Much of the praise for the Wisconsin Badgers this season has come from their improvements on offense. Wisconsin, always known for a stifling defense and slow-paced games, is in the top 100 in the country in scoring at better than 73 points a game. But in Thursday’s NCAA Tournament West Region second-round game against major underdogs American University, the Badgers went back to their calling card which may be real trouble for other teams in Wisconsin’s path in this tournament.
After falling behind 17-10 and sparking American’s hopes of an upset, the Badgers outscored the Eagles by an incredible 65-18 en route to a 75-35 romp. Wisconsin was led by Traevon Jackson (18 points) and Ben Brust (17), who combined scored enough that they would have sent the game to overtime by themselves. American was held to a paltry 29.7 percent from the field during the game, but that doesn’t even tell the whole story of how dominating the Wisconsin defensive effort was.
For the game, Wisconsin (27-7) held American (20-13) to just 11 made field goals, or about one every four minutes. Six of those made field goals, however, came in the first 10:10 of the game, at which point the Eagles had their 17-10 lead and dreams of an upset had gone from complete abstract to suddenly possible. After all, these are the Badgers, most people probably thought. How many points are they going to score? On pace for 68 against mighty Wisconsin, American had to feel that they were in a good spot.
Then the Wisconsin defense took over and the rout was on. The rest of the game was more what you’d see if Wisconsin was playing an early November exhibition game against a Division-III team than an NCAA Tournament game. American hit five field goals in the final 29:50 of the game. Five! Brust, Jackson and Sam Dekker all had at least five field goals individually in the game. Based on the final stats, Wisconsin could have played the game 3-on-5 and won 46-35!
This was a game where Wisconsin’s improved offense and stalwart defense collided to destroy an opponent, which is something none of the other national championship contenders want to see. The third round will provide an interesting test for the Badgers, as they will take on either BYU or Oregon — both teams that like to get up the floor, get shots up and score at will. If Wisconsin can play the kind of defense against either of those teams (or at least some semblance of it) that they did Thursday against American, the Badgers are a team people are going to regret not using deep in their tournament brackets.