Cleat Geeks

Badgers Find A Way To Make March Sweet

WisconsinBasketballJanuary 12th 2016 on this night the Wisconsin Badgers fell to Northwestern 70-65. Their overall record had just fallen to 9-9 and their Big Ten record just slid to 1-4. The decade plus long streak of top four big ten finishes looked like a forgone conclusion to be over. As did the equally long NCAA tournament appearance streak. A team with only one senior on the roster and zero in the regular playing rotation looked what they were. Young, inexperienced, struggling to find their way, all with a new coach who was in his first month as the interim head coach.

No one could honestly blame them for looking like they did not belong or were not ready for the bright lights. They were adjusting to losing a four person senior class. All of those players are at minimum sticking their foot in the water of professional basketball either overseas or in the NBA. One of them skipped his senior season for the NBA and two of them were first round draft picks. Many of the key contributors to back to back final fours were no longer present. Add into that they were dealing with a coaching change. For the few experienced players who remained their collective basketball world had been turned upside down.

On that background it is rather amazing where this team currently resides. Finishing in a tie for third place and a comfortable selection the March Madness field of 68 as a seven seed. Oh yes, and thanks to the weekend’s events, these Badgers are still young but they are also sweet as in sweet 16 bound.

It is tremendous to stop and think of where this team started and where they currently are. Maybe one of the single most improved teams in this tournament field from the beginning of the season till now. They are not the most talented but what they lack in talent they make up for in togetherness and toughness and a sheer willingness to outwork people if that is what is required.

WisconsinVSPittsburghThe 47-43 defeat of Pittsburgh might be one of the more ugly offensive performances of the tournament to date from both teams. The Badgers would score a tournament low 16 first half points. The Panthers would shoot 37.5% on Friday and the Badgers were even colder at 31.1%. Greg Guard on many occasions since being named interim and ultimately head coach has repeated stressed the importance of finding a way. On Friday night the collective performance provided to be good enough despite two of the Badger best and more experienced players. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig combined to shoot 4 for 25. But Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ethan Happ was a force inside, especially in the final four minutes. Happ totaled 15 points and nine rebounds.

XavierVSWisconsinSo onto Sunday the Badgers marched to face the two seed in their bracket in Xavier. Hayes was again horrible shooting just 2 of 10. And he is just 5 of 27 in the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament. The Badger front line of Hayes, Happ and Vitto Brown all would finish with three fouls or more. The Badgers would be down late and there season was on the line. Happ was again spectacular inside but the season was extended because of the Badgers coach and their starting guards. Bronson Koenig hit a three with under 15 seconds remaining to tie the game. Zac Showalter would draw a charge on the next Xavier possession. Showalter has drawn many a charge in his first three years as a Badger but none in his career were of bigger impact than he drew Sunday night. The change would give the Badgers the ball with four seconds remaining.

 Photo by Kiichiro Sato

Photo by Kiichiro Sato

That left the Badgers with one timeout. The question became when to take it. Take it initially and draw the final play up from the backcourt or push the ball over midcourt and then take it from a more threatening offensive position. Guard, at the advice of Hayes, choose the ladder alternative. So the Badger pushed across and called with just over two seconds left. Guard drew up a masterful final play. The Badgers set up a two way go option for the impounder who was Happ. Try and hit Hayes going to the rim or hit Koenig who was coming around the right side and toward the right corner off a double screen. Happ hit Koenig in the right corner and Koenig would proceed to hit his second three in 11 seconds. This time a game winner as the buzzer sounded. Guard’s players now trust him and he trusts them and the players now trust each other. That was not the case in mid-January.

So the Badgers are now marching to Philadelphia to see Notre Dame Friday night. Marching to the sweet 16, not because they are more talented than the opposition, but rather because they keep finding a way.

One Comment

  1. Appleton Rocks

    March 23, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Gard

    latter

    Spelling is fundamental.

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