Covid-19 has made the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team adjust quite a bit this season and this week is no different. Wisconsin was set to play Northern Iowa on Wednesday at the Kohl Center before the game was canceled. With a false positive test canceling their game against UW-Green Bay, the Panthers ultimately decided to shut things down and cancel their remaining non-conference games.
Panther Men's Basketball has canceled Wednesday's game against Wisconsin and Saturday's game against Marshall.
— UNI Basketball (@UNImbb) December 13, 2020
Wisconsin is now set to face off against Missouri Valley Conference foe Loyola Chicago. The Ramblers are 3-0 coming off a 77-66 victory against the University of Chicago. Loyola was led by senior center Cameron Krutwig with 22 points. Sophomore point guard Marquise Kennedy also provided 16 points off the bench for Loyola.
The Badgers look to keep their momentum going after defeating Rhode Island last Wednesday 73-62. Wisconsin was led by senior guard Brad Davison, who outscored the Rams in the first half alone (17 points for Davison). Davison would go on to finish with 23 points and made all 12 of his free throw attempts. Senior forwards Micah Potter and Aleem Ford had 13 and 11 points respectfully.
Post Season Success for Both Programs
Only being a few years removed from their improbable Final Four run, Loyola Chicago is looking to build off of their success. Loyola completed their 2017-18 season with an impressive 28-5 record, finishing first in their conference and winning their conference tournament. However, the run didn’t stop there. The Ramblers would go on as an 11 seed in the NCAA tournament winning three consecutive matchups separated by just two points, defeating Miami, Tennessee, and Nevada. After blowing out 9th seed Kansas State 78-62, Loyola would go on to lose in the Final Four by season runner up Michigan 69-57. It was the program’s longest run since their 1962 NCAA championship victory.
Wisconsin’s Final Four run turned into not one but two consecutive appearances. The Badgers finished 25-6 in the regular season and 2nd overall in the Big Ten conference. Wisconsin would go into the NCAA tournament as a two seed. After blowing out 15 seed American, the Badgers went on to defeat seven seed Oregon 85-77 and six seed Baylor 69-52. In a closely contested battle, Wisconsin would go on to defeat one seed Arizona 64-63 in overtime. It would mark the Badger’s first Final Four appearance since the 1999-00 season. Wisconsin would go on to lose to national runner-up Kentucky 74-73 on a buzzer-beating shot.
Hungry for more, Wisconsin came into the 2014-15 season having just one goal; a national championship. After completing the season at 28-3, the Badgers would finish first in the conference and defeat Michigan State 80-69 in the conference tournament finale. As a number one seed, Wisconsin struggled to blow out opponents but defeat Coastal Carolina, Baylor, and North Carolina. The Badgers would face previous elite eight foe Arizona and defeat the Wildcats 85-78. Their Final Four opponent wasn’t new either. They would go on to defeat undefeated Kentucky 71-64 to advance to the national championship. Sadly, Wisconsin would go on to fall to Duke 68-63 and finish as national runner-ups.
Two Programs, Same Fundamentals
Wisconsin’s identity is built on a few main pieces: tough defensively, efficient offensively, and three-point success on offense. It’s actually what Loyola Chicago does very well too. Loyola Chicago is currently holding opponents to 55 points per game which is one of the lowest marks in college basketball. Along with their stellar defense comes their efficient offense. Loyola currently ranks in the top ten for field goal percentage, top 25 in 3 point percentage, and top 40 in assists. Not to mention their also top 40 in turnover per game.
When you look at Wisconsin, some of these stats are fairly similar. The Badgers allow 59.2 points per game, rank in the top 80 in 3 point percentage, and are currently fourth in the nation in turnover per game. If you could mirror a team like Wisconsin to anyone else in the country, Loyola Chicago would be as close as it gets. For coach Greg Gard, that also can provide a very tough task. “It’s going to test us in a lot of areas” said Gard at his press conference on Monday. “To be able to get these challenging games is a great challenge to our team, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Keys to the Game: Wisconsin
Efficiency on offense is one of the Badgers issues in recent games. At one point Wisconsin led as much as 22 points against Rhode Island. However, after a slump on the defensive side of the ball, the Badgers also had a stretch of turnovers and poor offensive looks. Those turnovers and poor offensive possessions really propelled Rhode Island back in the game. Loyola isn’t going to give you many chances at the free-throw line either. Loyola currently gives up 14 fouls a game which one of the lowest marks in the country. If the Badgers are going to keep their winning ways, they need to clean up their offensive possessions. If they keep shooting under 40% from the field, Wisconsin isn’t going to win many games, even with stellar defense.
Wisconsin’s biggest issue currently is on the defensive side of the ball. Foul trouble has plagued the Badgers and put them in difficult spots in recent games. With 22 against Marquette and Rhode Island, Wisconsin not only hurts themselves defensively but also kills their offensive flow. Greg Gard said this on the number of fouls: “Unnecessary is the word I am going to choose. You can’t print a lot of the other words.” Many times they’re fouls with teams on transition and when opponents drive to the hoop. Wisconsin is going to need to find ways to be successful on defense against more athletic and physical teams. Especially with Big Ten play right around the corner.
Keys to the Game: Loyola Chicago
Although Loyola Chicago really hasn’t faced many difficult opponents to start the year, the fundamentals of their game make them so successful. One of the best fundamentals on offense is how they share the basketball. The Ramblers are one of the top teams in assists, averaging just under 19 assists a game. With their passing, it’s opened up many opportunities to find caps down low to score but also open shots on the perimeter. If they can continue their success at sharing the basketball, Loyola has every shot at winning this game.
One side of Loyola’s game that needs to be better, especially against a team like Wisconsin, is their free throws. Loyola is currently shooting a staggering 62.5% from the free-throw line. When matched up against another strong defensive team, little things like free throws can be a crucial part of the outcome. The Ramblers also aren’t a team to get to the free-throw line very often either. The need to find ways to exploit Wisconsin’s defense, get them in foul trouble, and knock down free throws during the game.
With two strong defenses like Wisconsin and Loyola, I expect this game to be contested all the way to the end. The difference-maker for me is the size advantage Wisconsin presents, especially down low. Many teams Loyola Chicago faced would run zone and never could match up with them straight up. Wisconsin not only can do that but they can run both Reuvers and Potter and really create havoc down low. In order to do this though, both Reuvers and Potter and going to need to dial back the fouls. However, I think Wisconsin finds a way to turn the page with the defensive struggles and play a much tighter game. The Badgers will also knock down free throws when they need them and put Loyola out of this game.
Final Score: Wisconsin 72, Loyola Chicago 60