Getting key contributions from across the board for Wisconsin will make it a tough out in the upcoming NCAA tournament, and Friday’s thwarting of rival Minnesota, 83-57, proved just that. Led by Ben Brust‘s team-high and career-high 29 points, the Badgers totaled four players in double figures and were in command from start to finish, topping 80 points for the seventh time this season.
With the performance, combined with losses by potential No. 1 seeds Villanova and Kansas, Wisconsin has thrusted itself into the conversation for being a legitimate one seed. Based on the eye test, the team passes it. All five starters —Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust, Josh Gasser, Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky— can score the basketball from anywhere on the court, causing matchup headaches for opposing defenses. Any of them could lead the team in scoring on any given night, whether it is against last-place Purdue or first-place Michigan. What is more telling was that Kaminsky, who averages a team-high 13.6 points per game and earned consensus all-conference honors, scored six points Friday, and Gasser and Jackson scored zero. Bo Ryan‘s squad still won by 26.
Even if the starting lineup isn’t necessarily lighting up the scoreboard, there are still viable scoring options on the sideline. The conference’s sixth man of the year and member of the all-freshmen team Nigel Hayes has a sweet stroke outside the paint, but also has a quick first step to blow by defenders, something he did a lot of in the second half against the array of defenders head coach Richard Pitino threw at him. He scored 13 of his 15 points after halftime and added five total rebounds.
Though his minutes are much less infrequent, Bronson Koenig played a whole host of meaningful minutes with Gasser in foul trouble, and he certainly played like he belongs out there. He was aggressive in getting to the dish and finding the open shooters.
While those are general characteristics of what Koenig can bring to the table, he brought another element Friday –perfection. The freshman did not miss an entire shot in 23 minutes of action, connecting on four three-pointers and tacking on a mid-range jumper to notch a career-high 14 points. Duje Dukan may not be one of the team’s household names, but his sharp-shooting ability off the bench, albeit minimally, provides a nice spark.
Last, but not least, let’s consider the Badgers’ resume. They’ve casually beaten Florida, Virginia, St. Louis, Michigan, Michigan State and many more top-tier teams, good for the fourth-strongest schedule in the country. In his 14th season at the helm, Bo Ryan has guided his team to a 5-2 record against the RPI Top 25, tied for the most wins of such capacity. Most importantly, the team is playing their best basketball at the most crucial time of the year, winners of their last nine out of 10 games.
Will the Badgers actually secure the program’s first-ever No. 1 seed? They’re essentially battling with two other teams who are still alive in their conference tournaments –Michigan and Duke— but winning from here on out for the red and white will make the debate a lot easier for the Selection Committee come Sunday.