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How good are the Badgers?

December 8, 2008

They have eight wins in a row and an upset over then-No. 6 Baylor.  They won the 2008 Paradise Jam Tournament. They own the second-ranked scoring defense in the Big Ten and the third-best turnover margin in the conference.

They are, of course, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team. After losing their opener on the road at South Dakota State, the Badgers have surprised everyone – perhaps even themselves – by rattling off eight straight wins en route to an 8-1 record.

Their wins, however, haven’t always been pretty, and they certainly haven’t been easy.  The Badgers eight wins this season have come by a combined 55 points, or an average of 6.8 points.  In their last four wins, the cardinal and white have survived three chances for Baylor to tie or win the game and two overtimes against UW-Milwaukee.

With all their wins being so close, it seems fair to ask, are these Badgers as good as their record would indicate?

Let’s start with the case for yes.

First and foremost, Wisconsin has won eight straight.

Eight wins in a row is the most for UW since the 2001-02 season. That means despite reaching the postseason in each of the last two seasons and reaching the WNIT championship in 2007, the Badgers did not win eight straight in either of those seasons.

Secondly, Wisconsin upset the sixth-ranked team in the nation.

When it comes to postseason tournament eligibility, one cannot say enough about big wins in the nonconference season. With a win over a team like Baylor, a borderline Wisconsin team could punch their ticket to either the NCAA tournament or the WNIT.

Moreover, the win was the first for the Badgers over a top-10 opponent since beating Purdue in that same stretch in 2001. It also was the first UW win over a ranked opponent since 2006. Once again, even the two most successful Wisconsin teams under Lisa Stone – the 2006-07 and 2007-08 Badgers – did not manage a victory over either a top-10 opponent or a ranked opponent.

Finally, the last reason for yes: they won the 2008 Paradise Jam Tournament.

Say what you will about tournaments in November, but the fact is, the Badgers won their first tournament since 2006. In doing so, they defeated a Villanova team that knocked them out of the WNIT a year ago and they earned the aforementioned upset over Baylor.

While in the Virgin Islands – aside from enjoying the sunny weather – the Badgers won three games in three days, something that will prove valuable in the Big Ten tournament and any potential postseason tournament.

In fact, it may already have proved valuable over the last week when the Badgers played three games in three days. 

Wisconsin appeared a bit sluggish late against UW-Milwaukee after returning to Madison, but the Badgers persevered and came away with a win. Just two days later, Wisconsin came out firing against Virginia Tech, getting out to an 18-point lead in the first half that it would never relinquish.  Finally, the Badgers were able to hold off a surging Northern Illinois team Sunday to earn a 70-64 victory.

Now, let’s look at why the Badgers may not be as good as their record would indicate.

First, they can’t hold on to a big lead.

In each of their three games this week, the Badgers have led by more than 15 points at some point.  Against UW-Milwaukee, Wisconsin led by as many as 16 points, only to let UW-M tie the game and force a pair of overtimes. The result: a two-point victory.

In Thursday’s matchup with Virginia Tech, the cardinal and white led by as many as 17 points in the second half. The end result: a nine-point victory.

Against Northern Illinois in a Sunday matinee, UW led by 20 points before letting NIU cut the lead significantly. The final: a six-point victory.

Among the three games, the Badgers led by a total of 53 points before letting the lead slip and winning by just 17 points. If Wisconsin expects to contend in the Big Ten, it will need to work on maintaining its leads for a full 40 minutes.

Secondly, Wisconsin has trouble taking care of the ball.

Although the Badgers may turn the ball over significantly less than their opponents, they have the 10th-ranked assist-to-turnover ratio in the Big Ten.

If it weren’t for an impressive 74 percent shooting display from the field in the first half Sunday, Wisconsin may have been hurt by turning the ball over 10 times against just five assists. The Badgers finished the game with 18 turnovers and 11 assists, a 0.61 ratio, below their already unimpressive season mark of 0.7 per game.

Finally, the last reason: they struggle on the boards.

Wisconsin averages 32.4 rebounds per game – 2.3 fewer than its opponents. On both the offensive and defensive glass, the Badgers rank 10th in the conference in rebounding.  With the Big Ten being known for its tough, physical play, UW will need to improve its inside presence to have success.

In the end, Wisconsin (8-1) may not be as good as they appear based on their record or eight-game winning streak, but they certainly are better than anyone could have expected. With guards Alyssa Karel and Rae Lin D’Alie running things, anything could happen for the cardinal and white. Next up for Wisconsin is a pair of in-state rivalry games that could go a long way in showing how good it truly is. If UW can beat UW-Green Bay on the road and Marquette at the Kohl Center, they will prove their worth.


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