The top candidates to fill over 1,000 shots and 33 points per game for the Badgers looked to be in the capable hands of seniors Brian Butch and Michael Flowers, a duo that averaged 8.8 and 7.2 points per game, respectively, a season ago.
Although their scoring has increased, through five games in the post-Taylor/Tucker era, that thought process has yet to come, especially on Saturday evening against Georgia, as the seniors have yet to get hot and stay hot simultaneously for an entire game.
Although the Badgers survived a 68-49 scare, the one-two punch of Butch and Flowers finished the game 7-for-23 from the floor and a quiet 24 points from the floor.
Coming off a nasty-looking right elbow dislocation last February, Butch started the season with a 24-point, 13-rebound bang against IPFW and has followed it with respectable showings against smaller, quicker teams since. But against a Georgia team that rotated six post players 6-foot-7 or taller, Butch's eagerness to launch a quick shot cost him.
In his defense, Butch wasn't the only Badger struggling against the physicality of Georgia; a type of play the Badgers hadn't been exposed to so far in this young season.
"(The physical play is) was what we practiced against all week," head coach Bo Ryan said. "It's hard to replicate the same kind of speed, length and wing span of the other team's defensive players that are going to be executing what we tried to prepare against."
The senior didn't make a bucket from the floor in the first half and missed plenty of point-blank shots on his way to a 2-for-10 shooting night.
Unlike Butch, Flowers' road at the beginning of the season has been rocky. Missing two weeks at the start of season due to an undisclosed medical reason, the defensive wizard had not found his rhythm coming into the night.
Being one of the first Badgers to come off the bench in Wisconsin's five games this season, Flowers has eclipsed 10 points only once, despite playing an average of 25.3 minutes per game.
While his turnover margin is still one of the best on the team (1.3 per game) and is shooting a respectable percentage from the floor (39.3 percent), the rust still hadn't come off Flowers in the early going, which was evident by missing a point-blank dunk early in the second half.
"I think he was caught between a 360-reverse dunk and a layup," said Ryan about the failed dunk attempt. "He wasn't sure what he was going to do. I don't think his legs were there as much as he thought."
Just like the rest of the Badgers, however, Flowers did show flashes of brilliance heading down the stretch.
He broke out his shooting slump with two key three-pointers – the first one that put the Badgers ahead for good - that helped engineer Wisconsin on a 31-6 run in the final 12 minutes and 30 seconds of the game.
Flowers shot 50 percent in the second half, finishing with 16 points off the bench, but the stat that jumped out to his teammates was his career-high 10 rebounds.
"What stands out to me is the 10 rebounds," Krabbenhoft said. "Mike is such a dynamic scorer that he's going to find ways to get the ball in hoop. But 10 rebounds from a guy undersized and underweight compared to some of those guys for Georgia … is fearless. That inspires the team and when we see him do that, it makes want to keep playing harder to match his intensity."
While Butch, Flowers and the rest of the Badgers got a stark wake-up call against the Bulldogs, there should be no surprises when Wisconsin travels to Durham on Tuesday, as the Blue Devils have a nearly identical makeup as the Bulldogs.
"We know it's going to be physical, just like tonight was," Butch said. "They are going to be physical, bigger team. We know that they are going to be quicker, like Georgia was. It's a great game before a game like that, because it gives us that same look that Duke is going to have."
Line up Rearrangement
After seeing Jon Leuer become the second or third player off the bench in the Badgers first four games of the season, the freshman didn't get a chance to take his warm-ups off until the final minute of Wisconsin's victory Saturday night.
With the physicality and the aggressiveness being played out in the paint, Ryan decided to go with a veteran body in the post when Butch, Krabbenhoft or Stiemsma needed to come out for a breather.
"I went with Kevin Gullikson because he's been in these types of battles against more physical teams than say Jon Leuer, that might have otherwise see more minutes," Ryan said. "These guys know how to handle all that. We had a more physical lineup one through eight and they responded."
Although playing only six minutes, Gullikson held the Bulldogs in check during the first half, giving the Badgers a needed boost in an extremely negative first half.
"He did some good things when he was in there to keep (the score) where it was," Ryan said.
Krabbenhoft Solid Again
In what's beginning to sound like a broken record, junior Joe Krabbenhoft turned in another solid game for the Badgers.
His stat line was nearly flawless – 4-for-6 from the field and 5-for-6 from the line for 13 points, six rebounds, five assists and no turnovers.
"He just does everything and it isn't the first time," Ryan said. "We take what he gives us. His shot selection was pretty good. He hustled on the glass and on the floor. Five assists and no turnovers are as good a ratio as you can find."