The Wisconsin Badgers made a statement on Tuesday night with a resounding win over the Georgetown Hoyas in Maui.
After an early loss to Creighton in the second game of the season, some doubted the lofty expectations that were set for the team heading into the season. Dubbed as a Big Ten Championship favorite by many, the Badgers returned a lot of talent from last season’s Sweet 16 team and that talent was on display against Georgetown.
The Badgers were in total control of this game and looked like a great team for most of the contest. While they looked spectacular, there was a worrisome aspect of their play that has been uncharacteristic of past Wisconsin teams.
Let’s take a look a what all the Badgers taught us.
What We Learned:
1. Ethan Happ is the future, and present, of the Badgers.
Much of the hype surrounding the Badgers was centered around the senior duo of Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes.
But Happ showed us tonight why he is the x-factor for this Wisconsin team.
Last season’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Happ had a monster game against the Hoyas, dropping 19 points, 15 rebounds, two steals and two blocks on 8-of-13 shooting.
The redshirt sophomore entered this game averaging 9.8 points and 8.0 rebounds, but averaged only 5.5 shot attempts per game. His sky-high efficiency certainly warranted more touches than he had gotten in previous games, and we saw tonight what can happen with more touches.
Happ did not shoot up to his 77% average for the season, but shot an incredible 62% and was the heartbeat of the team on both ends of the floor.
Koenig still had a great game with 20 points, but Hayes struggled in hitting only 2 of his 9 shots. If tonight is any indication, perhaps the Badgers are best with Koenig and Happ as the inside-outside attack, with Hayes playing the complimentary, 3rd option role on the offense.
If Happ keeps this up, keep your eyes on him as a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate.
2. Wisconsin’s Role Players are stepping up.
Prior to this game, the supporting pieces for the Badgers, outside of their big three, struggled to make a significant impact.
Tonight they saw some guys step up.
Senior forward Vitto Brown stepped up to give his team a spark, scoring 9 points and dishing out 3 assists. Brown’s perimeter shooting was a product of attention on Happ down low, as he drained 3-of-4 attempts from long range.
Sophomore Khalil Iverson brought great energy off of the bench, as well. He contributed 10 points and 7 rebounds, and showed the potential to be a long-term contributor for the team.
The Badgers have three very good players at the top of their roster, but depth can be the difference between good and great teams down the stretch.
If we see more of this from Brown, Iverson, or other guys like Zak Showalter, then the Badgers could be the Final Four team that some saw in them.
3. Turnovers are still an issue.
The great Badger teams of the past several years took good care of the ball.
And while this team could be another great one, they were averaging 15 turnovers per game heading into this contest and racked up 13 more.
It has been the forwards Brown and Happ that average the most turnovers per game, which is an odd trend. It is reasonable to expect that the big guys will clean that up as the season progresses under the watch of coach Greg Gard.
But this is worrisome.
Championship caliber teams do not give away possessions and in games against teams that are closer to them in talent level, those turnovers could impact the outcome of the game.
This Badger team looked great tonight.
They will get a chance to show that again in the championship game of the Maui Invitational against the winner of the Oklahoma State-North Carolina game. Especially if the opponent is UNC, the Badgers will face stiffer competition than they did on Tuesday night.
But if they continue to play through Happ down low, they are VERY dangerous. He has been so efficient thus far and looks like the heir to Frank Kaminsky’s throne as the next great Badger big man. Look out for those supporting pieces as well and if the team can cut the turnovers.
This team showed their potential tonight. But the scary thing for the rest of the Big Ten is that this performance does not represent their ceiling as a team.