National pundits are usually all over the Badgers because they don’t win a certain way.
The grumbling has grown louder this season as Wisconsin been forced to play untested point guards after losing Josh Gasser for the season.
ESPN’s bracket guru Joe Lunardi says the Badgers are “vegetarians” because they don’t have any meat on their schedule. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas has the Badgers as the 44th best team in the nation. That’s good enough for an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament for a 15th straight season thanks to the tremendous strength of the Big Ten, but it will be as a poor seed in a tough first round matchup.
Everything has seemed to go wrong for the Badgers this season. They are dreadful from the free throw line, being ranked 325 out of 345 Division I teams with a 61.4 team percentage. Last year, they shot 73.9 and in 2010-11 Wisconsin shot 81.8 percent from the line.
The Badgers are hemorrhaging nearly 15 points a game at the line. Those points are precious for any team but even more important for a Bo Ryan-led swing offense that hangs its hat on timing and efficiency as its hallmarks.
Obviously it doesn’t help that Wisconsin is 130th in field goal percentage at 44.3.
A great way to remedy both of those things is to get it to their big man. The Badgers have one of the best big men in the nation in Jared Berggren. He has really developed his low-post scoring in the offseason and has become a go-to guy in the paint. And thusly, he has seen his NBA Draft stock skyrocket. The problem is, the Wisconsin guards either have a hard time getting him the ball or fail to recognize when he’s got a good seal and don’t get him the ball.
Berggren has been the team’s high scorer seven times, including a career-best 27 against Creighton in November.
Berggren should be the focal point on an offense that feeds him the ball right away in the possession and if he sees a double team he can pass away. Or if he sees that a double team will never materialize he can just take his man to the basket.
The Badgers really need a 3-0 start in the Big Ten, because a minefield with five of their next six against ranked opponents awaits. That includes road games with No. 5 Indiana, No. 15 Ohio State and No. 12 Illinois.
Criticism is nothing new to Wisconsin. This team has been treated like an also-ran before and now that it is struggling more folks are starting to pile on.
But the Badgers remain a sneaky team that could surprise. Sharpshooter Ben Brust hasn’t shot better than 40 percent from three-point land in four games and is just waiting to get hot from deep. Great thing about Brust is that he doesn’t give up, and that shows in his 6.3 rebounds a game. Not bad for a 6-foot-1 shooting guard.
And Ryan Evans is 3-14 from the free throw line in his last two games. He’s shooting an unreal 36.5 percent, which can only get better. The senior shot 72 percent last year and 74 percent his sophomore year. He’s got to break out of his free throw funk soon right?
The Badgers are a lot better than the way they’re playing right now. But until Brust and Evans break out, Berggren needs to have the ball in his hands.
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