennessee he was 3-for-3. If his shooting isn’t consistent, he can have success off the dribble. Attacking the basket as a distributor/scorer and picking his spots from three might be his best offensive. Hayes’s game is so multidimensional (excellent vision); he’s dangerous without scoring.

To compound matters, Hayes and Koenig are taking more shots from three: Hayes a bit under two more per game, and Koenig three, so far. But, in the loss to Creighton, the Badgers took 39 three-pointers as a team, far above last year’s average (roughly 19 per game). The heavy attempts might explain why Wisconsin didn’t go to the line against Creighton until 5:31 minute mark in the second half. I would expect that to be an outlier.

Perimeter Defense

Particularly, in the 79-67 loss to Creighton, Wisconsin struggled to contain dribble penetration. Creighton’s Khyri Thomas, Marcus Foster and Maurice Watson Jr. scored 18, 15 and 17 points in the game respectively. And, at times, all three could get to any spot on the floor. (They are outstanding shotmakers, but largely, attacked at will.)

Creighton’s a tough place to play, and the Bluejays smelled blood in the water in the second half, so to speak, and the crowd responded too. (Wisconsin gave up 46 points in the second half.)

Perimeter defense is about more than disciplined closeouts and funneling penetration to help defenders. Help defenders also must be ready to close driving lanes.

Rebounding

Wisconsin is really cleaning the glass. It’s actually a slight understatement. Here are the team’s rebounding margins through the first four games: 45-29, 42-27, 46-20, 36-25.

The Badgers have outrebounded opponents by an average of 17 RPG. That number will likely depress as the competition gets better; it’s still an encouraging early marker.

Overall

Wisconsin stands at 3-1. The program’s steadiness, which appears to continue on Greg Gard, is perhaps its greatest attribute. Wisconsin doesn’t rattle, and after dropping an early season game, beat Chicago State at home and Tennessee in the first round of the Maui Invitational. (The Badgers play Georgetown next.)

Consistency has been the program’s backbone (for sure the last two decades now). A tough early season loss won’t throw derail the season, and dropping from ninth to sixteenth in the AP Poll. Gard knows it’s about a body of work, and peaking at the right time.