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Wisconsin basketball: Looking ahead to Badgers’ final stretch of Big Ten games

Jake Kocorowski: Welcome everybody to another B5Q roundtable, where the points don’t count and we all raid the post-Valentine’s Day candy sales. In the past two weeks during a tough stretch, Wisconsin went 1-2 and currently sits in fifth place in the Big Ten.

First question to you all here:

What are your general feelings about the past three games?

Tyler Hunt: It hasn’t resulted the way they want, but I don’t think it’s been as bad as people make it seem. I’m not panicking.

Kevin O’Connell: It was tough to lose to both Michigan and Michigan State when both games were there for the taking … even a split there would have been huge for them to keep up in the Big Ten race.

Neal Olson: Last three games were a good barometer of the season. Talented enough to play with top 10 teams in the country, inconsistent enough in execution to not be able to win.

Ryan Mellenthin: 1-2 in those games, but their two losses were against two very talented teams. Both games they were in it late, but just couldn’t finish.

Tyler: Exactly. To me the Big Ten and Wisconsin is shaking out how many thought to start the year.

Kevin: I feel if anything, these last three games show that Wisconsin can play with anybody.

Jake: I think Neal hit it perfectly there. This team can and will likely compete for the rest of the season and into the tournament. Can they put the pieces together to get a big win against Michigan and Michigan State (Purdue too)? They showed it at home against the Wolverines in January, but didn’t show it at the Crisler Center or against the Spartans and Boilermakers at home.

Neal: Also get the feeling this team aside from Ethan Happ are a year away from being really, really good. The lost season for Kobe King and D’Mitrik Trice hurts. Just think if they had an entire Big Ten season of experience under their collective belts.

Jake: Absolutely. Trice has stepped up this season though he has regressed to the mean a bit, and King has shown he can make some key shots when called upon.

Kevin: Good point Neal, I was really hoping Trice’s red hot start to the year was an indication he was ready to be a legit secondary scoring threat next to Happ, but he is probably a year away from being an All-Big Ten player

Ryan: Yeah, they’ll be a talented group next year, even without Happ.

Tyler: Part of it also is the Big Ten is the best it’s been in a long time. Every night is a dogfight for every team, ala Michigan-Penn St.

Neal: For sure Tyler, the conference as a whole has been much better top to bottom than most expected.

Ryan: I almost wonder if they are relying on Happ and he is being a bit of a crutch for guys like Trice.

Kevin: It helps that Rutgers and Illinois are actually giving teams some problems this year. There isn’t many guaranteed wins on the Big Ten slate like there were in past years.

Neal: Totally agree on Happ in crunch time. The team sure seems to be more effective when they work the offense instead of watch Happ dominate the possession.

LOOKING AHEAD: Name the one area (besides free throw shooting) that will be critical for Wisconsin down the stretch

Neal: This seems sorta ridiculous to type since most of the past few game the team has seemingly shot a higher percentage from three than at the line, but they could really use more consistent long range shooting from Trice, Nate Reuvers and Aleem Ford.

Ryan: The one area is their ability to finish games. In a lot of their games this year, there have been careless turnovers in the closing minutes, especially on possessions where they have a chance to tie the game.

Tyler: I mean to me it’s the same Wisconsin struggle story, six-to-seven minutes without scoring. A tale as old as time.

Ryan: Their patented scoreless stretch.

Neal: For whatever reason they can never get more than one guy hot from deep per game. Between Trice, Brad Davison, Reuvers, Ford, Pritzl and King one of them is usually on, but rarely more than one.

Kevin: The ability for the guards, particularly Trice and Davison, to create their own shots and make threes is really what is going to decide the fate of this team

Jake: I think for Trice and Davison, at least against Michigan State, you have to give the Spartans credit for their defensive effort against those two.

Tyler: Agreed ^ MSU made some good adjustments. But no surprise with Izzo. He’s a great coach.

Neal: Would be nice if they could get a few more set plays early in the shot clock for guys to get a rhythm. Trice and Davison are usually forces to create under 10 and the shot clock and are forced (more often than not) into tough contested or off balance jumpers

Kevin: I feel so confident in this team when either Trice or Davison can start the game hot and really take some pressure off Happ. The problem is, it seems they can never get it going in the same game together to Neal’s point.

Besides Happ, which player do you feel for Wisconsin will be the “X-Factor” for the last set of regular season games?

Tyler: I think Reuvers. His ability to open the floor as a shooter opens up so much more for Happ.

Neal: My money is on Reuvers. Since the Maryland game he has been playing with a bit more confidence. I think he is on the verge of taking over some scoring load from Happ.

Ryan: To be different, I’m going with Brevin Pritzl. He has been a real spark for the team at times this season.

Neal: Would love to see more two-man game between Happ and Reuvers, then allow some of the other shooters to space the floor and get more open looks.

Kevin: For me it’s Davison. We know Trice will provide solid point guard play and be a steady cog for Gard’s offense, but Davison is the true X-Factor. When he’s attacking the rim and hitting jumpers, Wisconsin is a very dangerous team.

Jake: I like the Pritzl pick, Ryan. From what I’m seeing, he does the small things right, and though he didn’t score in the second half on Tuesday, his seven points in the first 20 minutes helped against the Spartans.

Ryan: He’s such a good shooter and defender, and he’s by far UW’s best at the line.

Neal: Is there any way we can talk Pritzl into thinking every shot is under 5 seconds left in the half?? He has to be shooting like 80 percent from three on last second three pointers before halftime.

Tyler: LOL, true.

Kevin: Davison has been so up and down this year, but his hustle and energy can be infectious … and if he can find a consistent jumper down the stretch he’ll be huge for this team.

Neal: Agree on Davison his ability to energize and lead the team is huge.

What’s Wisconsin record in the final six games, and what is their final ranking in the Big Ten standings after the regular season?

Tyler: I see 5-1, around where they are now. All six are very winnable games.

Ryan: I’m going 5-1 as well. And I’m going, with fourth in the conference.

Kevin: I have the Badgers going 5-1 with the loss coming on the road against either Indiana or Ohio State.

Neal: I really want to go 6-0 here. They get a nice break in the grind of the conference schedule, only two games in the next 12 days, and after that all are winnable, as in Badgers should be favored in them.

Tyler: I wanted to say 6-0, too, but I just feel that dumb loss coming. Either way they’re good games to tune things up for March.

Jake: Yeah I’m with Neal. I really want to be inclined with winning all of them, and they can, but I think they falter in at least one.

Neal: The fourth place or higher finish in the conference tradition comes back also. Really think they secure the double bye for the conference tourney.

Kevin: I like them to finish fourth in the standings as well. Maryland still gets Michigan twice and has to play at Iowa, so I see them dropping a couple more games. And I just don’t see Iowa or Ohio State being able to jump into the top four.

Ryan: This is the best possible end to the season they can get. They just need to capitalize on it.

Neal: Would not be surprised if they drop one, but playing Michigan and Michigan State tough in back-to-back games feels like the quintessential moral victory. They didn’t play exceptionally well and still nearly pulled out both games. Should do wonders for confidence.

So, we’ll ask you the fans the same questions I asked the fellas above:

  1. What are your general feelings about the past three games?
  2. Name the one area (besides free throw shooting) that will be critical for Wisconsin down the stretch.
  3. Besides Happ, which player do you feel for Wisconsin will be the “X-Factor” for the last set of regular season games?
  4. What’s Wisconsin record in the final six games, and what is their final ranking in the Big Ten standings after the regular season?

Let us know in the comments section below.

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