Wisconsin made a resounding statement as they destroyed Rutgers to open up conference play on Tuesday night.
As one of the team’s among the top tier of the Big Ten, the Badgers have made their case as the best team in the conference with their performance at home against the Scarlet Knights.
Greg Gard’s Badger squad is very talented, and has great veteran leadership mixed in with some terrific young players, as well. With guys like Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Ethan Happ, Vitto Brown, and Khalil Iverson, this team might have all the pieces necessary to make a Final Four run.
They showed that in this game against Rutgers, when Koenig struggled, but the team did not miss a beat. Not a second of this game was very competitive and Wisconsin proved their dominance over one of the middling teams in the conference.
Let’s look at what we learned.
What We Learned:
1. Nigel Hayes will be just fine.
Hayes was the favorite by many in the preseason to win the Big Ten Player of the Year award.
And while he has played well so far this year, he has not dominated in the nature that some expected him to come out and do. But that should not be an indictment on Hayes, as pieces around him, like Happ, have stepped into bigger roles that are better for the team than Hayes running the show.
But that doesn’t mean he still can’t.
Hayes feasted on the Rutgers defense to the tune of 20 points, while taking only 9 shots, and he also drained all 10 of his free-throw attempts. He displayed a great handle of the ball for much of the game, slashing to create his own shots on the inside.
This point-forward skill set makes him very dangerous, and this was even without him utilizing his perimeter shooting or putting up big assist numbers, as he has in past games.
Hayes also added 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and some very good defense on the way to this performance. He was clearly the best player on the floor, and may be hitting his stride as the most taxing portion of the regular season begins.
2. Rutgers is still not up to par for their new conference.
Rutgers had compiled a nice non-conference record to the naked eye to start off the season.
Some would look at their 11-2 standing and think that this program may have taken a big step forward this year. But when looking deeper into their schedule, you will see that the record is deceiving.
The Scarlet Knights played only two games against Power Five opposition, and lost them both as they fell to Miami and Seton Hall. Then they ran into the Badgers to kick off conference play and we were shown where they stand in relation to the top dogs of the Big Ten.
Wisconsin ran them out of the gym in this contest, and smothered their offense in a big way.
Rutgers shot only 31% in putting up a measly 52 points in a blowout loss.
This squad is still very new to the Big Ten, but it is apparent that they are still a ways off from being taken seriously.
3. Wisconsin is the best team in the Big Ten right now.
Yep. That’s right.
While Indiana is probably more talented and Purdue is also loaded, the Badgers are the team to beat in the best conference in the country.
Even on a night where their leading scorer struggled, the Badgers can absolutely humiliate Power Five competition.
With such a wide variety of weapons, you have to play the perfect game to beat Wisconsin. If Koenig is off, you have to stop Hayes. Or Happ. Or Brown. Or even Zak Showalter, who went off for 18 points on Tuesday night.
With the experience in the starting lineup, that leaves green talent in the second unit. And players like D’Mitrik Trice and Khalil Iverson can both go off for nice games at any time.
The Badgers are the deepest team in the conference, and one of the deepest teams in the nation. And with a great coach in Greg Gard leading the ship, the sky is the limit.
This was a big time statement game for Wisconsin in a contest were they did not have much to gain, and Rutgers had nothing to lose.
And the Badgers let them have it.
They left no doubt about their standing in the conference and walked away looking like a great basketball team. Yes, it was against not-great opposition, but the performance was impressive and dominant, nonetheless.
As for the Scarlet Knights, maybe next year.