5 Things We Learned from Wisconsin's Win Over American
Midway through the first half on Thursday, American was leading Wisconsin 17-10 and an upset was potentially brewing in Milwaukee.
However, the No. 2-seeded Badgers snapped out of their morning daze and poured it on the No. 15 Eagles the rest of the way, coasting to a resounding 75-35 victory and advancing to the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament.
After some quick math, it would appear that Wisconsin ended the game on a 65-18 run, which is pretty impressive no matter which way you slice it.
The Badgers didn't allow a single player off American's bench to get on the scoreboard and Wisconsin had three players reach double-digit points, including junior guard Traevon Jackson, who led all scorers with 18 points on the day.
So what was the difference between the early portion of the game and the final 30 minutes?
Well, we'll delve deeper into that question when we analyze the five things we learned from Wisconsin's dominant performance against American.
Wisconsin Still Doesn't Start Well in the Tournament
After a few early baskets by Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky, it appeared the Badgers were well on their way to an easy victory.
However, Kaminsky's teammates, as well as Kaminsky himself, fell into a bit of a lull after that and the Eagles took advantage by opening up a 17-10 lead.
Time after time, the Badgers have clearly shown some jitters in the NCAA tournament. Considering that head coach Bo Ryan has led Wisconsin to 13 consecutive postseason appearances in the Big Dance, you would think he'd have learned how to settle his team down and get it to play its game from the opening tip.
Obviously, each team is different and it's hard to control those emotions when this time of the year rolls around. Some coaches and players know how to handle it.
For reasons unknown, the Badgers have typically not handled it well.
The important thing is that Wisconsin was able to recover—and then some—after a sluggish start, and credit goes to Ryan and his squad for shaking off the cobwebs.
Just be on the lookout for how Badgers kick off their next game because a slow start in the later rounds is harder to recover from.
American Can't Play from Behind
Entering the tournament, American was statistically one of the better shooting teams in the country, and that had a lot to do with its slow pace and patience in running the Princeton offense.
This was evident to start the game, as the Eagles began the contest shooting 7-of-11 from the field and led up until there were about five minutes remaining in the first half.
Once the Badgers went on their run to end the half, however, it was curtains for the Patriot League tourney champs.
For as effective as their offense can be, the Eagles were in a world of trouble when they realized they needed to get points in a hurry. That played right into Wisconsin's hands and American was only able to muster 13 points in the second half as the Badgers slammed the door shut.
Things may have been interesting for a little longer if American had been able to prevent that first-half run from Wisconsin and remain in its comfort zone, but this turned into your typical No. 2 vs. No. 15 matchup in the blink of an eye.
That Wisconsin Defense Is Back
So you know how we mentioned that American began the game 7-of-11 from the field? It finished the game 4-of-26, and while that partially had to do with falling behind quickly and forcing bad shots, a lot of credit has to go a rather maligned Wisconsin defense.
Beyond junior guard Josh Gasser, there has been a lot left to be desired regarding the Badger "D", which is atypical of a Bo Ryan-coached team.
Once the nerves went away and American's jump shooting reverted back to normal, though, the Badgers defense was nothing short of dominant.
Wisconsin's 40-point win amounted to its largest margin of victory in tournament history and its 35 points allowed were the lowest amount for an opponent all season.
Whether this effort can carry over to the round of 32, when the Badgers go up against a much more formidable opponent, remains to be seen.
Nevertheless, it's a promising sign for a group that has had its issues preventing penetration and defending in the lane.
Brust's Leadership Can't Be Undersold
That incredible run the Badgers ran off over the game's final 30 minutes—it was 60-9 at one point—is what most will remember from Wisconsin's total rout of American, but at one point and time, Wisconsin was down by seven and looking extremely vulnerable.
That's when the Badgers' lone senior contributor, Ben Brust, stepped in to save the day.
Down 17-10 with 9:20 remaining in the first half, Brust knocked down a critical three-point basket. With the Badgers down by four over three minutes later, he netted another shot from beyond the arc to keep the Eagles on their toes.
Overall, Brust would score 11 of Wisconsin's next 13 points as part of a 20-5 run to close out the first half—he would finish the game with 17 points in all. All of a sudden, the Badgers had opened up a comfortable lead and as a result were able to cruise to victory.
Brust's poise and experience played a pivotal role in the Badgers' turnaround, and that influence could go a long way when it comes to how long Wisconsin is able to last in the Big Dance.
The Bench Needs to Play Well
Depth can turn out to be pretty important in the tournament, especially when foul trouble hinders a star player or a starter goes down with an injury.
The Badgers have been fortunate to avoid the injury bug for the better part of this season, but lately, Kaminsky has had a tendency to rack up the fouls. This results in extended minutes for freshman forward Nigel Hayes, who hasn't been the same player recently.
In fact, the two main contributors off the Wisconsin bench are freshmen, the other being guard Bronson Koenig.
Combined, Hayes and Koenig scored just nine points against American, going a combined 3-of-6 from the field.
Overall, the Badgers' bench scored 14 points, which is 14 more than the American bench produced. That second unit needs to be counted on as the tournament moves forward because Wisconsin is going to run into some teams with deeper benches.
Deeper doesn't necessarily mean better, but the Badgers don't want their bench to be the reason for an early exit from the NCAA tournament.