Once again, the offense looked stagnant and lacked rhythm. Notre Dame showed a mixture of zone and man-to-man looks and the Badgers seemed to be slow to adjust when faced with a different Fighting Irish defense. Most notably, the Badgers inexplicably left the lane and free throw line area vacant when Notre Dame was in their 2-3 zone defense. The Badgers big men insisted on working the baseline, playing right into the strength of the 2-3 zone and leaving the middle of the paint wide open.
Furthermore, Wisconsin relied very heavily on both Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer. Although Leuer and Taylor are clearly the stars of the team and can shoulder a considerable amount of the offense, others must be enough of a threat to keep the defense honest. Notre Dame was able to shade their defense towards both Leuer and Taylor essentially the entire game, daring someone else on the Badgers to shoot.
Senior Keaton Nankivil used some early confidence to make Notre Dame pay for leaving him open but as the game progressed, the Badgers became increasingly tentative and hesitant when Leuer or Taylor did not shoot. Lastly, someone will need to step up and became a consistent three-point threat to alleviate the congestion down on the blocks. Josh Gasser is not yet a consistent shooter from the outside and also does not appear overly confident in his perimeter shot. Although it has been said repeatedly, the fact that Tim Jarmusz has not experienced any progression as a shooter since he has arrived on campus has left the Badgers without a three-point marksman.
The defense looked pretty good for the majority of the game and the Badgers did a tremendous job of forcing the Fighting Irish into tough shots when around the basket. Additionally, the Badgers contested jump shots very well and limited the number of easy looks the Irish had in transition. However, a number of costly fouls and offensive rebounds significantly hurt the Badgers at the end of the game. Rather than being aggressive going after the ball, Wisconsin appeared to box-out almost to a fault in which an Irish player would be boxed out but no one on Wisconsin would aggressively pursue the actual ball.
Overall, the defense does not have outstanding foot speed on the perimeter but has been able to overcome this largely in part to the athleticism of big men Leuer and Nankivil. Nankivil in particular displayed exceptional weak-side help today and made up for a slow defender on a number of possessions. It will be interesting to see who guards some of the top wings the Badgers will face this year, to date; no one has emerged as a defensive stopper on the outside.
This team reminds me a bit of the 2008-09 team in which Jordan Taylor was a freshman and Trevon Hughes was expected to be the primary ball handler, go-to scorer, offensive distributor/facilitator, and also guard the other teams top perimeter player. While Taylor is not quite the go-to scorer on this team, he is expected to shoulder all of the other responsibilities that were entrusted to Hughes, with very little support or rest. Taylor played 38 minutes and looked noticeably worn out down the stretch, resulting in flat jump shots and decreased agility on the defensive end.
Wisconsin must find someone to share some of the perimeter workload and ensure that Taylor remains fresh down the stretch. Fellow junior Rob Wilson was expected to be the player to fill that role but has yet to be given an opportunity at length to prove himself. Wilson has been suffering from a sore hamstring but I certainly expect to see him out there once he is fully healed or Taylor will continue to be fatigued at the end of the game.
MVP: Keaton Nankivil. Clearly no one deserved it tonight, Nankivil wins due to good weak-side defensive help.