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What We Learned: Wisconsin Badgers 77, Xavier Musketeers 68

The Badgers tipped off the Gavitt Games with a win for the Big Ten.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Xavier Musketeers in the Gavitt Games on Tuesday, and no Bronson Koenig buzzer-beater was needed.

Koenig of course graduated two seasons ago, but you get the point. The last time Wisconsin beat Xavier, it was via a Koenig buzzer beater in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Since “the shot”, a rivalry formed between the two Midwest teams. The two teams played competitively last season. In the end, the Musketeers bested the Badgers 80-70.

Revenge is a dish best served cold, which is exactly how Wisconsin served it in Tuesday’s 77-68 victory.

The Badgers took the dedicated Ohio crowd out of the game early. Wisconsin dictated the pace for the entire 40 minutes and never trailed.

Greg Gard’s squad played focused from the opening tip. Wisconsin built a 12-point lead in the first half. However, Xavier used a controversial flagrant call late in the second half to its advantage.

Following the flagrant, the Musketeers went on an 18-4 run to close out the first half, cutting Wisconsin’s lead to 30-28.

The Badgers needed to respond immediately in the first half. Saying they did would be an understatement.

With ice water in their veins, the Badgers converted 12 of their first 13 field goals in the second half. This created a 48-31 run that a late Xavier run wasn’t enough to overcome.

Let’s take a look at what we learned from Wisconsin’s impressive performance in the Gavitt Games.

What We Learned:

1. The Badgers have depth, but they don’t need it every night.

Greg Gard is capable of going at least eight deep on any given night.

The situation was similar last season. But, the improvements from top to bottom within Wisconsin’s contributors is a key reason why Wisconsin’s ceiling is significantly higher than last season’s.

The Badgers’ depth undoubtedly will bode them well down the stretch. However, if the Xavier game taught us anything, it’s that Wisconsin is capable of winning even if a few players aren’t performing well.

In other words, the Badgers can bring victories home if they are only being carried by a few players.

Senior forward Ethan Happ, sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice, and sophomore guard Brad Davison solely carried Wisconsin on Tuesday.

Sophomore forward Nate Reuvers didn’t show up, Khalil Iverson barely made his presence known, and Wisconsin’s bench combined for only two points.

It didn’t matter though. The aforementioned trio did everything necessary, and then some, to beat Xavier.

Happ, Trice and Davidson combined for 71 of Wisconsin’s 77 points. Additionally, the three accumulated 24 of the Badgers’ 40 rebounds, while also contributing all but one of Wisconsin’s 14 assists.

Simply put, all three players performed exceptionally.

The 22 points scored by Trice set a new career-high for the guard. Trice went 7-11 from the floor and was specifically lethal from three. The sophomore went 5-5 from downtown.

Trice was the first player to reach double-figures scoring. Xavier had no answer for him all day, nor for Davison.

Davison went 4-6 from three and added 19 points individually. The game was capped by Davison knocking down a dagger three. The guard respond by mocking former Xavier guard J.P. Macura’s “gator chomp”.

Macura performed the gator chomp when Xavier beat Wisconsin in Madison last season. Davison returned the favor, and fed the Musketeer student section his best chomp impression.

I’ll wait to get into Happ until the next section. But, the point here is that, unlike last season, Wisconsin possesses to talented to be led by a few players when necessary.

Last year, it was the Ethan Happ show. And if someone couldn’t help him out, Wisconsin would usually lose. It’s a different story now. The Badgers have a hand full of players who can alone be extremely impactful, and not just chip in.

Obviously, the goal is to have at least five players do their part every night. However, Wisconsin now has some room for error because its talent has increased immensely.

2. Happ is already making a case for Big Ten Player of the Year.

I know, it’s early. If Happ plays like this all season though, I find it hard to believe that Happ won’t beat out preseason Big Ten POTY, Carson Edwards, for the honors.

Happ has been dominant since he was a freshman. With that being said, he’s already proving to us that he’s taken a big leap. And then says a lot when the forward has already made the All-America third team.

Happ notched the second triple-double in program history against Coppin State to open the season. Then, Happ went off against the Musketeers, arguably topping his season-opening performance.

The forward scored 30 points for the second time in his collegiate career against Xavier. Happ went 15-23 from the floor, eclipsing his previous individual record of 12 field goals made set when he was a sophomore.

Happ added 13 rebounds and five assists as well. Yeah, his free throw shooting is still bad. But the rest of Happ’s play evidently compensates, as it always has.

The forward acts as a one-man show at times, and it works. Happ either scored or assisted on 19 of Wisconsin’s first 26 points against the Musketeers.

Happ’s level of play is even more impressive considering he really only has one move in the low post. Defenders always know what is coming, and they still can’t stop it.

The forward’s outside shooting needs to improve a bit, but he can put the ball on the floor and literally gets everything he wants in the paint.

If anything, Happ will make a strong case and come close to winning Big Ten POTY if the first two games are reflective of his entire season.

3. Ladies and gentlemen, Wisconsin basketball is back.

I won’t over-exaggerate the Xavier win.

Sure, the Musketeers made it to the Sweet 16 last season. However, Xavier lost 60 percent of its scoring from a season ago. The Musketeers hold plenty of underclassmen talent, but it will definitely take the team some time to fully hit its stride.

Still, Xavier is a solid team at least. Wisconsin was also at a major disadvantage on Tuesday for two major reasons.

One being the fact the game was played in Ohio. The other being that the Musketeers had already played two games going in, while the Badgers had only played one.

The manner in which Wisconsin took care of business is more impressive than the win itself. As previously mentioned, the Badgers controlled the tempo for the whole game and never let Xavier creep into their comfort zone.

Wisconsin played their brand of basketball for two complete halfs away from home against a good opponent.

When the disciplined brand of Badger basketball is executed, it is a thing of beauty.

The only thing missing was free throws, Wisconsin went 6-13 from the line. But, the Badgers barraged the Musketeers by going 9-16 from three. Wisconsin was careful with the ball as well, and only turned it over seven times.

Expect the Badgers to execute effectively on their keys more this season than last. This Wisconsin team is much better than it was last season.

Overall

The victory will boost Wisconsin’s confidence as non-conference play continues. Xavier is also one of the best teams on the Badgers’ non-conference slate.

So, this was an early resume-building win for Greg Gard. Wisconsin failed to bring any of these home before Big Ten play last season. Notching one two games into the season is huge for Wisconsin’s postseason hopes.

If the Badgers beat Houston Baptist on Saturday, expect them to either be ranked or close to being ranked in the next AP poll.