Putting Virginia and Wisconsin on the same floor means pitting two of the most successful programs in the country over the last few years against each other.
It also means putting very few points on the board.
The 18th-ranked Cavaliers defeated the Badgers, 49-37, in the all-too-predictable slugfest between two of the slowest-paced and defense-oriented teams in the nation.
Virginia held the Badgers to 31.3 percent shooting from the floor overall with a 3 of 20 (15 percent) mark from 3-point range while also forcing 14 turnovers, a not insignificant sum in the slow-speed contest.
Kyle Guy had 17 points and Devon Hall added 16 as Tony Bennett’s team improved to 7-0 on the season with wins over VCU, Vanderbilt, Rhode Island and Wisconsin now on the resume.
Things are going less well for Wisconsin.
Greg Gard’s team has now dropped four of its last five games and enters December under .500 with a 3-4 record.
The Badgers’ plodding tempo certainly leaves them susceptible to ugly final scores. There’s no volume to hide a poor shooting night. Even the 2015 team that advanced to the national title game scored 49 points in a game…and beat Marquette by 11, which makes my head hurt just thinking about.
So the fact Wisconsin struggled to score against a program that consistently puts one of the best defenses in the country on the floor every year isn’t necessarily worth sounding the alarms or even particularly surprising. It shouldn’t, however, either be waved off as the clunker that Wisconsin sometimes just has.
There are issues worth considering here.
Coming into this game, Ethan Happ was shooting 57.7 percent from the floor while the rest of the Badgers were shooting 44.7 percent as a team, including a pedestrian 35.1 percent from 3-point range.
The Badgers’ struggle to find a consistent and dangerous offensive option alongside Happ was on display against Virginia. The junior big man scored 14 points and was 6 of 10 from the floor. The rest of the team managed 23 points on 9 of 38 (25.7 percent) shooting.
There have been flashes of guys being capable of stepping into that role, namely Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice but both are underclassmen to whom inconsistency is probably going to be expected and Davison appears to have a lingering shoulder injury that’s probably doing him no favors. It’s just going to be hard for the Badgers to get enough offense if it’s Happ And Everybody Else, especially if there’s average 3-point shooting and little playmaking at the other positions.
The Badgers also aren’t getting themselves the extra shots they’re accustomed to as the offensive rebounding as fallen as the roster has shifted guard-heavy without another big consistently playing next to Happ. Without those boards that often lead to easy buckets, Wisconsin’s offense is even more vulnerable to sputtering.
The Badgers’ 16-year run of top-four Big Ten may be facing its realest threat yet. Gard has shown through his short tenure that he can right a ship that’s drifted off course, but the reality is Wisconsin is very young and not overwhelmingly talented. There’s a lot of time to get things figured out, but less than in typical years with league play starting this weekend for the Big Ten as a way to accommodate its money grab week-early tournament in New York. The Badgers have Ohio State and Penn State next on their schedule.
Of course, the Big Ten isn’t looking exactly formidable outside of Michigan State and Minnesota, so the Badgers probably have more wiggle room than in most other years in their top-four streak. Plus, their losses have all come against ranked teams so it’s not like they’re getting beat by scrubs nor were growing pains unexpected given the roster turnover.
Wisconsin could be fine, but heading into December, it’s fair to wonder if they’re not. At least by the standards the program has spent nearly two decades setting.