The best way for Wisconsin to prove this Badgers team is different was the kind of game that encouraged viewers to tune out.
Wisconsin has struggled to advance in the NCAA Tournament in the past thanks in part to a methodical offense that hit a snag in the second round or Sweet 16.
Not this time. Wisconsin demolished Baylor from beginning to end in a 69-52 win to send the Badgers to their first Elite Eight since 2005. Wisconsin led 18-8 early and led by at least 10 for the rest of the game.
Wisconsin hinted at it for most of the season, but the Sweet 16 win was further proof of this year’s Wisconsin team isn’t the same as the ones that stalled in the NCAA Tournament during most of Bo Ryan’s tenure.
Wisconsin picked apart the Baylor zone, the same that stymied Creighton and eventual national player of the year Doug McDermott in the round of 64. When Baylor finally switched to man-to-man in the first half, it made little difference.
Wisconsin’s ball movement was crisp as the Badgers picked up 18 assists on 26 field goals. The Badgers shot 52 percent from the floor, including 8 of 11 by Frank Kaminsky in his matchup against pro prospect Isaiah Austin.
That’s only part of the big picture of the best offensive team of the Ryan era. Wisconsin has topped 70 points per game for the first time since 2007 and hitting its top scoring average since 1994-95.
Entering Thursday, Wisconsin’s 37.6 percent shooting from 3 is the Badgers best since 2005. Wisconsin’s 51.5 percent shooting from 2-point range is its best since 2003. Ryan’s teams rarely turn the ball over, but the Badgers have their lowest turnover rate of the Ryan era.
The next game will be against a strong defensive team — either Arizona or San Diego State — but Wisconsin’s turnaround may lead to something else the Badgers haven’t done in a long time, reach the FInal Four.