It’s difficult to get overly excited about an NIT run as the ultimate goal is to make that same run in the NCAA tournament. Since that wasn’t an option for Wisconsin this year, it’s best to look at the positives from their two victories they’ve had. Bradley and Liberty aren’t world beaters, but the way the Badgers won was impressive, along with some individual performances.
Point Guard Aggression
As good as Chucky was at times during the regular season, he’s taken is to a knew level so far in the NIT. After struggling in game one against Bradley, Hepburn looked like the players all Wisconsin fans want him to be in game 2. Going 9/20 from the field is a solid percentage, but it’s his 11 trips to the free throw line that stand out. Chucky was focusing on getting his shot and wasn’t shying away from contact.
No one can argue that Liberty has B1G sized guards or interior defenders, but it’s encouraging to see some aggression. The fact Hepburn realized the mismatch and took advantage of it is a good sign. To be able to score 27 points without hitting a three pointer is a plus for a guard that needs to become a more well rounded scorer.
It was an up and down season for Steven Crowl. He had good games when the matchups were there and struggled when facing some of the stronger centers in the B1G. Against undersized NIT opponents, he has feasted. He dropped 36 points against Bradley and didn’t it in a multitude of ways. He was 7/9 inside the arc while making 5 triples and going 7/7 from the free throw line.
That’s not a stat line I’d expect to see consistently in B1G play next season. Improved efficiency would be a big boost, along with being a stronger rebounder. As much as we would enjoy seeing Crowl make 3’s at a higher clip, the team overall would benefit from a stronger post and rebounding presence.
We also can’t overlook the efficiency of Tyler Wahl against Liberty. He didn’t have much of an impact against Bradley due to foul trouble, but made up for it in game 2. Putting up 16 points on 5/6 shooting from the field and 6/7 from the line is something this team will take every game.
Charity Stripe Success
The free thrown line was a house of horrors for much of the season for the Badgers. They finished the season on a positive not but their inability to make the freebies cost them a few games over the course of the season. So far through 2 NIT games, Wisconsin is shooting 82.6% from the free throw line which is a huge upgrade from where they finished the regular season.
Not only are they converting the free throw opportunities, but they are getting there much more frequently. Again, and I probably sound like a broken record, but this is easier to do against smaller teams than B1G teams. Either way, the Badgers are doing exactly what I hoped they’d do with this opportunity.
Overall, the games against Bradley and Liberty have been encouraging. The three ball hasn’t been falling but Wisconsin has still put up points. They’ve gotten to the line and scored at will in the post. Tonight’s game against Oregon will be their biggest test yet and would be very encouraging to see them find similar success against a major conference opponent.
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