Fiammetta: Badgers getting love, but there’s more to be done
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Wisconsin Badgers finally got some love this week.Of course, it was all a result of their own doing, as the Badgers upended the formerly No. 1, undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes Saturday at the Kohl Center. Jordan Taylor entered beast mode when UW needed it most, scoring 21 points after OSU built its largest lead, 47-32, with 13:21 remaining in the game. Bo Ryan showed he really is one of the nation’s top coaches, and Madison showed it really is one of the nation’s top sports towns – and not just for football.What a weekend, right?Yes, but let’s not forget the Badgers can’t play every game in the friendly confines of the Kohl Center. Only three days prior to facing Ohio State, Wisconsin traveled to Iowa City and shot just 6-for-33 (18.2 percent) from the field in the first half. The Badgers rebounded to make more than half of their shots in the second half and escaped with a 62-59 overtime win.That was against Iowa, the last-place team in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes are undoubtedly improving, but still – numbers are numbers.Wednesday night, in West Lafayette, Ind., against Purdue, the opposition will be better, the crowd will be louder and the atmosphere will be more hostile.March 6, when the Badgers travel to Columbus for Bucky-Brutus II and a rematch with the Buckeyes, the same will hold true – but amplified. After having the entire Grateful Red, a bunch of drunken old dudes and seemingly half the state of Wisconsin suffocate them in a frenzied rush to the court, and certainly after “Spitgate,” Ohio State will be eager for redemption. Very eager.So what’s the message here? It’s not a criticism of the Badgers. In fact, it’s really hard to criticize a team that hasn’t lost any of its four games in February. Wisconsin survived Purdue to begin the month, smacked Michigan State in the mouth five days later, outlasted Iowa on the road and knocked off Ohio State, something 24 other teams couldn’t do this year.Rather, it’s that for all the Badgers have done this year – namely record the first triple-double in UW history (Josh Gasser), rise to No. 10 in both polls and have two players (Taylor and Jon Leuer) named Big Ten Player of the Week – there’s still more to be done.Winning on the road is absolutely near the top of the list. No matter how many games Wisconsin wins at home, a sub-.500 road record won’t impress anybody come March. The Badgers are 5-5 away from the Kohl Center right now (including neutral site games). After Wednesday’s trip to Purdue, Wisconsin still travels to Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State. The Big Ten Tournament will be in Indianapolis, and the NCAA Tournament could be anywhere. Anywhere!Wisconsin also needs to improve from the foul line – but not by making more free throws. The Badgers are still the nation’s top team in that regard, sinking 82.4 percent of their attempts from the charity stripe.Rather, they need to get there more often. Wisconsin averages 24 free throw attempts per game – 341st in the nation. Yes, there are absolutely extenuating circumstances. The Badgers’ style of play – run the offense, find the best shot possible and make it – doesn’t lend itself to creating many possessions. In fact, Wisconsin averages just 58.5 trips down the floor per game, 345th in the nation.In case you’re not up on your Division I schools, that’s last. But it also doesn’t matter. The Badgers make the best of those possessions, averaging 1.19 points per. That’s tied with Saint Mary’s and South Dakota State for tops in the country.With that in mind, just imagine if Wisconsin got to the line more, particularly in the first half. Granted, games sometimes operate differently in each half. Refs occasionally tighten up in second halves, teams are forced into fouling late, etc. But against Ohio State, for instance, Wisconsin got to the line just twice in the first half. At Iowa, the Badgers got there four times in the opening half and just seven times overall (including overtime).In those two games, Wisconsin was trailing at halftime. With a few more trips to the line, the story could have been different. Leading at halftime can be a big deal, too. Coaches always talk about carrying momentum into the break, seemingly knowing they won’t make many effective changes during halftime.The Badgers led by as many as six in the first half against the Buckeyes, but OSU went into halftime up two. Then, they came out and built a 15-point lead. Yes, Wisconsin survived, but it won’t be able to rely on Taylor’s Superman act every night.Again, this isn’t an attempt at criticism. Rather, its an attempt at addressing the fact that Wisconsin, like it so regularly seems to do, won’t be able to fly under the radar and surprise the nation come March. Not after Saturday, not with Jordan Taylor on the roster and certainly not with all the additional press coming Madison’s way.Mike is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts. What do you think the Badgers must do to build on their recent success? Let him know at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @mikefiammetta.