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Visiting Locker Room: Talking Wisconsin Badgers, The Serah Williams Show with Drew Hamm

Wisconsin is full of young potential, and its led by a double-double averaging sophomore.

Syndication: Journal Sentinel Mark Stewart / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Thursday night, Ohio State women’s basketball returns home, welcoming the Wisconsin Badgers to the Schottenstein Center. Record-wise, it’s the third game in a row where the Buckeyes face a side sitting near .500, but in Wisconsin’s case, the ceiling is high and the players raising that ceiling are already on the roster.

Drew Hamm, Wisconsin Badgers women’s basketball writer with Badger Notes, gave time to Land-Grant Holy Land to discuss the current iteration of the Badgers, what’s coming in the future, and what needs to happen for a Wisconsin upset.

Land-Grant Holy Land: Usually when a team loses over half its offensive presence from one year to the next, there’s an expected dip in performance but Wisconsin has forward Serah Williams. The sophomore took over for the loss in scoring from former guard Julie Pospisilova and is ushering in a new era of Wisconsin basketball. What’s changed for Williams from year one to year two? Also, how can teams stop the star?

Badger Notes: I’ll be honest with you…not a TON has changed for Williams outside of getting more shots this year. Her points per possession and points per shot attempt numbers are each only 0.03 different between her freshman and sophomore year. Her field goal percentage is a little down but the difference between last year and this year in eFG% is negligible because she is taking (and making) more three-pointers this year. She’s also getting to the foul line at a higher rate and shooting nearly 80% from there.

Not a ton of people noticed this last year because, well, Wisconsin isn’t exactly a national draw, but Williams was starting to dominate on offense in the second half of the season as a freshman. I’d say that her defense is where we’ve seen a larger leap this year. She was already a good shot blocker as a freshman, but the 6-foot-3 post has been outstanding as a rim protector this season. Her block percentage of 10.6 is 16th best in the nation and that doesn’t even account for the shot she alters or scares smaller players from taking.

Now, I probably shouldn’t be telling an Ohio State blog HOW to stop Wisconsin’s best player but you asked so kindly I’d be rude not to. Williams is prone to turnovers, like…a lot of turnovers. For a player that doesn’t handle the ball much her turnover numbers would disqualify her from playing time (if she wasn’t so good at so many other things). She has gotten better at passing out of double (and triple) teams, but I wouldn’t call it a strength of hers. The Badgers, as a team, have struggled to make good entry passes to her as well, although that has gotten better in recent games, so tough perimeter defense can also take Williams out of her game.

::double checks Ohio State’s roster::

Hmmmmm, that could be an issue in this game.

LGHL: A sophomore building a relationship with Williams is sophomore guard Ronnie Porter. After averaging 6.8 minutes per game last season, the guard has started every game this season and is in the top ten in the conference in both assists and steals. Was this a situation of having too many guards in front of her last season or has Porter shocked even folks within the program? How does she hurt teams so well?

BN: Porter walked on to the team last year despite putting up impressive scoring numbers in one of the better leagues in the Twin Cities as a high schooler, but she was stuck behind some veteran guards last year. This is another discussion for another time, but I would’ve played Porter more last season as she was the only true backup point guard on the roster. ANYWHO, with a bulk of those players graduating/transferring out and no one brought in via the transfer portal, the keys to the car were Porter’s.

I don’t think anyone INSIDE the program was shocked since they didn’t go and get a transfer floor general out of the portal (like they did in the first two years of Marisa Moseley’s tenure) but her jump has been shocking to those of us outside the team. I have been one of the most vocal Porter supporters since she was recruited because I love a big city point guard that plays bigger than they are, but even I didn’t think she’d be this good this year.

Listed at 5-foot-4 (which is generous), Porter is almost always the smallest player on the court but she doesn’t play like it. She has an impressive ability to know where the ball is going to land off of missed shots and will beat bigger players to the spot to secure the rebound. She plays junkyard dog defense and makes smart passes on offense. If she were a few inches taller she would’ve gotten a bunch of high-major scholarship offers, but she isn’t and Wisconsin has a gem on their hands.

LGHL: Lending itself to the conversation about the future of the Badgers is that Wisconsin has a shot at its first winning record since 2010. Head coach Marisa Moseley is doing that with 11 underclassmen and only three seniors. Putting on your predicting cap, is this a team that can make the NCAA Tournament next season and start to draw away recruits from rivals like Minnesota with the prospect of playing with Williams and this core group?

BN: Things have trended up, albeit slowly, in all three years Moseley has been on the sidelines in Madison and given that, I don’t think they’ll make the tourney next year. The NIT? Yeah, I could see them competing for a bid there, but the earliest I could see them in the NCAA Tournament conversation is in two years. With the Big Ten adding four very good WBB teams to the conference next year, Wisconsin’s path to the postseason only gets more difficult.

I could talk for pages and pages about Wisconsin’s recruiting outlook but I won’t bore everyone with that. The Badgers have struggled to keep top in-state talent home, with Maty Wilke (Beaver Dam, Wis.) even transferring out after her freshman year where she played a bunch and was going to be a focal point of the UW offense this year, and I don’t know if I see that changing any time soon. Moseley isn’t from Wisconsin and most of her coaching experience is in the northeast, so she doesn’t have a ton of relationships in the state with AAU and high school teams. She did revamp her entire assistant coaching staff this offseason and brought some Wisconsin natives into the fold, which will help, but building those relationships takes time.

With Minnesota having a Wisconsin native as their head coach, who has recruited the state well, Moseley faces an uphill climb in a lot of those races. She has cast a wide net in recent years, last year bringing in players from as far away as Washington state, Florida, and Spain, but it would behoove her to try and build up a midwest talent base to rely on. The top player in her 2024 class is from Green Bay, so maybe things are trending positively…but they aren’t where they need to be.

LGHL: Ohio State doesn’t perform well against dominant bigs. What else has to go the Badgers' way to pull out a surprise victory against the Buckeyes?

BN: Sticking with my theme of being honest with you, my answer is: a lot. Wisconsin turns the ball over so much against any and every team so Ohio State’s guards are going to have a feast in this one. I can see the Badgers keeping it close for a quarter, maybe two, and Williams should get another double-double but this will end up a 15+ point victory for the Buckeyes.