Early in the season, Wisconsin was a mess defensively. It missed rotations, failed to close down gaps, had little in the way of rim protection and defensive rebounding, and just overall wasn’t a cohesive unit. That’s how the Badgers dropped three games early, especially the season-opening loss to Western Illinois.
A month’s worth of film study and practice has made quite a difference though, as the Badgers have rebounded this week with strong showings on that end against Syracuse on Wednesday and then again on Saturday against Temple.
Wisconsin defeated the Owls 76-60 with Nigel Hayes scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds and Bronson Koenig scoring 17 of his own. When those two have it going, the Badgers should be able to put together enough offense to be competitive.
But again, this performance came back to the defense. The Badgers held Temple under 38 percent shooting and only allowed six offensive rebounds, plus only allowed the Owls to shoot 33 percent within eight feet of the basket. Wisconsin only allowed .923 points-per-possession, the second game in a row they’ve held their opponent under the 1.0 mark after allowing its previous four opponents to cross that threshold.
It’s not unfair to say that the Badgers just simply don’t have the offensive firepower they’ve had the last two years this season. Losing guys like Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Josh Gasser — among others — will do that. So this team is going to have to make a stronger impact on the defensive end to reach the heights Bo Ryan has hit throughout his career in Madison. Ryan’s known as one of the strongest defensive teachers in the country, so it should be expected that this group will get better on that end throughout the year.
It seems like Wisconsin may have finally turned that corner this week. If it can continue to get solid contributions throughout secondary pieces of its lineup, this can still be a solid NCAA Tournament-type team.