The Badgers are off to the best start in school history, and the win that got them there might have been their best of the season.
No. 4 Wisconsin is now 16-0 thanks to a 95-70 walloping of Illinois on Wednesday night at the Kohl Center. The Badgers have back-to-back wins over ranked opponents (three total wins over ranked teams this season) and another win over a quality team to add to their extremely impressive tournament resume.
So how does head coach Bo Ryan feel about being the first Wisconsin team ever to go 16-0?
“I’d have gone home, maybe had a beverage and eaten something and gone to bed and it would never have been brought up until you just brought it up," Ryan told a reporter after Wednesday's game.
"For the players, what they’ve accomplished they’ve earned. They get the credit, they put the sweat on the floor. I’m certainly proud of them. But you start thinking about that too much and it can go the other way in a hurry. So I’m proud of the players, I’m proud of the team, I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished to this point. Let’s try to keep it going.”
If the Badgers keep playing like they did against the Illini, then things will definitely keep going. Wisconsin dropped 95 points — a number typically unheard of in the Big Ten — against an Illinois team that has played terrific defense this season, entering the game limiting opponents to just 61.5 points per game. The Badgers went on an incredible 20-0 first-half run that put the game away before the seats on the benches were warm. The Badgers' 95 was, surprisingly, the second-most points they've scored this season, falling short only of their 105-point output against North Dakota. Wednesday, the Badgers had the Illini doubled up, 50-25, at the half.
Wisconsin's key to success has been their own defense. They ranked second in the conference allowing just 60.5 points per game entering Wednesday. That average was increased by the Illini, who scored 45 points in a no-contest second half, but the offense was what shone for the Badgers on Wednesday. They spread the points around as they have all season, with five different players scoring in double figures: Ben Brust (18), Sam Dekker (17), Frank Kaminsky (15), Traevon Jackson (15) and Nigel Hayes (11).
According to Dekker, that's what makes this team so good.
“We have a bunch of guys that know how to make plays. We all bring different things to the table," Dekker said post game. "We’ve got guys like Trae that like to break guys down off the dribble and guys like Nigel that can beef up inside. Guys like Frank that can extend the defense as a five and hit threes, and Ben and Josh (Gasser) who are snipers from the outside. So we have guys like that, that do multiple things and bring multiple things to the table, and it’s much harder to scout than going up against a team that has maybe one or two shooters, one slasher and a postman. So having a bunch of versatility on the offense end makes it a tough matchup, and that’s worked to our favor so far.”
An effort like this against Illinois, freshly ranked the No. 23 team in the country, was particularly impressive for Wisconsin. But, then again, the Badgers have made a habit out of beating strong teams this season. They have nine wins against teams in ranked in the RPI top 100, including four against teams in the RPI top 25 (Illinois, Iowa, Florida and Virginia). No other team in the country can match that.
But, like their coach, the Badgers are relaying a similar message. The wins are great, and so is the high ranking, one that's likely to go up next week following No. 3 Ohio State's loss at Michigan State. But focus is the key.
“We’re not content, but we just have to keep getting better," Jackson said post game. "We’re excited for what’s next. We can get so much better. I still think we haven’t played a full game yet to our maximum potential, so we have to go and practice, look at the film and go out against Indiana and try and do that.”
No full game to their maximum potential? This immediately following a 95-point game?
Indiana should be worried.