A 10-day layoff from games ends on Saturday afternoon as the Wisconsin Badgers take on in-state foe Green Bay at the Kohl Center. With a young team full of injuries, did the layoff allow the Badgers to regroup and refocus?
We’ll find out against a Phoenix team that got instantly better this past week with the insertion of former Marquette guard Sandy Cohen III. Plus, you know that Green Bay is going to give everything in this in-state contest.
UW and Green Bay will tip at 4:30pm CT and the game will be seen on the Big Ten Network.
So, what should we be watching for in this game? Let’s look at our Starting 5 for the Badgers vs. Phoenix.
1-2 Punch for Green Bay
Wisconsin has struggled a ton on the perimeter this season, and the debut of Sandy Cohen III for Green Bay gives the visitors a really good wing scorer to add to the mix. However, he was just 1-6 from deep and 6-16 from the field in his debut against Bowling Green earlier this week.
Could that have been knocking some of the game rust off? He’ll no doubt test the Badgers defense, but he’s not the only danger that GB possesses in this contest, as Cohen III is a great compliment player to leading scorer Khalil Small (16.2 points per game). Small is a dangerous player due to his versatility, as he’s shooting 45.2 percent from beyond the arc and 45.3 percent overall from the field on the year.
The Badgers have really struggled with players who can slash and dish to the perimeter and the Phoenix have two of those types in its uptempo offense. That should be something to watch in this contest.
Brad Davison’s Growth
The last time we saw Brad Davison, he was making one heady play and hitting a cool-as-ice free throw to win the game against Western Kentucky. We highlighted just how important that kind of on-court leadership and poise could be going forward.
Will that show against a Green Bay squad that loves to push the tempo and make teams play the entire length of the court on both sides of the ball? Davison hasn’t been short on effort or want-to, but he’ll be tested in a way he hasn’t been before this season.
He’s also potentially just the seventh freshman to average in double figures in his first season in a Badgers uniform. Davison is a good perimeter shooter, but also a confident one from mid-range and that can come in handy in this type of game. He can’t go cold against the style of defense Green Bay plays or it could be a long one.
Turnovers have been a bit of an issue for the freshman this season as well, as he’s committed 16 turnovers to just 23 assists. We’ll be watching how efficient Davison can make the Badgers and if he can help them control the tempo of this game.
Iverson and Turnovers, can he not commit them?
Speaking of turnovers, one of the keys to this game is going to be the play of Wisconsin small forward Kahlil Iverson. The junior has had a rough go of it in the turnover department and prior to injuries was beginning to see his minutes decrease because of it.
Iverson comes in to this game second on the team in turnovers with 27. Only Ethan Happ’s 34 are more on the Badgers. But, Iverson’s ability to hang on to the ball and make smart decisions on offense will be magnified under the pressure that Green Bay puts on opponents.
The Phoenix have forced an average of 15.4 turnovers per game and have turned opponents over more than they’ve turned the ball over despite the frenetic pace they like to play at. Iverson’s history of bad turnovers at inopportune times matters against those kind of results from your opponent.
He’s also going to be key because he’s the perfect player to bust loose against the pressure with his athletic ability.
Did the last 10 days settle Iverson’s mind down and let him focus on being a player to count on? We’ll get an answer early I have a feeling. If he’s not able to keep the ball under control it really stretches the Badgers thin having to go to walk-on’s or former walk-on’s like Aaron Moesch and T.J. Schlundt.
Third Scoring Option for Badgers
Davison and Happ have been a two-man scoring machine for the Badgers as of late, but that isn’t exactly a recipe for success as we’ve seen.
We’ve pretty much been asking for a consistent third scoring option for UW most of this season, and no one has emerged in that role. Junior guard Brevin Pritzl may be that answer though.
After being put on the bench in favor of Davison a few weeks ago, Pritzl has come back to the starting lineup due to injuries at guard. He’s stepped up nicely in the past two games, putting up 10 points in the loss to Marquette and 17 big points in the win over Western Kentucky.
If the Badgers can start to count on him to be a double-digit point scorer on a consistent basis it certainly changes the offensive equation for the Badgers.
Pounding the Boards
As much as UW’s ability to get a third scorer will matter, so to will its ability to exploit what should be a clear advantage on the boards. Green Bay has been downright awful on the boards against true D1 opponents this season. As in, 41.4 rebounds per game resulting in a 2-7 record against nine D1 teams.
That’s brutal, and even more so when you know the Badgers have a massive size advantage down low and have a 100-92 advantage in offensive rebounds this season too.
Green Bay will throw 6-8 forward David Jesperson up against Ethan Happ in what could be the biggest advantage in a player-on-player matchup for the Badgers. Let’s see if Happ and high-flying Khalil Iverson can get things done on the glass against a Phoenix team that doesn’t shoot the ball well. One-and-done possessions for Green Bay will likely equal a win for Wisconsin.
Wisconsin 82, Green Bay 70
As inconsistent as the Badgers have been, Green Bay has been its equal if not worse. They also don’t have the potential scorers that Wisconsin does. While the three-point shooting of Cohen III and Small are scary, so is their lack of an inside presence.
Look for Happ to have a big day all around and for that to make up for anything the Phoenix will or won’t do on the perimeter. As dangerous as GB could be, they have been wildly inconsistent and that’s what happens with six newcomers to the team and just 12 years of total experience on the team in general.
Wisconsin is young and inconsistent, but not near the level of the Phoenix. Wisconsin wins and keeps improving heading in to Big Ten play.