Confidence can lead to great things, and the Wisconsin Badgers menâ€™s basketball team is finding exactly that to be the case as of late. After a 79-68 victory over Ohio State, UW goes in to this week with a five-game win streak and all the confidence in the world.
It has found an identity on the offensive end and re-established itself on the defensive end as well. Wisconsin isnâ€™t afraid to get physical, allowing players like Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ to bang down low while also using the basic principals of the swing offense to create matchup issues for opposing teams.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Hayes has gone off during this win streak. He is averaging 21.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, while also shooting 45.1 percent from the field (never shooting below 40 percent) and getting to the line a ridiculous 11.4 times per game over the last five games.
Thatâ€™s been a huge help, but so has Wisconsinâ€™s ability to vary its offense, whether itâ€™s been pounding the ball with Hayes and Happ or using them as assist-makers or taking advantage of open perimeter shots â€” Wisconsinâ€™s ability to know who it is has led to overall confidence on the offensive end of the court.
It culminated in the win over Ohio State, as the Badgers knocked down a season-best 13 three pointers and then went to work getting to the line to ice the game in the final minute.
However, it isnâ€™t just the offensive end that has turned things around. Wisconsin has gotten better overall on the defensive end. Helping to clamp down is Hayesâ€™ front court mate, Happ. He leads the league in double doubles, while also leading the Big Ten in steals (2.1 per game).
Things arenâ€™t perfect though, as the Badgers are still prone to long scoring droughts and can be in trouble if Hayes or Happ donâ€™t establish themselves early. Still, it is difficult not to notice the completely different swagger this team is playing with.
Credit interim head coach Greg Gard for a lot of it, as he noticed what was going wrong and was determined to fix it. A few early bumps in the road have been replaced by big wins over the likes of Michigan State and Indiana during this five-game win streak.
Wisconsin hasnâ€™t finished outside of the top 4 in Big Ten regular season play since before Bo Ryan took over, and currently the Badgers are just a half-game out of fourth place. That alone is an incredible statement, given Wisconsinâ€™s 1-4 start to Big Ten play.
Yet, none of it may matter at the end of February unless this confidence can carry over to further production at the top of the Big Ten. Four of Wisconsinâ€™s final seven games come against teams above them in the conference standings.
Games against Iowa, Maryland, Michigan and Michigan State remain and it gives the Badgers a unique opportunity to not only earn their way in to an NCAA tournament berth, it also gives them an opportunity to play a key role in the Big Ten title race.
Wisconsinâ€™s confidence will be put to the ultimate Big Ten test in the month of February, and this team may not like it any other way.