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Wisconsin Men’s Basketball Lacked an Identity in 2022-23

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Wisconsin Badgers Basketball shooting guard Connor Essegian
Feb 18, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers guard Chucky Hepburn (23) reacts to his fourth foul during the second half against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at the Kohl Center. Mandatory Credit: Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

Madison, Wis. — Greg Gard and the Wisconsin men’s basketball program never got its storybook ending in 2022-23.

Instead, it was a season full of inconsistencies and what could have been’s that ultimately saw the Badgers fail to make the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the last 25 years.

Let’s rewind to January 3 for a moment. The Wisconsin Badgers took on the Minnesota Gophers at the Kohl Center — a game they won, improving to 11-2 on the season and rose to No. 14 in the Associated Press Poll.

Things were looking pretty damn good in Madison until the injury bug hit.

Then, the wheels fell off for Wisconsin. Coach Gard and the Badgers finished the regular season 6-11, failed to win back-to-back games once the calendar turned to 2023 (until the NIT), and plummeted to 11th in the league.

As underwhelming and frustrating as UW was this season, it’s important to remember that expectations weren’t exceptionally high. However, the standard at Wisconsin is NCAA Tournament or bust, and it should be.

“There’s been a lot of lessons that haven’t been pleasant to go through that these guys have experienced,” Gard told reporters. “We obviously have maturing to do in some of these areas, and we’ve seen that. I think that’s the one thing with younger teams is the inconsistency.”

Let’s explore some of the frustrating inconsistencies that prevented the Wisconsin men’s basketball program from finding an identity in 2022-23.

Wisconsin Lacked the “It Factor.” 

The Wisconsin men’s basketball program nearly sent Badger fans into cardiac arrest for the second consecutive season by playing in one-possession games seemingly every night.

Last season, the Badgers went 15-4 in games decided by six points or fewer en route to winning a share of the Big Ten regular season title.

Not to go all math nerd on you, but having Johnny Davis made life much easier (world-class analysis, I know). But Wisconsin found a way to win those close games more often than not.

This season it was a different story. Wisconsin went 13-10 in games decided by five points or fewer or spilled over into overtime during the regular/postseason. Those inconsistencies could be explained by UW not having a proven closer, much less knowing its offensive identity.

Chucky Hepburn took a lot of heat for his end-of-game shot selection and time management, but overall, he got to his spots, and sometimes the shot doesn’t fall. Could he have taken it to the rim more often? Yes. Should he have? Also yes.

But it wasn’t until late in the season and into the NIT that Wisconsin men’s basketball started giving the ball to Max Klesmit and leaning on him as a playmaker in those moments.

Overall, time is the best teacher, and UW fans better hope the Badgers learned their lesson heading into 2022-23.

Wisconsin Men’s Basketball Didn’t Have an Offensive Trait to Hang Its Hat On

The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program was hardly the showtime Lakers this past season, finishing No. 337 in adjusted tempo. And outside of their impressive turnover rate (No. 3 in the country, per KenPom), the offense needed a defining quality it could lean on and never found one.

UW improved their three-point shooting drastically this past season, jumping up to 34.3% (166th-placing them in the 54th percentile) from 30.6% last year (310th), but they were hardly a shooting team that struck fear into opponents.

Additionally, the Badgers were dreadful at finishing around the basket, considering they finished 322nd out of 363 D1 teams in a two-point shooting percentage at 45.8%. This failure is even more concerning when 59% of your shot attempts came inside the arc. It was also UW’s worst field goal percentage on 2-pointers in over two decades.

Overall, the Wisconsin men’s basketball program shot 41.4% from the field, averaged 65.3 points per game, and was the Badgers worst offense from an efficiency standpoint since 2002.

One of the more limiting aspects of Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl’s games outside of lack of floor stretching ability was that neither profiles as a pick & roll or pick & pop big man. They’re both tweeners, which affected the spacing tremendously.

Conclusion

In retrospect, the Wisconsin men’s basketball program overachieved early in the season and fooled everybody (myself included) into believing they were better than everyone expected. 

Still, it also should’ve been capable of doing enough to avoid this kind of finish.

There were severe warts on this team that Greg Gard couldn’t mask due to the lack of depth, frontcourt presence, or high-end talent on the roster. 

UW had plenty of fight on the court and never gave up, but moral victories only take you so far, and they never figured out their identity, which is something they’ll need to find during the offseason if they’re going to compete in the Big Ten next season. 

I’m confident UW will right the ship heading into 2023-24, but there is no denying this is one of the most critical off-seasons in recent memory


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Dillon Graff is a Substack Newsletter Best Selling Author and the Owner of BadgerNotes.com, your go-to source for in-depth coverage of the Wisconsin Badgers. His work has been featured in top media publications like USA Today, Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, B5Q, Saturday Blitz, and Fansided.

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