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Wisconsin Badgers Basketball Mid-Season Check-in

They can’t keep getting away with it!

Wisconsin v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Might as well get these guys out of the way now before I lose motivation to complete this series and skip them. We will continue this excuse to stop working and think about college basketball while your boss is on a vacation with a discussion about the Wisconsin Badgers.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 11 Big Ten Tournament - Michigan State v Wisconsin
It’s a skunk
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


Wisconsin v Iowa
You didn’t expect me to use photos of the Wisconsin offense, did you?
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

8-2 (2-0 in B1G play) - Torvik rankings as of Monday evening (Wisconsin is #32)

Wins: 19 Maryland (H), 21 Iowa (A), 24 Marquette (A), 65 Southern Cal (N), 70 Stanford (semi-home), 76 Dayton (N), 261 South Dakota (H), 354 Green Bay (H)

Losses: 7 Kansas (N), 69 Wake Forest (H)

Wisconsin has done a good job of collecting solid, respectable wins in the early season. USC, Stanford, and Dayton aren’t going to blow anybody away but those are good quad-2 type wins. Winning at Marquette is more impressive and the Maryland and Iowa victories get the Badgers off to a good start in Big Ten play.

The loss to Kansas is fine, although it does give Wisconsin - and Iowa and Maryland and Illinois - transitive losses to Grambling St. Losing to Wake Forest is a bit more of a head scratcher but isn’t the end of the world.

Things I’ve Liked

Wisconsin v Iowa
Badger basketball
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

I spend a lot of time complaining how bad some non-conference scheduling is because I’m a fan of watching competitive college basketball games. So even though Wisconsin is the last Big Ten team I want to watch play, their nonconference schedule has been a good mix of quality opponents even if it ultimately ends up a little light on tournament type teams in out of conference play. The Badgers have played plenty of games that weren’t automatic wins when they scheduled them. They are to be commended on that.

Connor Essegian has been a lights out shooter hitting 21 of 45 three point attempts in his freshman campaign. One wonders how he escaped the recruiting eyes of Indiana and Purdue. Well, I don’t really wonder that much about Purdue since they are starting their two freshman guards with good results, but Essegian is looking like he was underrecruited.

The Badgers defense has been its traditional stingy self giving up more than 65 just twice in a regulation (Kansas and Iowa both also got there in overtime). The Badgers have harassed their opponents and done a good job of preventing easy looks without fouling.

Things I Haven’t Liked

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 11 Wisconsin at Iowa
This is actually a gif. The Badgers are just that slow
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Wisconsin’s offense remains a zombie snail, crawling slowly along the pavement. The Badgers score just enough to win games. That puts a lot of pressure on the defense that while very good, doesn’t have pieces that scream defensive juggernaut.

Depth in their rotation. Most of the season Wisconsin has played just 8 guys in their rotation. Outside of Essegian, nobody on the bench has been a threat to score. The starters are having to carry nearly the full load and that’s an issue if any of them go down to injury at some point.

Shooting inside the arc. The Badgers are just 45% from inside the arc on the season and remember that cupcakes still make up a relatively high percentage of the season right now. That low percentage is a large reason why the Badgers haven’t been able to pull away from teams.

Key Injuries

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 15 Green Bay at Wisconsin Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jahcobi Neath (knee) has not played since the third game of the season. I’m not sure he’s a difference maker, but he would give the Badgers an extra body.

Schedule and What’s Left

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 11 Wisconsin at Iowa Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Three cupcakes beginning tonight vs. Lehigh and continuing with Grambling State and Western Michigan. The new year sees the return to B1G play with Minnesota. A B1G schedule grants them single plays against Purdue, Indiana, Ohio State, Rutgers (only at home), Michigan State, and Nebraska. That is honestly about as easy as a Big Ten schedule could be this year leaving the Badgers in a pretty good position when we come out of cupcake December.

BoilerUp89’s Final Thoughts

It’s easy for haters of Wisconsin to look at the results and say they could easily have a couple more losses. They needed overtime against Marquette and Iowa and beat Dayton by only one point. On the other hand, they took Kansas to overtime. It looks like another typical Greg Gard team. A low possession, death by a million paper cuts team that keeps the game close and looks to make just enough winning plays. It’s not pretty, but it works for Wisconsin even as the rest of college basketball (including myself) hates it.

With the avoidance of double plays against three of the five other currently Big Ten ranked teams, I don’t know think 10-10 in B1G play would get the Badgers into the NCAA tournament. And while yes, it’s easy to look at Wisconsin’s start and say “hey, another top 4 in the B1G performance for the Badgers is coming”, I do think that’s a little lazy. Iowa did not have Kris Murray. Maryland was a home game. The Badgers were significantly outrebounded by both Iowa and Maryland - neither of which is near the top of the conference in that stat. All I’m saying is that despite the wins (which are good wins), Wisconsin’s record doesn’t match the underlying stats. If you are a Badger fan, you may be used to that, but I still see more question marks than the past few years and am not ready to state it will continue in January and February.

11-9 in B1G play should do the trick as long as it includes another road win over someone not named Minnesota. I believe Wisconsin should get there, but it could be tight. And while that might look like I’m downplaying Wisconsin’s conference chances, 11-9 is only a few key breaks away from being in the thick of the conference race. Wisconsin’s conference schedule is certainly light enough that those breaks could happen even though I don’t think it’s likely.

Other Expert Opinions

Green Akers: I cannot help but notice a correlation between frequency of losing to Wisconsin and the intensity of criticism lobbed at their style, but no doubt it’s not esthetically pleasing basketball.

Anyway, Wisco has for the most part been the Wahl & Hepburn Show as expected, but easily the pleasant surprise of the season for them - and maybe for all conference freshmen other than Fletcher Loyer - has been Connor Essegian. You don’t typically expect freshman outside the national top 200 to be ready for a big role right away, but his shooting has been a great lift for an offense that badly needs it.

Kind of...: Yeah, as a UW fan, I’m just going to note:

  1. I’m thrilled UW is 8-2/2-0 at this point
  2. The loss to Kansas turned on a officiating oversight objectively worse than those of the OSU/Rutgers and Purdue/Nebraska games
  3. Essegian was getting talked up preseason, but still has been a revelation
  4. Essegian won’t be starting anytime soon because Max Klesmit, while less flashy, does pretty much everything Greg Gard wants a 2-guard to do, and has been overlooked thus far
  5. I cede the floor to the haters and their repetitive complaints

misdreavus79: it appears they’ll have a better season than many people were anticipating, but dear lord let’s hope Wahl and Hepburn don’t miss any time.

He was a high school QB: They’ll probably finish around 4th. Same as it ever was.

MaximumSam: I was expecting more of an on brand Wisconsin team with Johnny Davis moving on and...that’s pretty much what we got.

  • Playing at a snail’s pace? Tempo is 340 in the nation. Check.
  • Never turning the ball over? 16th in the country. Check.
  • Annoying good defense? 8th in the country. Check.
  • Unwatchable offense? 123rd in the country, including shooting 45% from two, which is 305th in the country. Check and check.


Wisconsin basketball

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    wins the Big Ten, forcing the conference to shut down
    (38 votes)
  • 51%
    finishes 4th in the B1G
    (70 votes)
  • 18%
    sneaks in the back of the NCAA field
    (25 votes)
  • 2%
    goes to the NIT
    (3 votes)
136 votes total Vote Now


Finish the sentence: Wisconsin basketball is

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    (6 votes)
  • 26%
    painful to watch
    (27 votes)
  • 36%
    (37 votes)
  • 30%
    other, I’ll tell you in the comments
    (31 votes)
101 votes total Vote Now