Wisconsin is now seventh in the AP Poll and alone atop the Big Ten standings after Purdue dropped Maryland. Much of the season is still left, so I’d say the Badgers have a tenuous hold on first place. Purdue and Maryland look like legit contenders and Wisconsin plays the latter at home on February 19th.
The Badgers have a favorable upcoming schedule with road games against Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State. It’s unlikely Wisconsin wins out; there’s probably a stumble somewhere.
But so far, Wisconsin has avoided it, despite maybe not playing the best basketball. What might a team have to do to beat Wisconsin? Let’s go over a few points.
-What to do about Ethan Happ?
Likely, this is the question opposing coaches are pondering. The question is to double, or not. I’ve pondered this too. We’ve seen a number of teams offer a mixed look. My inclination would be to double, and get the ball out of Happ’s hands.
The Badgers have shooters; they’ve just been inconsistent at times. However, the shooters can get hot (Bronson Koenig, Vitto Brown, Zak Showalter), and Wisconsin’s ball/body movement stresses defensive rotations.
Lose Khalil Iverson or Showalter, and it might be a dunk/layup. Lose Koenig, Brown or Showalter on the perimeter, and it’s an uncontested three.
Minnesota largely played straight up, and let Reggie Lynch and Bakary Konate defend Happ one-on-one. Defenders stuck to the perimeter guys, forcing Happ to look elsewhere or shoot over a larger defender. (Unfortunately, that strategy resulted in Happ scoring 28 points, and Lynch fouling out after 20 minutes.)
Generally, I’ve seen teams defend with varying strategies (i.e., don’t double off this guy, etc.). But, Happ’s been Wisconsin’s offense during tough shooting stretches. Now shooting over 60 percent, I’d want the ball out of his hands during those stretches.
-Limiting Fouls and Offensive Rebounds
Easier said than done, but because Wisconsin has been so inconsistent from the floor, opponents need to limit offensive opportunities. That means defend without fouling and take care of the defensive glass.
Indiana couldn’t keep the Badgers off the free throw line. Look at the shooting numbers, and it’s somewhat unclear how Indiana lost. But, Wisconsin held a 12-point advantage at the line. (The Badgers attempted 19 more free throws.)
Indiana even gave up 12 offensive rebounds. Wisconsin didn’t take advantage of the second chance opportunities, but they take a toll, particularly with a team that works a defense for the most efficient shot.
Limiting trips to the free throw line and second chance opportunities will make any shooting struggles all the more difficult to overcome.
On the flip side, opponents have to be really efficient offensively. Wasted, or empty, possessions can add up against Wisconsin. Opponents who have beaten them this year have been very efficient from the floor (at least in the case of Purdue and Creighton).
Purdue overcame 18 turnovers to win, but turning the ball over too much can be crippling. Both Creighton and North Carolina took care of the ball.
Wisconsin’s not a slow offensive team, but it’ll hunt for the most efficient shot. They won’t settle, usually. So, if the opponent is giving away possessions with sloppy turnovers or bad shots (early in the clock), it plays directly into Wisconsin’s hands.
Opponents who have beaten Wisconsin this year have done three things well: offensive efficiency (Purdue, Creighton), controlled the glass (Purdue, UNC) and defended well without fouling (Creighton, UNC, Purdue).
Unfortunately, Wisconsin also does those three things really well. (Despite shooting woes, KenPom still rates the Badgers’ offense as 30th in adjusted efficiency.) So, it means beating Wisconsin at its own game essentially.
Save, Maryland and Michigan State, accomplishing those three tasks will be tough for the remaining teams on Wisconsin’s schedule.