CHICAGO — The problem for Wisconsin isn’t talent, it’s consistency.
A bevy of different players have contributed scoring this season, and yet Wisconsin’s offense sometimes still resembles a game of musical chairs more than a steady system.
Senior forward Ethan Happ has been a mainstay all season. Sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice started the season red-hot, forwards Nate Reuvers and Khalil Iverson have both lead the team in scoring and guards Kobe King and Brad Davison have ebbed and flowed to different degrees.
Having a lot of scorers isn’t a bad thing, but Wisconsin has struggled for much of the season to cement a consistent supporting cast. The same problem surfaced Saturday against Michigan State.
“When we have a lot of weapons, we’d love to have games where everyone’s on fire,” Davison said. “But sadly, you have games like today where everyone’s not.”
Despite posting just five turnovers, the Badgers shot an ugly 35.3 percent from the field and a season-worst 10.5 percent from deep. And that was never going to be good enough to beat a Michigan State team with a deep March Madness run in its sights.
Saturday was a microcosm of the worst of the Badgers this season: a team propped up by Happ and let down by its supporting cast. Trice and Davison struggled to create from the backcourt, and Reuvers, at times the team’s go-to option this season, floundered to the tune of zero for seven shooting.
Only King came out of the game with his reputation improved, as the freshman’s nine first-half points gave the team hope heading into the break.
“I don’t think we’ve maxed out on our potential yet,” Trice said. “I think we’re still growing as team and we’re gonna learn from our mistakes. We haven’t had everybody firing on all cylinders yet, and I think once that happens, or when that happens, we’re going to be very, very deadly.”
If it feels to you like Wisconsin’s source of scoring has boomeranged this season, you’re not wrong. 10 different players have posted double-figure scoring in a game, with the team’s most recent emergence coming in the form of a late flourish from the senior Iverson.
The Badgers are stocked with scoring talent, but the question is if that talent can manifest in one guy without another guy struggling or taking the back seat during the same game.
Friday, Ford and Reuvers scored 11-plus each, and on Saturday, they both posted zeros.
Who can Wisconsin trust to score on a nightly basis?
“We haven’t really had a game where everyone’s being aggressive or getting their shots,” King said. “So if there’s time to have games like that, though, it’s the tournament, so hopefully we can do that going forward.”
The Badgers aren’t good enough to put all of the scoring onus on Happ, like they did against the Spartans. They’re not good enough for certain players to show up every few games.
But they are talented enough to make a run if the pieces can come together. Wisconsin’s depth in scoring can be a gift and a curse, a nightmare for teams to prepare for but also a sort of security blanket that may hinder assertiveness in certain games.
“It’s the sign of a good team,” Davison said of the team’s many options.
The defense, even in Saturday’s loss, has been a constant this season. Offense is what will doom this team to an early exit or carry it deep into the tournament.
“If we have games where we clicking on offense and defense,” King said, “I don’t see why we can’t go all the way.”