Thursday, December 1, 2011

North Carolina Bests Badgers

North Carolina defeated Wisconsin 60-57 last night delivering the Badgers their first loss of the season. There are far more positives than negatives to take from this game, though.

First and foremost, Wisconsin hung tough on the home floor of one of the best teams in the nation, a team many are (or were before this past weekend) calling the best team in the nation. North Carolina is very good, and their ridiculous amount of athleticism extremely contrasts Wisconsin's style of play.

The non-conference season in college basketball is much different than the non-conference season in college football. In basketball, it's about learning about your team and preparing your team for the conference season. This is especially true for Wisconsin, a team with three new starters. You want tough games that test your team, and in b-ball, a few losses really do not hurt you in the long run.

And it wasn't just that Wisconsin hung in with UNC, it is that they did on an off night. 36% from the field, 50% from the free throw line (only 6 free throws attempted, all by Taylor), and 28.6% from the 3-point line. Wisconsin did not run their offensive very well, but still controlled the tempo. That kept them in the game despite their poor shooting.

A few other positives - Jared Berggren seems to be molding into a very good player. He stepped up inside and outside on a night when Breueswitz was scoreless due in large part to foul trouble. He showed he is not just a big white guy that can shoot 3's. Ryan Evans was strong on defense and more importantly, on the glass. Ben Brust is an exciting young prospect, but still a work in progress as exhibited by a few very bad shots.

Things weren't all roses though. I already mentioned the lack of free throws. That's a byproduct of the larger problem, over-reliance on the 3-pointer. We see this pretty much any time that Wisconsin struggles. The swing offense is not providing any good looks, so we revert to the 3ball. And in pretty much every close game we have 4-8 minutes spans where there are just no good shots. It ends up going to Jordan Taylor in the last 10 seconds of the shot clock and comes down to him either forcing a shot on the drive or hoisting a three as the shot clock winds down.

This then points to the second problem. It looks like their won't be a true second scorer, which is fine. Someone different will step up every night. The problem is we need a second ball-handler, someone else that can pose a threat to take the ball to the hoop or at least get into the lane and dish it off to the open guys. If there is no penetration, our outside shooting is at a great detriment.

Now these aren't new problems for Wisconsin. They have always been there under Bo Ryan. Our best teams had guys who could make their own shot when the system wasn't working and the shot clock was running down - Devin Harris, Alando Tucker, and now Jordan Taylor. We need that second ball handler, though so entire load does not rest on Taylor.

All and all, this game bodes well for Wisconsin. We have a good team, a growing team, but not very deep. We have the correct pieces in place I believe to address some of the problems above. As I mentioned in the preview, I think a lot of success will be determined by if Gasser or Brust can step up.

And it's great to measure success for Wisconsin Basketball in terms of being in the Top 10. That is the benchmark, what we should aim for. This team might not be a top 10 team yet, but I do see them growing into one as the season moves forward.

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