Badgers win third straight, beat Northwestern 70-64

Wisconsin continues to build late season momentum inside the Big Ten as they prepare for the conference tournament in New York City next week. The Badgers took another step in that direction with a 70-64 victory over Northwestern on Thursday night.

Wisconsin was led by Ethan Happ who finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, three assists, four steals, and three blocks, in the victory. Happ had plenty of help on Thursday night as well. That hasn’t always been the case for Wisconsin this season, but on Thursday night Andy Van Vliet contributed 14 points off the bench, Brevin Pritzl continued his recent hot streak with 11 points, and Khalil Iverson scored 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

Northwestern was led by guard Scottie Lindsey with 26 points on his senior night for the Wildcats. Bryant McIntosh, who has been a thorn in the side of the Badgers for years, added in 18 points in the loss.

With the win Wisconsin clinched the No. 9 seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament. They finish up the regular season on Sunday afternoon at home against Michigan State.

Wisconsin 73, Minnesota 63 (OT): Last word

MADISON — For a second straight game, Wisconsin used a late comeback to get a win at home, this time taking down Minnesota 73-63 in overtime on Monday night at the Kohl Center.

Player of the Game: Brevin Pritzl

Former Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes said last year that Brevin Pritzl was the best shooter in the country. While that hasn’t always seemed like the case this year, it certainly felt that way on Monday night, especially late for the Badgers.

The sophomore drilled 6 of 9 from beyond the arc, scoring a career-high 20 points in the victory. Four of those came in the final 6:17 of regulation and in overtime.

Over his last four games, Pritzl is shooting 57.1-percent from deep.

“The shooting has been a byproduct of him being really engaged in the game in other areas,” coach Greg Gard said of Pritzl, who had three rebounds, an assist and a block in 37 minutes. “Obviously, I’m happy for him, but I’m more pleased and more satisfied as a coach to see those other things come to fruition.

“I’ve always known he’s a good shooter. I’ve watched him every day all the way back to high school when I recruited him. The kid can shoot the ball. But that’s not the only part of a players’ game. He’s been growing in those other areas, and now he’s becoming a more reliable, dependable, consistent player.”

The good: The comeback

Wisconsin trailed 58-51 with 5:58 left in the game following a 3-pointer from Jordan Murphy. The defense hadn’t been atrocious, but it also wasn’t the same stingy unit that showed up against Purdue last Thursday. That all changed in an instant. The Gophers would score just one field goal the rest of the way as the Badgers outscored them 22-5 to end the game.

“Coach challenged us,” freshman Brad Davison said. “He just told us to draw the line…We had to come together. We had to get stops down the line. That’s what gave us the opportunity to get back into the game.”

The not so good: Tough shooting night for Aleem Ford

Redshirt freshman Aleem Ford has been Wisconsin’s best 3-point shooter this year, hitting 44.8 percent coming into Monday’s game. But he had a tough night, going just 1 of 8 from deep. It comes after he hit just 1 of 7 against Purdue last Thursday.

Still, Ford made a positive impact on both ends against Minnesota. He had four rebounds, three assists, one steal and it was his tip-out of a missed free throw that gave Wisconsin a chance to tie the game and send it to overtime.

Stat of the game: 1

That’s how many field goals Ethan Happ had prior to his game-tying basket in the final seconds of regulation. Wisconsin’s leading scorer — and coming off three straight games of at least 20 points — Happ faced double teams all night. But on the final play of regulation, and with Minnesota trying to foul him, Happ managed to get free on a spin move and got his jump hook to go down.

“He wanted it, so we called the one that goes to him,” Gard said of Happ. “Right in the huddle, he wanted the ball. So, you go with the guy that has done it a lot for us.”

Happ finished with 10 points, four rebounds, five assists and a couple of huge blocks.

What they said:

“Yeah, I think he definitely got tripped. I have to take a look at it again to make sure I’m right, but I think he pretty much got tripped. It was a hard play. End of game play. You don’t see very many calls there.”

Minnesota forward Jordan Murphy on Nate Mason’s drive and missed shot at the end of regulation, per the Star-Tribune.

In Case You Missed It:

— 5-star recruit Jalen Johnson attended the game. The Sun Prairie, Wis., product is Wisconsin’s top priority in the 2020 class. His teammate, Marlon Ruffin, also was at the game. He is a potential walk-on candidate for the Badgers in the 2018 class.

— Davison kept Wisconsin in the game early, knocking down 4 of 5 from beyond the arc in the first half. He added a fifth in the second half, tying his career-high for a single game.

Khalil Iverson had seven points, but really did his best work on the glass and on defense. Days after grabbing a career-high 10 boards against Purdue, the junior grabbed 12 against the Gophers, including four on the offensive end. He also pestered Nate Mason much of the night, with the Gophers’ second-leading scorer ending up with 11 points on 5 of 18 shooting.

— With the win, Wisconsin guaranteed itself a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament next week in New York City. The Badgers first game will come on Thursday, with the exact time still to be decided.

— A nod to Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal for this stat: The win means the Badgers will finish ahead of Minnesota in the Big Ten for a 20th straight season.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (13-16, 6-10) travels to Northwestern (15-14, 6-10) on Thursday night.

Last shots: Wisconsin 57, (6) Purdue 53

MADISON – Sixteen last shots for the 16 points scored by Brad Davison in Wisconsin’s 57-53 win over Purdue on Thursday night.

1. In a season where so much has gone wrong for Wisconsin, Badgers fans finally have a night to remember. The team had not won a game inside the Kohl Center in nearly a month while experiencing the worst season in two decades. While the game itself may not have much meaning in the long run, it’s a night fans will be able to look back upon and smile.

2. The night not only belonged to the fans, many of whom found themselves on the hardwood following the game, but also Frank Kaminsky’s. His No. 44 was raised to the rafters of the Kohl Center during a halftime ceremony. The 2015 consensus player of the year was honored throughout the night with various videos, a pregame ceremony and one at halftime as well.

3. Only a few players on the 2017-18 version of the Badgers were rostered while Kaminsky was dominating for Wisconsin. The player still around that he had the most impact on was unquestionably forward Ethan Happ.

4. “To put it nicely, go kick some butt,” Happ said that Kaminsky told him while the two shared a moment prior to the game against Purdue.

5. While Kaminsky obviously couldn’t suit up for the Badgers on Thursday night, it’s easy to believe that his presence brought a little more energy to the building. The crowd at the Kohl Center hasn’t had much to cheer about for the past couple months. Kaminsky’s night assured them that they would have something positive to cheer for, that may have spilled over and energized the team more so than at many times this season.

6. The game itself wasn’t the most beautiful display of basketball, to put it lightly. Neither team played well on the offensive end as this game resembled an old-school, defensive Big Ten struggle. Neither team shot the ball particularly well, both finishing below the 40% mark overall, and combining to shoot 8-of-38 from 3-point range.

7. Much has been made recently of Wisconsin starting off games slowly on both ends. They trailed Purdue 12-0 in the first matchup between the teams last month. They’ve fallen behind early in many of their games as of late. Thursday night they didn’t get off to a great start, but it wasn’t quite as bad as it had been.

8. Wisconsin was trailing Purdue 9-2 with 14 minutes left in the first half. The seven-point lead was the largest of the night for Purdue. The Badgers then went on a quick 5-0 run thanks to a layup from T.J. Schlundt and a 3-pointer by guard Brad Davison.

9. The second half seemed like a scoring outburst after the two teams went to the locker room locked at 21 at halftime. Purdue and Wisconsin combined to shoot 18-of-55 from the floor in the first half, neither team reached the free throw line, and the teams combined for 12 turnovers.

10. Wisconsin has been playing much better in the second half of games as of late. There was a time on Thursday when it looked like that had changed. After the Badgers held a 32-29 lead following a jumper by Davison with 12:32 left in regulation, Purdue went on a 10-0 run to take a 39-32 lead.

11. The way the season has gone for Wisconsin, especially with a top 10 team in the country inside the Kohl Center, it would not have surprised many to see the game get away from them. Instead, the Badgers responded with a 15-4 run to take a 47-43 lead with 3:38 left.

12. Once they took the lead on a pair of free throws from Davison they never looked back.

13. Wisconsin was able to knock down enough free throws down the stretch to hold the Boilermakers off. This was despite Happ fouling out when he fouled Purdue’s Carsen Edwards on a 3-pointer with 21 seconds remaining. After he knocked down 2-of-3, Wisconsin guard Brevin Pritzl was able to step to the line on back-to-back possessions and hit 3-of-4 foul shots to secure the win.

14. Isaac Haas for Purdue did beat the buzzer with a tip-in to create the 57-53 final in favor of Wisconsin, and seconds later fans were partying with the team on the oversized Motion W at center court. After the season endured by the Badgers it was a refreshing moment for the program, even if court-storming isn’t something Wisconsin is used to.

15. “Personally, it was nuts. I was sweating from the game, I was already yelling,” Happ said of the fans storming the court. “Once I was surrounded by all the fans I started to overheat a little bit. I had [Zak Showalter] jump into my arms, I wasn’t expecting that. I thought we were just going to embrace each other but he jumped into my arms and I grabbed him. Just like old times, I guess.”

16. The Badgers will be back in action at the Kohl Center on Monday night against Minnesota.

What the future holds: Safety

With the 2017 season in the books, it’s time to look ahead to 2018 for Wisconsin. Over the next few weeks we’ll be going position-by-position to see what the future holds for the Badgers.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to each player in terms of their class for 2018. If someone was a sophomore in 2017, they will be called a junior here.

Safety:

Returning: D’Cota Dixon (SR), Eric Burrell (RS SO), Patrick Johnson (RS SO), Seth Currens (RS SO), Scott Nelson (RS FR), Evan Bondoc (SR)

Leaving: Natrell Jamerson, Joe Ferguson

Arriving: Reggie Pearson Jr. (3-star)

Season grades

Biggest question: Who replaces Natrell Jamerson?

Natrell Jamerson was a revelation in his lone year at safety. Starting all 14 games, he finished sixth on the team in tackles, had 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown. Because of his background as a cornerback, the Badgers had flexibility and weren’t worried if Jamerson was forced to cover a receiver in the slot. All of the skills is showed last fall are going to give him a chance to stick with an NFL team.

So how does Wisconsin replace him? Well, it won’t be as simple as it was last year. As soon as the starter in 2016, Leo Musso, was gone, the Badgers pegged Jamerson as his replacement. He grabbed the job in the spring and never let go. That’s unlikely to be the case this time around.

The reason for that is there is little to no experience within the unit outside of senior D’Cota Dixon. Entering his third year as a starter, Dixon overcame injuries and missing two games to earn All-Big Ten honors in 2017. When he was out, Joe Ferguson filled in and largely played well, but he also graduated.

It leaves a bunch of young guys — sophomores Eric Burrell, Patrick Johnson and Seth Currens — that have had small roles to this point, along with redshirt freshman Scott Nelson, to battle for playing time.

“All guys that have contributed on special teams — outside of Scott [Nelson] — and know the speed of the game,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said about the group. “Now it’s time to go push. It’s time to push. That to me is the No. 1 thing.”

And by push, he means compete. There doesn’t appear to be a spot on the roster more open to competition than safety. And that means even a guy like Reggie Pearson, a member of the 2018 recruiting class that enrolled early, will have a shot.

Other notes:

It seems likely that Nelson will have some kind of role on defense. He, along with two other true freshmen, tight end Jake Ferguson and offensive lineman Kayden Lyles, traveled with the team to Minnesota for the final game of the year. Even though there was zero chance they would play, it followed a pattern used in the past by Wisconsin to get guys it expects to have an impact as redshirt freshmen used to the experience of being on the road.

Predicted depth chart:

1st-team: D’Cota Dixon (SR), Eric Burrell (RS SO)
2nd-team: Patrick Johnson (RS SO), Scott Nelson (RS FR)

What the future holds:
Quarterback
Running back
Wide receiver
Tight end
Offensive line
Defensive line
Inside linebackers
Outside linebackers
Cornerbacks

(20) Michigan 83, Wisconsin 72: Last word

MADISON — Michigan jumped all over Wisconsin early and kept the Badgers at bay the rest of the game in an 83-72 victory Sunday at the Kohl Center.

Player of the Game: Duncan Robinson

The senior was a big part of Michigan’s quick start, as he scored 14 points in the first half. He was 4 of 5 from beyond the arc as the Wolverines built a 22-point halftime lead. Robinson had just two points after the break but his early efforts made the mountain too big for the Badgers to climb.

The good: The comeback

Wisconsin trailed by as many as 25 points in the second half, but a 12-0 run midway through the period made things much more interesting. The Badgers got the lead all the way down to eight with 2:15 left and were a defensive rebound off a missed free throw from having a chance to whittle the lead down further. That didn’t happen, but seeing fight from a team that is having its worst season in nearly 20 years is encouraging.

The not so good: The start

For the second straight home game, Wisconsin could do nothing right at the outset. Against Northwestern on Feb. 1, the Badgers fell behind 18-1. On Sunday, they fell behind 15-2. With as shorthanded and inexperienced as Wisconsin is, it can’t afford to fall into big holes like that and hope to pull the upset. The lulls in play have been a season-long issue that the Badgers haven’t found a way to avoid.

Stat of the game: 29

That’s how many points Ethan Happ had on Sunday. It’s a season-high and the most he’s scored in a non-overtime game in his career. Because of the big lead, Michigan didn’t double the junior nearly as much as some teams have this year and he took advantage of it.

What they said:

“First off, we gave up too many threes. When they start off seven for nine (from beyond the arc), that opens a lot of other stuff for them. Once we have to go out and defend them deeper at the 3-point line, then that gives up more stuff at the rim, and then drive and kick. We just have to do a better job to start.”

— Happ on the defensive struggles early in the game

In Case You Missed It:

— Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy sat behind the Wisconsin bench. He received a pretty good ovation when he was shown on the video board.

— It was alumni weekend and many former players were honored at halftime, including recent stars such as Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and Zak Showalter. All-time leading scorer Alando Tucker and All-Big Ten center Rashard Griffith were also recognized.

— Wisconsin celebrated the 10-year anniversary of winning the 2008 Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. Players from that team, including Keaton Nankivil, Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma, were introduced during halftime.

— Junior Andy Van Vliet played just two minutes, but managed to hit a 3-pointer — his first points since Dec. 23.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (11-16, 4-10) hosts Purdue (23-4, 12-2) on Thursday night. The Boilermakers have lost two straight after starting out the Big Ten season 12-0.

Badgers snap losing skid against Illinois

The Wisconsin Badgers entered Illinois with a five-game losing streak and losers of its last seven road games. They ended both of those streaks with a 78-69 win on Thursday night over the Illini. Not only did the win end those streaks, it simultaneously extended Wisconsin’s winning streak over Illinois on the hardwood to 13 games. The last Illinois win over Wisconsin came on January 2, 2011.

Ethan Happ was dominant when his team needed him to be. He finished with 27 points, six rebounds, and eight assists in the win. Brevin Pritzl snapped out of his funk, after finishing a combined 0-for-10 from behind the 3-point line in the previous two losses. He was 3-for-3 shooting from behind the arc and had 15 points off the bench for Wisconsin.

Trent Frazier was outstanding in the loss for Illinois. He finished with a career-high 32 points to lead the way for the Illini.

Wisconsin’s win puts them at 10th place in the Big Ten heading into the weekend. The teams that finish in the top 10 receive a first round bye in the Big Ten tournament that starts later this month. The Badgers have not played in the first round of the conference tournament since 2000.

The Badger return to the hardwood on Sunday afternoon at the Kohl Center against No. 20 Michigan. Tip-off is at noon.

Wisconsin hires new outside linebackers coach

Wisconsin has its new outside linebackers coach.

The school announced Wednesday it had hired Bobby April III to replace Tim Tibesar, who is now the defensive coordinator at Oregon State.

April comes to the Badgers after six seasons in the NFL, including most recently as the linebackers coach for the Buffalo Bills in 2015 and 2016.

“We’re excited to add Bobby to the staff,” coach Paul Chryst said in a press release. “He brings great knowledge and passion for the game of football. His experience will help our players grow and is a great fit for our defensive staff room.”

As has been the case with most of Chryst’s hires, April does have a connection to a current staff member. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard played under April’s father, Bobby Jr., when he was with the Bills in the late 2000s.

April’s collegiate experience came at Tulane as a graduate assistant, and then as an assistant at Portland State and Nicholls State before heading to the NFL in 2011.

“What’s always appealed to me about Wisconsin football is the way the players play with a chip on their shoulder and how tough mentally and physically they are,” April said in a press release. “The attitude of the program and the fans, the excitement of the city is incomparable.
 
“The defense speaks for itself over the last five seasons. It’s been dominant. I just want to come in here and help it get better. The players are young and hungry, which is exciting to see. With Coach Chryst, he’s an unbelievable coach but a more unbelievable person. He’s brought on guys that share his values and it’s a great thing to be a part of.”

April does have his work cut out for him. While the Badgers return a talented player in senior Andrew Van Ginkel, they must replace their two other starting outside linebackers — Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs.

What the future holds: Cornerback

With the 2017 season in the books, it’s time to look ahead to 2018 for Wisconsin. Over the next few weeks we’ll be going position-by-position to see what the future holds for the Badgers.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to each player in terms of their class for 2018. If someone was a sophomore in 2017, they will be called a junior here.

Cornerback:

Returning: Dontye Carriere-Williams (RS SO), Madison Cone (SO), Faion Hicks (RS FR), Caesar Williams (RS SO), Cristian Volpentesta (RS SO),

Leaving: Nick Nelson, Derrick Tindal, Lubern Figaro

Arriving: Travian Blaylock (3-star), Donte Burton (3-star), Alex Smith (3-star), Rachad Wildgoose Jr. (3-star)

Season grades

Biggest question: Who ends up as the No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks?

Wisconsin is losing playmakers up and down the depth chart on defense, but the cornerback spot took an especially big hit. Not only did the Badgers say goodbye to three-year starter Derrick Tindal, but they also lost Nick Nelson early to the NFL. Both were All-Big Ten selections in 2017 and their absence will be felt. But like the other open spots on defense, the coaching staff likes the possibilities with the guys that are still around.

That starts with redshirt sophomore Dontye Carriere-Williams. He played in all 14 games for Wisconsin, mostly as its third cornerback, finishing with 30 tackles, an interception and six pass breakups.

“Now he’s got to take the next step and become a leader in that room,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said of Carriere-Williams, who becomes the Badgers’ No. 1 CB. “[And that’s] really on and off the field to me.”

That room Leonhard speaks of will be populated by guys like sophomore Madison Cone. He saw mostly special teams work in the nine games he played, though he did have a key pass breakup in crutch time against Miami in the Orange Bowl.

“[He’s] a guy that impressed me all year with his approach to the game,” Leonhard said of the former 3-star recruit. “He’s a very mature kid that understands football and wants to get better. Anytime you have that, it’s great.”

Cone was one of two CBs to enroll early among the 2017 recruiting class, with the other being Faion Hicks. He missed most of spring ball and fall camp with an injury, but when he’s feeling right, he’s got the talent to make an impact.

“Love what he’s done once he was able to get healthy,” Leonhard said. “He’s extremely athletic and he’s hungry. He had some injury issues early where he was fighting back…I think he’s got a chance to be very good in this program.”

The other holdover that could challenge for a spot in the rotation is redshirt sophomore Caesar Williams. He, like Hicks, has been hampered by injuries during his time in Madison, meaning he hasn’t necessarily gotten the number of reps he and the coaches would like in practice.

“I think [Williams] is figuring out who he is on the field,” Leonhard said. “He needs a big offseason to physically get where he needs to be to really help this team, but I think he’s close.”

The unknown at the position is the incoming freshmen. One of them, Donte Burton, is already on campus. The 6-foot, 175-pound, Burton chose Wisconsin after de-commiting from North Carolina. He also had offers from Oregon, Nebraska and Minnesota, among others. He’ll be looking to follow in the footsteps of Cincinnati Bengals CB Sojourn Shelton, who enrolled early at Wisconsin, earned a starting spot as a freshman in 2013 and never let it go.

Travian Blaylock was a big win for the Badgers, as they beat out 25 other schools for his services, including Stanford, which some considered to be his dream school. The son of former NFL running back Derrick Blaylock, the 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback could be in the mix right away.

Same goes for Alex Smith, who joins tight end Kyle Penniston as the only California products on Wisconsin’s roster. He, like his two classmates, brings size to the table at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds.

The Badgers also added 3-star recruit Rachad Wildgoose Jr. to their incoming class on Wednesday.

Predicted depth chart:

1st-team CBs: Dontye Carriere-Williams (RS SO), Madison Cone (SO)
2nd-team CBs: Faion Hicks (RS FR), Donte Burton (FR)

What the future holds:
Quarterback
Running back
Wide receiver
Tight end
Offensive line
Defensive line
Inside linebackers
Outside linebackers

Wisconsin signs one more in 2018 recruiting class

Make it an even 20 scholarship members in Wisconsin’s 2018 recruiting class.

After signing 19 players during the early signing period in late December, the Badgers added one more on the traditional National Signing Day on Wednesday, grabbing a commitment from 3-star safety Rachad Wildgoose Jr.

First committed to Rutgers and then Georgia, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Wildgoose chose Wisconsin over offers from Central Florida, Pittsburgh and N.C. State among others.

Rated the No. 65 safety in the country by the 247Sports composite, Wildgoose is the lone Florida product in the class and just the second safety. His signing means the Badgers will have at least one player from the state of Florida in their class for a 14th straight year.

Wisconsin’s class is ranked No. 40 in the country and No. 9 in the Big Ten by 247Sports.

Our special December signing day edition of our Badgers football podcast, “The Camp,” can be heard here.

Wisconsin sends six to NFL Combine

The invitations to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Ind. have been officially sent out and six players from Wisconsin will be in attendance.

Linebackers Leon Jacobs and Garret Dooley, and defensive backs Natrell Jamerson and Nick Nelson will represent one of the best defenses in the country from the 2017 season. Tight end Troy Fumagalli is the only offensive player from Wisconsin that will be in attendance.

Linebacker Jack Cichy, who missed the entire 2017 season after tearing his ACL in preseason camp, was the sixth invitee from Wisconsin.

Jacobs, Dooley, Jamerson, and Nelson were key cogs in a defensive unit that was second in the FBS in total yards per game allowed (262.1 ypg) and third in points per game (13.9 ppg). Alabama was the country’s leader in both categories.

Fumagalli was the team’s leading receiver with 46 catches on the season for 547 yards and four touchdowns. He began his career at Wisconsin as a walk-on and finished with 135 catches for 1,627 yards and seven touchdowns in his career.

In the first seven-round mock draft from Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, four of the six Badgers were selected, with Nelson being the highest selection in the third-round to the Minnesota Vikings. Fumagalli, Cichy, and Dooley were the other Badgers taken in that mock draft, with Jamerson and Jacobs going undrafted.

A full list of the invitees to the 2018 NFL Combine can be found here.