With seniors Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter playing in their last NCAA Tournament for Wisconsin, the team will have some extra motivation to make a deep run this March. However, for that to be possible, there are some facets of play that Greg Gard’s team needs to emphasize in the immediate future.
First, if the Badgers are to stand any chance in March Madness, they need to fix their free-throw shooting, fast. Despite finishing the regular season No. 2 in the Big Ten, Wisconsin was putrid from the charity stripe, shooting just over 64 percent in 34 games. Hayes and redshirt sophomore forward Ethan Happ are able to consistently to get to the foul line, but find it far more difficult to actually hit their shots, often preventing Wisconsin from pulling away in games it dominates. If Happ can build off of his performance against Northwestern Saturday—he shot 8-11 from the line—the Badgers will be in a better position to close out games this March.
Another weakness that Wisconsin managed to win games in spite of was its penchant for foul trouble. During the season, Happ and Showalter both averaged at least 2.6 fouls per game, while Brown committed two fouls per contest as well. The trio make up half of the team’s players averaging at least six points per game, and there isn’t a whole lot of depth or experience behind them—especially for Happ. Simply put, it’s hard to win games with your best players on the sideline, and the Badgers will have to be more disciplined this March.
Additionally, while Wisconsin’s ball security is a fairly mundane, unnoticed part of its game, it has occasionally become a glaring issue when the team starts to falter. Consecutive losses to Northwestern and Michigan coincided with double-digit turnovers and a sloppy end to the game caused the Badgers to fall to Iowa at home. Wisconsin is generally responsible with the ball, but will have little room for mental errors in the Big Dance.
Finally, the Badgers are known as a team with an extremely balanced attack, and that will need to continue during the NCAA Tournament. Koenig, Happ and Hayes scoring 15 will be just as important as Showalter getting his eight, and Brown and freshman guard D’Mitrik Trice will have to hit some timely jumpers. Happ’s 32 points against Rutgers at Madison Square Garden was a stellar performance that thrusted the sophomore into the national spotlight, but it was also an unsustainable one-man show that the Badgers cannot rely on in the future. Wisconsin has plenty of individual talent in the locker room, but comprehensive, team-wide performances are the only way to win in March.
Check out the Daily Cardinal's full NCAA Tournament Preview package here.