Wisconsin's second-half explosion highlights championship caliber
When the Wisconsin-Purdue semifinal at the Big Ten tournament went to halftime, it was more than enough to raise a few eyebrows. Purdue had a five-point lead, was beating the Badgers at their own game and giving pause to a lot of folks a few hundred miles east in Indianapolis, who might've been considering a replacement along the No. 1 line.
If Wisconsin couldn't beat the No. 4 team in its conference, how could you justify putting it on the top line on Sunday evening?
Turns out, Bo Ryan's team was just pulling our leg. Then it pulled the Boilermakers' and used it to beat them senseless.
What Wisconsin did in the second half of its 71-51 win against the Boilermakers on Saturday afternoon was something that should give every team in the country pause. (Yes, even you, Kentucky.) That was the performance of a team that has few weaknesses and even fewer ways to attack the things at which it doesn't excel.
How dominant were the Badgers in the second 20 minutes? Try 41-16 dominant. Sixteen points in 20 minutes for a team that averages just over 70 a game for the season. Sixteen points in 20 minutes for a team that beat Indiana (twice), Ohio State, Iowa, N.C. State and BYU. This wasn't the methodical picking apart of a team that finished near the bottom of the league and somehow managed to squeak through to the semifinal round.
Wisconsin drop-kicked a Purdue team that will be a very tough out in the NCAA tournament.
Even scarier was that Bo Ryan's team didn't turn a five-point deficit into a 20-point win in 20 minutes of play on the back of some amazing Frank Kaminsky performance. The leading scorer on the day? Sophomore guard Bronson Koenig, who had a career-high 19 points. Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker added 15 points a piece. The most rebounds on the day? Dekker's eight.
Kaminsky wasn't invisible—he had a productive stat-stuffer of a day with 12 points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks—but this wasn't a one-man performance to spur a comeback. This was a team that played as one, true unit and dismantled an opponent that is headed to the Big Dance.
That's always been Wisconsin's M.O. this season, but flipping a game that was going away from its style in 20 minutes is an impressive feat. The Badgers are among the short list—and it's very, very short—of teams that can actually beat Kentucky over the next three weeks in the tournament.
But if this is the type of play that Wisconsin is going to bring to the table, then that should grab the attention of anyone who is just going to hand Kentucky the national championship.
The comeback win over Purdue didn't come from a run in the second half. This was a slow and methodical suffocation. Wisconsin didn't allow the Boilermakers offense to even get going in the second frame. A.J. Hammons was limited to just 10 points. He was their leading scorer.
Trying to prepare for the Badgers is a scary proposition for any team, especially when they're this in sync. This is a new team, and one that should strike fear into the minds of a lot of championship contenders.
(Yes, even you, Kentucky.)