After earning the sweep over Illinois with a win in Champaign on Sunday, the Badgers are overwhelming the critics’ underwhelming forecast.
By my calculations (which is a fancied-up way of saying this is what I think), the Badgers need three more Big Ten wins to earn an NCAA tournament berth, which would be their 15th straight.
And that’s very attainable with home games against Iowa, Nebraska, Purdue and a road game in the season finale vs. Penn State.
Wisconsin has been maddening to watch at times after being ranked No. 23 in the preseason AP poll. The point guard position, platooned by Traevon Jackson and George Marshall, has been filled with poor decisions and shaky ball management — two hallmarks of a solid point.
The Badgers may have hit rock bottom by attempting zero free throws at Ohio State but rebounded quickly against an Illini team that doesn’t look anything like the team that earned a Dec. 8 11-point win at No. 10 Gonzaga.
Wisconsin was a lot more assertive and only 29 percent of its shots were threes, as opposed to hovering around 50 percent, which is where the Badgers had been hovering.
Frank Kaminsky, looking like a modern day Kurt Rambis with his Rec Specs after cutting his iris, played big minutes and looked great. When Kaminsky was out three games, the lack of depth behind Jared Berggren was glaring. Zach Bohannon isn’t thick enough to bang around in the paint and Evan Anderson needs more time to develop as an offensive threat and learn defensive rotations.
But most importantly, Kaminsky proved that he can be trusted at the foul line, especially with the game in the balance. In the final 1:59, Kaminsky was 6-for-8 from the line en route to shooting an impressive 12-for-14 for the game. However, that shooting display was all for not as the Badgers were just 28-for-42.
Wisconsin won by getting one point from both Jackson and Marshall. That may look awful, but it isn’t terrible. The number that’s much worse is the combined two assists from both hardwood quarterbacks. I realize in the swing offense, the players take on different roles and assists can come from everyone. But, only two assists tells me that neither guy is looking for a mismatch that he can exploit or isn’t seeing if one of his teammates can disguise a sneaky backdoor cut.
Kaminsky is the key to the Badgers’ puzzle moving forward because teams have correctly pinpointed Berggren as the most important offensive factor. Which means, they are challenging the senior, which in turn has resulted in Berggren getting in foul trouble and straying from any offensive rhythm that he may have been getting into.
If this team didn’t play good defense and rebound and it wouldn’t be sniffing the upper tier of the best conference in the land. But of course, you could always wonder where this team would be if not for the proverbial dry spell in Iowa City and a free throw shooting nightmare at home vs. Michigan State.
With two good post players, Wisconsin will be OK. But, of course, things change when it runs into a dominant backcourt, which will limit its entry passes to the wing and post.
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