To reiterate the wise words of our holy faithful, Aaron Rodgers, RELAX, Badgers fans!
I was one of those alarmed Wisconsin Badger fans last night. Where do I even begin? Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson accounted for 42 of the 70, or 60%, of the Badgers’ total team points. Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes played 47 combined minutes of ineffective basketball. Hayes and Kaminsky found themselves battling early foul trouble and the Badgers bench shot 5 for 16, accumulating 12 total points.
Rasheed Sulaimon, alone, came off the Blue Devil Bench to score 14 points. The Badgers’ defense, typically their strength during the Bo Ryan era, allowed Duke to shoot an astonishing 65% from the field, including 7 of 12 from three-point land. And finally, the Badgers lost the game by 10 points, on their home court. When was the last time that happened?
A season ago, the Badgers got off to a 16-0 start. This included wins at home against Florida, and a win in the Big Ten-ACC challenge against eventual NCAA Tournament #1 seed, Virginia. However, they then lost five of their next six games, three of which occurred at the Kohl Center against Ohio State, Northwestern, and Michigan. The Badgers are going to lose some games this year, and this is not a game to be ashamed about. This could be a Final Four matchup down the road. We have seen some pretty impressive Duke teams over the years, but this is a special one. The game was surrounded by the hype of a Frank Kaminsky – Jahlil Okafor matchup, but it was all about the Tyus Jones show. The Jones-Okafor tandem is going to be dangerous down the road, especially come tournament time.
So where do the Badgers go from here? What will make them a complete team, and how will they beat teams like Duke in March and April?
First, there is the never-ending question of depth. A season ago, we’d see Kaminsky get in foul trouble and would be replaced by Hayes. Fast forward to this year. Kaminsky and Hayes are playing on the court together, and they may get in foul trouble together. The Badgers will need immediate answers off the bench, especially on defense. Duje Dukan put on a great show at the Battle of the Atlantis, but is not nearly physical enough to defend elite post players in the NCAA. Vitto Brown has seen his fair share of opportunities, but has yet to capitalize on them. He looked completely overmatched against Okafor and struggled to make an impact against the Blue Devils. The Badgers may need a lineup switch. Is Hayes off the bench the answer? A potential Dukan for Hayes swap in the starting lineup??
Second, there is Sam Dekker. The potential upcoming NBA Draft lottery pick Sam Dekker. Sam, where have you been? He has grown an additional two inches since last season, and now stands at 6’9” with elite athleticism. He can get to the rim at will, but where is the aggressiveness? The Badgers are going to need Dekker to hit some big, big shots this season. Badger fans would much rather see the ball in Dekker’s hands in crunch time, as opposed to the hands of the shaky Traevon Jackson.
Third, there is the defense. We’re all talking about the offensive potential of this Badgers’ team, but it’s defense that wins championships. Regardless of the opposing team, it is difficult to win games when the opponent shoots 65% from the field. This team needs to be quicker on switches, rebound the ball on both ends of the court, and approach each possession with intensity. Again, defense wins championships.
What’s next for the Badgers? The Badgers will head east on I-94 for their next two games for a matchup against Marquette at the Bradley Center on Saturday, December 6th, and on December 10th against the Panthers of UW-Milwaukee. Both games will be crucial for the Badgers, as they need to start playing like they are truly the No.2 team in the nation.
Don’t worry Badger fans, it’s only December, and the road to Indianapolis should be a fun one!
*Section Photo credit to Rich Schultz, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Mary Langenfeld. USA Today Sports.