After starting its seven game homestand with a convincing win over Temple, Wisconsin has dropped consecutive home games to in-state opponents by a combined three points, dealing two blows to its lacking resume.
And to make matters worse, Wisconsin’s final “buy” game of the nonconference schedule won’t be a cake walk, as Texas A&M Corpus Christi (7-2) is coming to Madison on a six game winning streak. Led by junior forward Rashawn Thomas’ 16.2 points per game, the Islanders have a top 60 RPI and their only two losses came to in-state power five schools (Texas A&M by 25 and Texas by 11).
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin to break a two game losing streak.
Lay up: Can Wisconsin get to the free throw line?
It is surprising to look at Wisconsin’s box score against Marquette and notice that the Badgers only attempted four free throws, their fewest since attempting three last season in a win over Ohio State. For an offense that is continuing to find its identity, causing it to go through scoring slumps, sometimes the best way to generate offense is attack the rim and get to the free throw line.
Wisconsin is only getting to the free throw line 20.8 times a game and making 15.4 of its attempts. The 229 free throws Wisconsin have attempted is tied for 71st in the country. When the Badgers choose to be aggressive, they have found ways to get to the charity stripe. The Milwaukee game Wednesday was a prime example, as UW got into the bonus in each half and attempted a season-high 32 free throws.
The Islanders average 23.1 personal fouls a game, so drawing fouls will begin with Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ. The duo lead Wisconsin in free throw attempts, as Hayes’ 84 attempts rank seventh nationally and Happ has shot 33 times. The two have proven that they can draw fouls when they get the ball on the low block and attack the rim strong.
Wisconsin cannot be timid going against Thomas defensively. The junior has fouled out in four games this season and has committed at least four fouls in eight games. Getting the ball down low to one of Wisconsin’s frontcourt players could result in a foul against Thomas and should help open up the paint for Wisconsin, creating opportunities offensively.
Mid-range jumper: Forcing the 3-point shot
Although Thomas has a tendency of getting into foul trouble, he has shown to be an effective scorer on the low block. Thomas is coming off a game where he scored 30 points against UT-San Antonio. Outside of Thomas being the leading scorer he has been able to create the space needed to shoot 52.2 percent from the field on an average of 12.8 field goal attempts a game.
Wisconsin forcing the ball out of his hands will help make the Islanders settle for either a jump shot or perimeter shots. The Islanders are shooting 41.3 percent from the floor and 30.5 percent from three this season, average 19.6 attempts per game and have only two players shooting about 40 percent from the perimeter. Brandon Pye leads the team shooting 42.3 percent (22-for-52) from three.
Wisconsin’s 3-point shooting defense is allowing opponents to shoot 39.3 percent. In addition to putting a hand in people’s face, Wisconsin will need to be able to make the correct switches on defense to limit mismatches, as UW’s inability to hedge screens will allow Pye or Bryce Douvier (40 percent from three) to get an open look.
One of the few consistencies this season for Wisconsin has been its ability to be a strong rebounding team, having out rebounded every opponent and limit teams to 8.3 offensive rebounds a game. What Wisconsin can’t do is allow Thomas (32 offensive rebounds) to get a putback opportunity or pass the ball out for a possible open look from 3-point range.
Consistently forcing long jump shots by TAMUCC should result in Wisconsin limiting the Islanders to one shot per possession.
3-pointer: Can Wisconsin’s offense stay patient?
More often than we’ve seen in the past, Wisconsin has got in the habit of rushing or attempting shot early in the shot clock. It’s a main reason why the Badgers are shooting only 40.9 percent on the season. The Badgers will need to find patience within its offense and force the defense to consistently guard for 20-25 seconds per possession. When Wisconsin settles for a shot as soon as they pass mid-court, it allows opponents an opportunity to get into transition, something Marquette executed to perfection in scoring 17 fast-break points in its two-point win.
Early shots in the shot clock will play into the Islanders’ favor, as they are allowing teams to shoot 36.8 percent from the field, which ranks 16th nationally. But in the Islanders' two games against Texas A&M and Texas they allowed both teams to shoot 40 percent or better from the field.
Getting Thomas in foul trouble should open up opportunities for Wisconsin’s frontcourt, which is averaging 25.8 points. Getting the ball down low could be the best chance for Wisconsin’s offense to find success, especially with the Islanders limiting teams to 31.3 percent from 3-point range and UW shooting a paltry 32.5 percent from the perimeter this season. Wisconsin will need to take advantage when they get a three as it will help make the life easier for Wisconsin’s frontcourt down low.
Shooting just 12-for-35 (34.3 percent) from 3-point range over the last five games, Bronson Koenig needs to break out from his shooting funk to help balance out Wisconsin’s already thin offense, not to mention be a better distributor. Over the last two games, Koenig has combined for just three assists. Struggling with his shot (8-for-27 the last two games), Koenig has to try to set up his teammates to ignite the offense.
While Koenig continues to search for his shot on offense, he has done well limiting the turnovers with only 1.3 miscues per game. As a team Wisconsin has started to take care of the ball better over the last three games, averaging just eight turnovers. With the Islanders forcing 16.4 turnovers and 8.7 steals per game, Wisconsin has to play within itself and look for the best shot.