Another year of college basketball has hit its stride, which means another year of hard-nosed Big Ten basketball. Even with its recent loss to Nebraska, the Purdue Boilermakers are still the team to beat the conference. However, if any team has a shot to beat them it is the Wisconsin Badgers. College basketball fans know that Wisconsin basketball prides itself on hard-nosed defense, not turning the ball over and not fouling. While the 2023-24 team still has those tendencies, it is not quite to the degree that we have seen in years past. A couple of unprecedented changes have improved the Badgers this year, and I will get into that in this article.
Before that though, I think we need to take a look at a broad overview of Wisconsin basketball. Through 15 games this season, the Badgers hold a 12-3 record with a 4-0 record in conference. While the team still has yet to play Purdue, Wisconsin has taken down both Nebraska and Ohio State, who hold 13-3 and 12-4 overall records, respectively.
Wisconsin Basketball Has One of the Best Offenses in the Country
Like I said in the preamble, the Badgers have historically been very conservative. That has oftentimes resulted in low-scoring games. While they are still somewhat conservative under Greg Gard (9.9 turnovers per game), they have taken a much more liberal approach to scoring. This year’s team is currently scoring just north of 75 points per game, which is up from 65.3 last season. According to KenPom, the Badgers have the sixth-best offense in the country. Those 75 points per game also put Wisconsin at 163rd in the country, and I know that is not great, but it is up from 331st last season.
A.J. Storr has been a revelation for the Badgers this season, as the St. John’s transfer is the leading scorer of the team, 14.9 points per game. That is the highest scoring average for a Wisconsin basketball player since Johnny Davis‘ incredible season a couple of years back. Storr’s great play has also allowed Chucky Hepburn to play more in his realm. It was fairly obvious that Hepburn could lead a team, but he can’t be “the guy.” When Wisconsin had to rely on him last season, he more often than not could not get the job done. With defenses more focused on Storr now, Hepburn’s shooting percentage has risen from 37% to 40%.
Similar to Hepburn, Tyler Wahl has also been able to play his style of basketball. Once again, just like Hepburn, Wahl was probably relied on to do too much last season. For someone who needs to play in the paint, Wahl shot a horrific 42% from the field. Those numbers have since climbed up to right around 50%. And while one would like to see those numbers increase, it is quite a good sign to that percentage back up to 50.
With a cast of characters around those three, including Neenah’s own Max Klesmit, Steven Crowl and Connor Essegian, this is probably the best the offense Wisconsin basketball has had since the Frank Kaminsky/Sam Dekker days.
Wisconsin Basketball Has Experience All Over
Something that probably goes hand-in-hand with the offensive explosion this season is the experience on this Badgers team. Outside of John Blackwell, who is really the only freshman getting big minutes, this Badgers team is one of the oldest in the country. The aforementioned Hepburn and Wahl are both seniors, with Wahl playing his fifth year of college basketball. It is no secret that the recipe to success in the NCAA Tournament is experience, and as stated before, the Badgers have that at a premium. Add to Hepburn and Wahl, Klesmit and Crowl are both in their fourth year playing college basketball. When it comes down to it, that experience is going to help if they get matched up with a Kentucky or Illinois later in the season.
As is the case with experience and Wisconsin as a whole, limiting turnovers is what the Badgers are the best at. Say what you want about Greg Gard. He may be a good coach, or he may not be. But one thing you can’t say about Gard is that he does not employ a disciplined offense. As I stated before, the Badgers are only turning the ball over 9.9 times per game. That ranks 26th in the country.
How Far Can Wisconsin Go?
Like what was previously said, the Badgers are currently first in the Big Ten, can score with anybody in the country and have experience. Purdue is going to be the challenge, but with Illinois’ Terrence Shannon going through some major off-the-court issues, to me it seems like a two-team race in the Big Ten, currently. Could Michigan State or Indiana make a run? Sure, but with Wisconsin’s big-time victories over Virginia, Marquette, Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State, the team has proven they can somewhat hang with the big dogs. The NCAA Championship may be tough though. BetUS currently has the Badgers at +5500 to win the tournament.
Even with good teams around the country, I think that this Wisconsin basketball team is as good as we have seen since those Final Four days. The collection of talent is better than Davis’ squad. If the Badgers can put together a solid Big Ten showing, I say look out for them come the postseason.