It’s been an extremely turbulent season in Madison for the Wisconsin Badgers.

With the departure of Bo Ryan, rise of Greg Gard, and loss of five essential role players, the team has experienced inconsistency across the board.

Wisconsin is 4-4 in the Big Ten and 12-9 overall. For the Badgers to make March Madness this year, many are saying that they can only lose a couple more games – some of which may couple at Maryland, at Michigan State, and at Iowa, when the Badgers face three of the hottest teams in the country.

But, what has been the recipe for success for Wisconsin recently?

Score at least 70 points. When Wisconsin scores at least 70 in Big Ten play this year, they’re 3-0. When they score 65 or less, they’re 0-4. The Badgers, a team that has been historically built on defense, has become far more pronounced this year. In order to score 70, which seems to be a key, there must be an obvious reliance on Nigel Hayes. However, the team cannot lean on him alone – Bronson Koenig must be executing from outside and Ethan Happ cannot get in foul trouble early. All three are legitimate scoring options when they’re on the floor.

Take the spotlight off of Nigel Hayes. When Hayes is the team’s leading scorer in Big Ten play this year, the Badgers are…1-4. They’re 3-0 when he’s not, and in each of those three games, a different role player has stepped up. Against Rutgers, Zak Showalter poured in 8 of 8 from the field and led the team with 21; Koenig found his stroke against Michigan State, finishing with 27; and Ethan Happ converted on 10 of his 15 free throws against Penn State to lead the team with 20. Hayes can flourish when he has available options. In losses, he’ll typically be forced to create shots that are not there. In losses, Hayes is 20 for 52 (38.4%) shooting – in wins, he’s 21 for 47 (44.6%). Hayes scoring is not a bad thing, but there’s a clear trend that he needs help.

Find someone off the bench. This year’s Wisconsin team is historically inexperienced, with only one senior (Jordan Smith, a walk-on) and a nation-leading eight freshmen. Consequentially, the team has a bench almost entirely comprised of sophomores and freshman, but many have shown sparks of success. In a recent OT win over Indiana, sophomore Jordan Hill stepped up, going 5 for 5 (2-for-2 from three) from the field and scoring 13 in 32 minutes of play when Showalter got in foul trouble early. Against Penn State, Alex Illikainen, a freshman, played 26 minutes and scored 9 on 4-of-7 shooting to alleviate a bad night from Vitto Brown. The Wisconsin bench has actually scored less in wins than in losses (10.0 PPG in wins, 11.25 PPG in losses), but usually relies on one key player to step up when a starter is having an off night or is in foul trouble. Gard and the coaching staff will hope that experience brings consistent performances from the bench, a group that had absolutely no minutes coming into the season.

Get to the free throw line. The Badgers have been near the top of the standings in the Big Ten in terms of free throws made and attempted this year, and this is truly a gauge of their success. Wisconsin is 37-for-55 (67%) shooting free throws in losses – and 88-for-123 (72%) in wins. The Badgers are averaging nearly 13 made free throws per game more in wins than losses – a 13-point swing would have won every game that the Badgers have lost so far in Big Ten play. Hayes leads the Big Ten in free throw attempts with 170.

Start strong. The Badgers are 4-1 when leading at the half, and 0-3 when they are tied or losing. For a team built on youth, it’s essential that a lead is built early so the freshman and sophomores on the team feel less pressure late in the game. Wisconsin’s 66-60 win over Penn State shows the perfect example of this – despite allowing 42 to a bad Penn State team in the second half of the game, most pressure was alleviated because Wisconsin was able to build a 27-18 lead at the half.

Keep the role players out of foul trouble. In Big Ten play, it’s nearly an assumption that either Showalter or Happ will be in foul trouble early. But Happ has showed his versatility and talent when he’s been on the court this season, as has Showalter (in small doses). In the Badgers’ last two wins, Happ has averaged 22.5 PPG and 9.5 RPG. On a team that doesn’t have a size advantage against almost anyone, Happ, by far the team’s most talented big man, must stay in. He’ll need help on defense and collapsing in the paint when an opposing player drives.

Overall, a lot determines whether the Badgers will win. But they are successful when they’re finding whomever is hot that night and winning the advantage at the free throw line.

Wisconsin will be at Illinois on Sunday at 6:30 PM to take on the Fighting Illini (10-10, 2-5) on the Big Ten Network.