Wisconsin Badgers

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 17:  Caleb Swanigan #50 of the Purdue Boilermakers dunks the ball during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 17, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Four things we learned from No. 20 Purdue’s win over No. 13 Wisconsin

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Caleb Swanigan notched yet another double-double, finishing with 18 points and 13 boards as No. 20 Purdue picked up a critical win in their pursuit of a Big Ten title, knocking off No. 13 Wisconsin, 66-55.

Here are four things that we learned from Sunday’s win:

1. Maybe Wisconsin isn’t the clear favorite in the Big Ten title race: Because that’s the way that it seemed entering the weekend. Indiana had lost three straight games, including a game to Wisconsin in Assembly Hall. Purdue already had a loss on to their name, falling at home against Minnesota. If the Badgers had managed to win in Mackey Arena, they would have a two game lead on the two other ranked teams in the conference which would have included wins on both of their home floors.

But that didn’t happen.

Purdue got the win, which, when combined with Nebraska’s loss to Northwestern on Sunday afternoon, means that the Boilermakers actually sit on top of the conference.

2. But it wasn’t just the fact that Purdue won: Purdue is good. We know that. Mackey Arena is a tough place to win. The Boilermakers were favored. No one should be surprised when Matt Painter’s club protects its home floor.

It was how Purdue won that made a statement. After outplaying the Badgers in the first half, Purdue jumped all over Wisconsin to open the second half, as a 14-2 run pushed their lead to as many as 16 points. The Badgers had looked terrific since they got back from the Maui Invitational, when the adjustment was made to use Nigel Hayes as a point forward. We knew losses were coming at some point in league play, but seeing Purdue beat them so soundly was a good sign.

3. Purdue is more versatile than you think: The Boilermakers have used a few different starting lineups this season, and the most recent features Isaac Haas coming off the bench with Vince Edwards, who is more of a small forward, playing at the four. But Edwards was not all that effective on Sunday, which gave Haas, who finished with 13 points, a chance.

I say all that to say this: Most people think of Purdue as a team with the twin towers, and that’s certainly a look that has been effective for them. But it’s not the only way they can play. They go four-around-one (Swanigan, who has been playing at an all-american level). They can play with two points guards, Carsen Edwards and P.J. Thompson. They shoot, as a team, 40.5 percent from three, which is ninth nationally, and are in the top 100 in pace.

In other words, for a team with a reputation for having such a dominant front line, Purdue certainly isn’t just a one-trick pony.

4. You shouldn’t be worried about Wisconsin: So the Badgers aren’t quite good enough to run away with the Big Ten title, but did you ever really think that they were? Because I didn’t. That supposed gap between the Badgers and the rest of the Big Ten said more about the Big Ten than it did Wisconsin.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like this Wisconsin team. I still think they’re the best team in the conference. I still think they’re somewhere in the top 10-15 teams in America. I still think that they should make it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and have a shot at getting to the Final Four.

They’re a good team.

But there is a big difference between being good and being good enough to coast through a conference like the Big Ten.

What Sunday told us was that Purdue will be in the mix – with Wisconsin – when it comes to winning the league title.

Five takeaways from No. 13 Wisconsin’s win at No. 25 Indiana

Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard acknowledges fans as he leaves the court after Wisconsin defeated Indiana 75-68 in an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Bloomington Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP Photo/Darron Cummings
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Wisconsin started strong but perhaps finished even stronger to notch a road win Tuesday night at Assembly Hall.

The 13th-ranked Badgers scored the game’s first 13 points and closed the game by outscoring Indiana 19-11 in the final 7 minutes to down the 25th-ranked Hoosiers, 75-68.

Wisconsin has now won nine-straight games while Indiana is in the midst of its first three-game losing streak since late in the 2014-15 season, with two of those losses coming at home.

Here’s what we learned in the Badgers’ victory:

 

1. Wisconsin is now the early Big Ten favorite: Yes, most Big Ten programs are just two games into an 18-game grind, but it’s difficult to see anyone having a better shot of capturing the league title than the Badgers right now. They sit at 2-0 after handing one of their biggest competitors, Indiana, its second home loss of the conference schedule already.

It wouldn’t be wise to count out Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who similarly sit at 2-0, but the Spartans’ wins haven’t been as impressive as the Badgers’, and there’s still the matter of getting Miles Bridges back on the floor healthy and productive.

Wisconsin will have another chance this weekend to strike a crippling blow to another contender as they travel to Purdue, which also already has a home loss to its name in Big Ten play.

You can’t start engraving the Big Ten trophy yet, but Wisconsin has established itself as the prohibitive favorite.

Indiana's Thomas Bryant has his shot blocked by Wisconsin's Alex Illikainen during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Bloomington Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP Photo/Darron Cummings

2. Thomas Bryant was relegated to a non-factor: The Hoosiers’ big man may be a first-round prospect, but he was made mostly insignificant against Wisconsin. He finished with six points on five shots along with three rebounds and one block in 21 minutes. He managed to get up just two second-half shots in 14 minutes, and was at times torched by Ethan Happ offensively. Which brings us to Point No. 3….

3. Ethan Happ is Wisconsin’s best but maybe not most important player: Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes are the Badgers’ most well-known players, but Happ is their most productive and consistent. He was the best player on the floor Tuesday night, putting up 19 points on 8 of 11 shooting to go along with six rebounds and four assists in 32 minutes.

He won’t wow you with his physical tools most of the time, but Happ’s patience, awareness, footwork and touch make him a devastating matchup. He’s going to produce, which makes him dependable but not dominating. He needs help from his teammates, especially his senior frontcourt companion…

Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes is defended by Indiana's OG Anunoby during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Bloomington Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP Photo/Darron Cummings

4. Nigel Hayes can still fall in love with his jumpshot: Hayes is probably the Badgers’ most important player because he unlocks so much of what makes them be at their best. He’s a ballhandler and distributor at the power forward position in a way that allows Happ to put in work on the block and Koenig to hunt his shot rather than initiate offense.

It’s no accident that Wisconsin’s nine-game winning streak has coincided with Hayes’ rejection of 3-point shooting. He took 31 3-pointers in the Badgers’ first six games and just six in the subsequent nine games, never taking more than two in any one contest. He didn’t fire up any from beyond the arc against the Hoosiers, but too often he settled for mid-range jumpers, with a number of those coming off the dribble and being tightly contested. When those were flying, that’s when Indiana was often able to claw back in the game.

Those are bad shots not simply because they’re inefficient but because every time Hayes takes one, it means he’s not moving the ball to Happ or Koenig or getting a post-touch himself. It’s just not good offense for Wisconsin, not only from an efficiency standpoint but also from an opportunity cost perspective. The Badgers can get so many better looks than those contested mid-range jumpers, and they can do it in large part because of Hayes’ strengths.

Hayes deserves a ton of credit for re-engineering his game on the fly this season , but if he can continue to tighten things up, it could go a long way for Wisconsin.

No. 5 There’s no reason for Indiana to panic: Yeah, it’s not great to start conference play with a pair of home losses with a defeat to Louisville in their for good measure as part of a three-game losing streak. The Hoosiers, though, fought back from a 14-point deficit and had chances to keep the game close and ultimately beat Wisconsin before some late-game execution got in their way.

The Hoosiers now have a manageable stretch of games (vs. Illinois, at Maryland, vs. Rutgers, at Penn State, vs. Michigan State) that should allow them to steady their footing. If Indiana struggles through that stretch, though, the Big Ten opening loss to Nebraska at home is going to look much more ominous that flukey.

Wisconsin's Ethan Happ is defended by Indiana's Juwan Morgan during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Bloomington Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP Photo/Darron Cummings

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Villanova is the new No. 1

Villanova head coach Jay Wright shouts instructions to his team during the first half of N NCAA college basketball game against Miami in the regional semifinals of the men's NCAA Tournament in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, March 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
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1. Villanova (14-0, Last Week: No. 2): It feels like what Villanova is doing this season is still flying under the radar despite the fact that they are undefeated and the No. 1 team in the country while staking claim as the reigning national champions.

2. UCLA (14-1, 3): UCLA lost on the road on a game-winner with 0.7 seconds left to a team that I now have in the top ten, a team that was in the preseason top five before we realized that Dillon Brooks, who is now healthy and mowing down opponents, wasn’t at 100 percent to start the year. I’m not concerned in the least.

3. Kansas (12-1, 4): The Jayhawks survived a scrappy TCU team in their Big 12 opener thanks to a punishing performance from center Landen Lucas. He has suddenly turned into the most important player on the Kansas team now that Udoka Azubuike is out for the year with a wrist injury.

4. Kentucky (11-2, 5): Kentucky put together their most complete performance on the season last week when they beat Ole Miss in Oxford. Isaiah Briscoe put up a triple-double, Bam Adebayo played his best game of the season and Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox did the things that Monk and Fox do.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

5. Duke (12-2, 1): So what do we do with the Blue Devils? I’m still in the camp that says that Duke has the highest ceiling of any team in the country, and I also think we’ve underrated just how good Virginia Tech is this season; the Hokies would be undefeated right now if they hadn’t choked away a loss to Texas A&M in the Wooden Legacy semifinals. This isn’t like Duke going to Boston College and taking a beating.

But Duke still took a beating, and the biggest concern was that the Blue Devils seemed to lack the effort and the intensity to make the plays they needed to make defensively. They almost looked selfish offensively, as the lack of a point guard on that roster was glaring. They played without Grayson Allen, who was serving the first game of his suspension, but the issues Duke had on display were much bigger than Allen.

Put another way, Saturday made me think that Duke may not ever get to their ceiling. But hey, at least Harry Giles III finally scored a point.

(UPDATE: And now Coach K will miss up to a month to recover from back surgery.)

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6. Gonzaga (14-0, 8): The Bulldogs were pushed by both Pacific and Pepperdine this week, but came out unscathed with double-digit wins. There is a real chance that Gonzaga could head into Moraga on Feb. 11th as the lone undefeated team in college basketball.

7. Baylor (14-0, 9): The Bears keep rolling along. On Saturday, they opened up Big 12 play by mollywhopping Oklahoma in Norman. It is going to be fun when the Bears get together with Kansas this season, on Feb. 1st and Feb. 18th.

8. Wisconsin (12-2, 11): While Indiana lost twice last week and Purdue dropped a home game to Minnesota, the Badgers continue to roll along. Since Nigel Hayes made the change to being a point forward, the Badgers have looked like a totally different team.

9. Louisville (12-2, 7): Outside of Duke, Louisville is the hardest team in this poll to rank. They beat Kentucky, but they beat Kentucky by three in a game they were favored by two on their home floor, the same home floor where they were smacked around by Virginia just five days ago. But then the Cardinals turned around and gave Indiana a similar whooping in Indiana. Wherever you have them ranked, here’s what you need to admit: the Cards are, right now, as good as, if not better than any team in the ACC.

10. Oregon (13-2, 21): Oregon vaults up to No. 10 in our poll for one, simple reason: they’re back.

11. West Virginia (12-1, 12)
12. North Carolina (12-3, 6)
13. Creighton (13-1, 10)
14. Florida State (14-1, 25)
15. Virginia (11-2, 18)
16. Xavier (12-2, 16)
17. Saint Mary’s (12-1, 17)
18. Arizona (14-2, 22)
19. Cincinnati (13-2, 20)
20. Butler (12-2, 13)
21. Purdue (12-3, 14)
22. Virginia Tech (12-1, UR)
23. Notre Dame (12-2, 23)
24. USC (14-1, 19)
25. Indiana (10-4, 15)

DROPPED OUT: No. 24 Seton Hall
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Virginia Tech

Hayes scores 24 as No. 14 Wisconsin blows out Green Bay

MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 27:  Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers drives against JD Wallace #12 of the Prairie View A&M Panthers in the second half at the Kohl Center on November 27, 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said it was a simple formula against Green Bay on Wednesday night.

When the Badgers were dribbling east-west and not sharing the ball, things bogged down. When they moved the ball, cut and screened for each other, things clicked.

Shaking off some early sluggishness, Wisconsin beat Green Bay 73-59 as Nigel Hayes scored 24 points.

The Wisconsin offense was at its best when the Badgers (10-2) were sharing the ball, and they had 18 assists on 27 field goals.

“You’re a lot harder to guard when the ball moves like that,” Gard said.

While Hayes’ offensive output wasn’t much of a surprise, Zak Showalter’s was. The senior guard is averaging less than 7 points a game and came in shooting less than 29 percent from behind the 3-point line.

But he connected on a career-high four 3-pointers as he scored 16 points, while Ethan Happ added 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Showalter credited Happ for some of his success, saying the Phoenix (4-6) were doubling down on him in the post. Happ made them pay with six assists.

“It’s just good to see the ball go through, and it really felt good tonight,” he said.

Green Bay coach Linc Darner said Showalter’s shooting wrecked his game plan, which included sagging off Showalter when he was on the perimeter.

“It was almost like he knew we weren’t going to come out and guard him and he caught them in rhythm,” Darner said.

Kerem Kanter led Green Bay with 18 points.

BIG PICTURE

Green Bay: The Phoenix are 1-22 vs. Wisconsin and 0-19 in Madison. Their only win in the series was in 2009. Green Bay was competitive at times Wednesday night, but couldn’t sustain it.

Wisconsin: The Badgers did exactly what they were expected to playing at home against an in-state rival it has regularly handled with ease. They now get a break to take care of finals before one last tune up ahead of Big Ten play starting Dec. 27.

KEY RUNS

The Badgers were a little lethargic to start and trailed Green Bay 12-11 almost 9 minutes into the game. But they reeled off a 20-4 run that included a nearly 5-minute scoreless drought for the Phoenix. Green Bay cut the lead to seven early in the second half. But Wisconsin responded with a 25-8 run that blew the game open.

ONE YEAR ON THE JOB

Wednesday’s game was an anniversary of sorts for Gard. Then-coach Bo Ryan abruptly resigned almost a year ago after a win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and Gard was immediately installed at the interim coach. His first game at the helm was one week later, an 84-79 win over Green Bay. Gard joked the only thing that’s changed since then is his hairline. “The basketball and the relations with the players remains the same, and it’s strong,” he said.

HAPP CONNECTS

At 6-foot-10, Happ knows his game is largely in the post, and he hasn’t even attempted a 3-pointer in his two seasons. But the crowd erupted when he pulled up just inside the top of the key and drained one. Happ, who has been working to add an outside shot to his game, noted one difference between making one near the top of the key and scoring under the basket. “It was nice to not have to run the length of the floor for once” to get back on defense, he said.

HAYES CROSSES 1,500

Hayes became the ninth player in Wisconsin to score 1,500 points and has 1,510 for his career. According to Wisconsin, he’s the only active player in the country with 1,500 career points, 600 rebounds and 200 assists.

UP NEXT

Green Bay: The Phoenix return home Saturday for the first time in three weeks to host Belmont.

Wisconsin: The Badgers host Florida A&M on Dec. 23.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Duke is back in the No. 1 spot

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 10: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils watches as he sinks a 3-point shot against the UNLV Rebels during their game at T-Mobile Arena on December 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Duke won 94-45. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
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I made some changes in my top 25 this week, and I did it for one reason and one reason only: I think Duke is the best team in college basketball.

And I get it. I might be the only one that ranks Duke No. 1 this week, because there are so many other teams with valid argument to be ranked above Duke.

  • Villanova was No. 1 last week and all they did was beat a city rival and then knock off No. 21 Notre Dame.
  • Kansas has already beaten Duke this season on a neutral court.
  • UCLA owns the most impressive win of the season, picking off Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Duke has beaten Florida, Rhode Island and Michigan State and played Kansas tough.
  • Baylor has the best résumé of anyone to date.

But these rankings are supposed to be used to determine who is the best team in the country, right?

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

And I think that Duke is the best team in college basketball. We all had them there in the preseason, before all of the injuries. Now that they’re getting back to full strength, we’re just going to ignore that fact because Frank Mason II hit a jumper and Villanova hasn’t given us a reason to drop them?

I guess I understand the logic, but it just seems silly to rank someone else No. 1 when you don’t think they’re the best team in the country.

Anyway, here is the NBCSports.com Top 25:

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1. Duke (10-1, Last Week: 4)
2. Villanova (10-0, 1)
3. UCLA (10-0, 2)
4. Kansas (9-1, 3)
5. Kentucky (9-1, 5)
6. North Carolina (10-1, 6)
7. Gonzaga (10-0, 7)
8. Baylor (8-0, 8)
9. Creighton (10-0, 9)
10. Indiana (8-1, 10)
11. Wisconsin (9-2, 11)
12. Louisville (9-1, 12)
13. West Virginia (8-1, 15)
14. Purdue (8-2, 14)
15. South Carolina (8-0, 17)
16. Xavier (8-2, 13)
17. Saint Mary’s (7-1, 14)
18. Virginia (8-1, 18)
19. Butler (9-1, 19)
20. USC (9-0, 21)
21. Notre Dame (9-1, 24)
22. Cincinnati (7-2, 19)
23. Oregon (9-2, NR)
24. Arizona (8-2, NR)
25. Texas A&M (7-2, NR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 21 Florida, No. 23 Syracuse, No. 25 Iowa State
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 23 Oregon, No. 24 Arizona, No. 25 Texas A&M

Nigel Hayes shines against as No. 17 Wisconsin beats Marquette

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 10:  Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers is fouled by Luke Fischer #40 of the Marquette Golden Eagles during the first half of a game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on December 10, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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What a difference a year makes.

Last season at this time, Wisconsin dropped a home game to a Marquette team that was headed to the NIT.

This year?

The Badgers put six players in double-figures as they went into Milwaukee and knocked off Marquette, 93-84.

Bronson Koenig continued his hot shooting, finishing with 18 points and six assists while shooting 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. Vitto Brown chipped in with 15 points, Khalil Iverson had 16 and Ethan Happ chipped in with 11 despite battling foul trouble all afternoon.

But the really story here – hell, the story of Wisconsin’s season to date – has been the change in the way that Nigel Hayes plays.

Hayes was terrific again on Saturday. He had 17 points, nine boards, four assists and three steals. He shot 6-for-10 from the floor and attempted just a pair of threes, making one of them. He had the ball in his hands when Wisconsin was trying to kill off the game, and, more importantly, head coach Greg Gard has seem to start to take advantage of just how good Hayes can be as a facilitator.

There are a couple of points that need to be made here:

  1. When Hayes plays like this, he deserves to be in the all-american discussion. He’s averaging 18.0 points, 7.3 boards and 6.7 assists in the three games Wisconsin has played against high-major competition since the change, and the Badgers have won five straight games while playing easily their best basketball of the season.
  2. And it’s not just because of the numbers he puts up. When Hayes operates as Wisconsin’s de-facto point guard, it makes everyone else on the roster better. For starters, it allows Koenig to play off the ball, where he seems to be more effective. He’s at his best when he’s hunting shots and trying to create off the bounce, but his aggressiveness can be detrimental when he’s the only one touching the ball. It also means offense runs through Happ more often since Koenig isn’t dominating possession, and it lets guys like Brown space the floor because they’re actually able to get rhythm threes.

As of today, Wisconsin is the favorite to win the Big Ten, even if Indiana is far more likely to end up being a No. 1 seed in March.