Wisconsin hasn’t had the best start to its season following losses to Western Illinois and Georgetown. In order to salvage something from the first five games of what is shaping up to be a very strong non-conference slate, they needed to pick up a win against VCU in the third-place game of the 2K Classic at Madison Sqare Garden.
That’s exactly the result the Badgers got on Sunday, thanks to point guard Bronson Koenig’s late-game heroics.
Koenig’s spinning lay-in with 5.9 seconds left gave him 22 points on the day, and gave Wisconsin a 74-73 victory when Melvin Johnson’s 3-pointer on the other end came up short.
The Rams were pretty unlucky to go 0-for-2 this weekend at the 2K Classic given how solid they’ve looked under new coach Will Wade. They’re going to be fine, and will likely contend in the Atlantic-10 once conference season rolls around.
But let’s chat a bit more about the Badgers, who got an important win that will look pretty good later on this year. The key for them in this one was getting a bigger contribution from the supporting cast around Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes, who scored 10. Ethan Happ scored 12 on six shots. Zak Showalter scored 10 on five shots. Freshman Charlie Thomas added nine points. It’s essential for that group of talent to continue to gain experience and provide secondary scoring, especially given what the schedule looks like through the rest of the year.
The Badgers have to go to Oklahoma to play the Sooners next weekend, followed by a game at Syracuse the following week. They also have matchups against Temple and Marquette, both of whom are capable of catching a tough opponent on the wrong night, before getting into Big Ten play. It’s going to be trial by fire for the inexperienced Badgers, and that’ll be fascinating to watch through the next month.
The question is whether or not the inexperienced secondary players can grow in that time frame. If they play like they did today, the Badgers will have a chance to extend Bo Ryan’s streak of top-four Big Ten finishes and go back to the NCAA Tournament.