The 1st (or is it 2nd? 3rd? Whatever…) round of the NCAA tournament tipped off today, and Wisconsin was the first Big Ten team to take the court to defend the conference’s honor. The Badgers were up to the task, defeating Montana 73-49. Here’s how it went down:
1. Jordan Taylor played like…Jordan Taylor - The Wisconsin point guard has been making an extra effort this year to get his teammates involved, especially his mates in the frontcourt. But against Montana, Taylor was regularly open, and looked for his own shot. He scored 17 points, but stayed impactful in every other facet of the game, tallying 8 boards and six assists along with the most important Taylor stat of all: no turnovers. That type of performance from their point guard is exactly what can carry the Badgers deep in the NCAA Tournament.
2. Ryan Evans was a solid number two - Taylor is the unquestioned star, but Wisconsin needs other scoring options to step up, and that’s exactly what Evans was able to do. The junior forward lead the team with 18 points and also had 8 rebounds. He found his way to the rim and while Montana doesn’t exactly posses the athleticism that future opponents will have it was still good to see him comfortable on the offensive end.
3. Badger big men played BIG - Jared Berrgren, normally a scorer for Wisconsin, defended the rim like Anthony Davis against the Grizzlies, rejecting 7 shots. Overall, the Badger defense made it tough on Montana, forcing them into 38% shooting for the game. Wisconsin also finished +13 on the glass, overall a good day for the men up front.
4. Vanderbilt had their hands full with Harvard, so that means… - Not sure exactly, given how volatile the NCAA Tournament can be. But it should give the Badgers a good dose of confidence, knowing that they played some good basketball, while Vandy had some shaky moments against their opponents. Perhaps more importantly, the Badgers scored 73 points, and breaking that 70 (or even 65) plateau was something that proved difficult for the team this season in Big Ten play. March is always a good time to be playing your best basketball, and getting ready for a Bo Ryan team is not easy when you’re unfamiliar with the way Wisconsin plays.