The Badgers did it again. They overcame a tough week that included the resignation of strength coach, Erik Helland, who was with the program for seven years along with a thrashing at the hands of Minnesota. Wisconsin returned home and dominated in Madison, this time destroying the Buckeyes 70-57. At one point in the game, they led Ohio State by as much as 24 points. What did we learn from the win? Will Wisconsin ever become a consistent team?
- Home dominance continues
With the rout of the Buckeyes, the Badgers have now improved to 11-1 at home with the one loss coming by just one point at the hands of the Fighting Illini. The Badgers came in averaging 74 points per game while giving up an average of 60 points per game for a margin of victory of 13 points per game at home. Those numbers were nearly identical in the win over the Buckeyes with the 70-57 final in Madison.
“When the crowd is involved, it’s a tough place to play,” senior guard Brevin Pritzl said earlier in the week.
The atmosphere in the Kohl Center was something special with the Badgers playing as well as they were. There was a certain buzz in the air with the 2000 Badgers final four squad being honored and in attendance.
Going back to last season when the Badgers welcomed the Terrapins, Wisconsin has been invincible when playing a team with a special theme to the game. The football team joined the fun when routing Michigan 35-14 in a stripe out while men’s basketball held true in a 64-63 win over the Spartans and now a 70-57 thrashing of the Buckeyes.
The halftime tribute for the 2000 team was special. Head coach Dick Bennett received the loudest ovation from the Madison faithful. The tribute ended with Dick Bennett and the players in attendance joining together for a singing of “Varsity.” The players in attendance included: Erik Faust, Robert Smith, Travon Davis, Dave Mader, Charlie Wills, Roy Boone, Jon Bryant, Mark Vershaw, Andy Kowske, and Mike Kelley.
Though the aggressive and sound play of the Badgers is always a welcome sight, it continued a trend throughout the Big Ten of dominance at home accompanied by letdowns on the road. The win over the Buckeyes improved Wisconsin’s record at the Kohl Center to 11-1 but their record in true road games is 3-6 and the team is 0-3 in games on a neutral site.
Greg Gard and the team haven’t been able to pinpoint their struggles on the road as opposed to their success at home but the trend is league-wide.
“I don’t know,” Gard said. “If we can answer that, bottle it up, and sell it, we’d have a lot of coaches lined up to purchase it.”
“I think that’s what it is with every team in this league,” Pritzl added. “You have more familiarity at home, you get more shots up, always around here, so maybe it’s a comfort thing but, on the road, everyone has been struggling.”
Many of the struggles throughout the league can also be attributed to the incredible depth of the conference. Bracketologists from major networks have forecasted as many as twelve of the fourteen Big Ten teams making the big dance.
- Familiar faces shining in bigger roles
The departure of Kobe King from the Wisconsin program was a puzzling one and left many wondering about the direction of the program but the effort the team gave on the road against Iowa reassured head coach Greg Gard of the type of team he had. Now in their fourth game with a new look and rotation, players are starting to become comfortable in larger roles and have accepted the challenge.
The matchup with Ohio State, yet again, saw a rotation of just eight players but the new opportunities were taken advantage of by guards D’Mitrik Trice, Brevin Pritzl, Trevor Anderson, and forward Aleem Ford. Neither of the four are new to the rotation but the bump in minutes has seen them thrive.
For the senior Pritzl, the tilt with Ohio State came after a game where he shot an abysmal 0-7 from the field which included 0-4 from beyond the arc. Pritzl followed up the cold shooting night with a dazzling 7-13 outing that included five threes for 19 points.
“Two years ago he goes 0-12 in a game and it bothers him for five days,” head coach Greg Gard said when asked how the senior has evolved over the years. “But now he is running by me going ‘I’m going to splash the next one, I’ve got the next one’ and wants those opportunities. He’s calling his own number in the huddles.”
The senior has averaged 9.8 field goals per game over the last four without Kobe King as opposed to his season average of 6.2.
Junior D’Mitrik Trice has been on quite the stretch at the point guard position. He has been an absolute playmaker lately and did more of the same against the Buckeyes. Over the last four games, playing over thirty minutes in all four contests, he has dished out five or more assists. Before this stretch, he had only hit five assists in five other games and in only one other conference game.
Gard praised the guard after the game saying that he “is really starting to evolve into a point guard. His numbers have consistently been very good. He’s really becoming a very consistent, solid contributor, and good leader at the point guard position.”
Juniors Aleem Ford and Trevor Anderson each had great games of their own as well.
Anderson had an offensive outburst with an eight-point afternoon which included an individual 5-0 run. The eight points were a bump from his 1.7 points per game on the season. His eight points added to a 30-point contribution from the bench.
The junior forward battled on the glass and let the offense come to him taking open shots. The grit from Ford showed in the form of a ten-point and nine rebound day. The intensity on the glass was huge with Ford grabbing four offensive rebounds, one of which helped to ice the game.
“There’s been more opportunity so I’ve been trying to take advantage of that and be more aggressive,” Ford asserted.
- Depth on display once again
Many wondered what the state of the Badgers would be for the 2019-20 season, having lost their heart and soul from a year ago in Ethan Happ. Players answered such questions with excitement over the new shooting, spacing, and depth of the team. All of that was showcased once more against the Buckeyes.
Of the eight Badgers in the rotation, six scored eight or more points. Brad Davison and Tyler Wahl were the only two who did not reach the mark but everyone knows what Davison is capable of, while Wahl is far from a focal point on the offensive side of the ball.
Maybe more notable for Wisconsin was the production off the bench. The bench provided a boost to the tune of 30-points. The main contributors were Brevin Pritzl and Trevor Anderson who contributed 19 and 8 points, respectively.
At the end of the postgame presser, Trevor Anderson shouted out Pritzl for a “heck of a day” to which Pritzl responded by jokingly calling him a “fool.” The two were able to joke and enjoy themselves after an outing where the Badgers only trailed for 3:05 of the game.
Now the Badgers will head back on the road for a matchup with the Cornhuskers this Saturday. Last time out against Nebraska, the Badgers set a school record with 18 threes but also had trouble limiting guards Dachon Burke and Cam Mack. Limiting the tandem will be key if Wisconsin hopes to notch consecutive conference wins and a rare road win.