Entering Friday's nonconference finale, consider the following:
- The Badgers proved they could shoot – making at least eight three-point buckets in eight of its first 12 games.
- The Badgers proved they could defend – allowing opponents a nation's-low 44.7 points per game and second in the country in opposing field goal percentage, limiting foes to just 33.8 percent from the floor.
- The Badgers also showed it is developing an inside presence, as junior Jared Berggen leads the Badgers in scoring (12.3 ppg) with fellow junior Ryan Evans having grabbed at least six rebounds in 12 games.
How fitting that in Wisconsin's last nonconference game, the Badgers checked the last question mark off their list: productivity from the free throw line.
In Wisconsin's 79-45 victory over Mississippi Valley State in front of 17,230 at the Kohl Center, the Badgers went 31 of 44 from the line (70.5 percent), season highs in both categories. It was the most makes since UW converted 34-of-40 last season against Illinois, while it was the most attempts since the Badgers recorded 31-of-44 against Pittsburgh in December 2006.
"The way to counter their pressure is to push back at them and get to the free throw line," said junior Jared Berggren, who made 7 of his 8 free throw attempts and scored 15 points. "We didn't get into our sets a lot. When we are getting to the line, that's always a good thing."
The Badgers (11-2) finished last season ranked No. 1 in the nation by shooting 81.8 percent (435-533) from the free throw line, a mark that was the second-best single season mark in NCAA history. That percentage became a memory early, especially after Wisconsin went just 4-for-13 (28.6 percent) against Colgate in the second game of the season.
That was only half the problem, as Wisconsin wasn't using its muscle inside to get to the line. After averaging 15.8 attempts last season, the Badgers averaging just 9.1 attempts through their first eight games and were outshot from the line in four of those games.
The last seven games have been a different story with Wisconsin averaging 23.5 attempts and 17.0 makes. Not surprisingly, the Badgers have won six of their last seven nonconference games to go into conference play with a head of steam.
"(MVSU were) just real physical. They were going to get you to turn it over or they were going to foul you," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "We try to get to the line as many times as we can or take advantage of overplays or things like that. I thought we did a pretty good job of that considering it was a game played a little bit differently than what we will see in the league."
Everyone got into the action in addition to Berggren. The Badgers got a game-high 17 points from Jordan Taylor (6-for-7 from the line), 11 from Josh Gasser (seven on free throws) and junior Ryan Evans made 3 of 6 free throws and netted a career-high 11 rebounds.
"We knew they were pressuring us like they did and to offset that, we just have to drive hard into them and get to the free throw line," said Gasser. "It's definitely good to get to the line a little more … and definitely good to see."
Against the Delta Devils (1-10), it wasn't going to take much. Wisconsin opened the game with a 20-4 lead and never let the lead close closer than 19 in the second half after forcing 17 Mississippi Valley State turnovers, which led to a 19-4 advantage in points off turnovers.
Wisconsin also held the Delta Devils to 29.2 percent shooting, without a field goal for 11 minutes, 7 seconds and drew 29 foul calls compared to only 15 fouls on Wisconsin.
"You're not going to beat any Wisconsin team of this magnitude when they're going to the line that much," said MVSU coach Sean Woods, whose team has yet to play a home game this season. "We have no chance to win or to even stay close."
But while Wisconsin shot 46.2 percent in the first half, the Badgers built a 17-point halftime lead by having at least four players make 66.7 percent of their free throws. It was just another chapter in Wisconsin's nonconference dominance, as the Badgers will finish the season 109-27 (80.1 percent) in regular-season nonconference games.
Just like Woods saying the goal now for his team is to win the SWAC, the Badgers take the mindset in Tuesday's nonconference opener at Nebraska after winning at least 10 nonconference games for the third straight season.
"I see some good things, I see some things we'll have to get better at," Ryan said. "It's no different than any of the other seasons I have coached."