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The Starting 5: Wisconsin vs. Rutgers basketball preview

Wisconsin makes a trip to a house of horrors in Piscataway. Can they come away victorious against Rutgers?

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What’s not to like about a five-game win streak and a trip to Rutgers? Oh, wait…that last part, that’s right.

For whatever reason, trips to Piscataway, NJ have not been fun for the Badgers. There have been big injuries and closer-than-they-should’ve-been games.

But, as with everything with this 2017-18 team perhaps it will be the unexpected that happens? Let’s take a look at how the Badgers (9-7, 2-1 B1G) and the Scarlet Knights (10-6, 0-3 B1G) match up on Friday night.

Here is tonight’s starting 5 for the game that tips at 6pm CT and will be seen on ESPN.

1. Can the Road Continue to be Kind to Badgers Under Gard?

Greg Gard has done what few coaches in the Big Ten have been able to do — figure out how to win on the road. The Big Ten is notoriously difficult on road teams, but Gard has done well in that regard so far in his career. Wisconsin is 10-8 in Big Ten road games under his leadership, which is the second-best mark of any team in the Big Ten over Gard’s span in the conference. Only Maryland’s 12-7 record is better on the road in conference play.

Wisconsin of 2017-18 on the road has been a bit different, but so is playing at the RAC, where the Badgers are 1-1 against Rutgers since they joined the Big Ten. Can Gard’s magic work on the road or will a different environment in New Jersey trip up the Badgers?

2. Happ Feasts on Rutgers

No team has been as willing to let Ethan Happ do his best work than Rutgers has over his career. All he’s done is average a whole 19.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game against the Scarlet Knights. That includes dropping 32 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists on Rutgers last season alone.

Combine that with the fact that Happ had his best all-around performance just this past Tuesday in a 10-point win against Indiana and this could be a fun night for the All-American. Wisconsin’s offense clearly revolves around Happ in some way, shape or form — whether it is him pounding the ball down low or drawing double teams and kicking the ball to open players or taking fellow big men off the dribble, Happ has finally taken the Badgers offense on his back and gotten positive results.

Can Happ continue the trend of big nights against the Scarlet Knights?

3. Got Your Six

While Happ has gotten off to a great start to 2018, the most important part is that the rest of his teammates are helping out a lot more than they were in the 2017 portion of the season. Happ doesn’t have to do it all on his own anymore, and ironically that is leading to him being able to dominate even more.

Aleem Ford has suddenly become a consistent double-digit scorer, Brad Davison does a bit of everything and even the walk-on players who are playing are finding a way to contribute in smaller ways. Since that Marquette loss, the rest of the team has begun to round in to form and get Happ’s back on both ends of the court.

Now, can Charlie Thomas please find some touch around the rim on offense to complete the rise of UW’s offense? Can the form of Ford and others continue on the road? If so, Wisconsin could find themselves comfortably ahead in this game.

4. Offensive Boards

If there is one area that could trouble the Badgers tonight, it is in the area of keeping Rutgers off the glass. While not much has been looking up for the Scarlet Knights during their current six-game losing streak, a potential advantage exists in this matchup thanks to a long and athletic front line.

It’s been an advantage all season long, with Rutgers owing 15.1 offensive rebounds per game alone. That number is third nationally, and runs counter to Wisconsin’s defensive strength — not allowing offensive rebounds. UW is allowing opponents just 6.3 offensive rebounds per game which is ninth in the country. Something is going to give tonight.

Wisconsin hasn’t played great defense all season long overall, so can they keep Rutgers from getting opportunities at second-chance points?

5. Please Don’t Bore Us

Along those lines of UW’s defensive effort, somehow, despite the perception, UW ranks inside the top 35 in scoring defense on the year. So do the Scarlet Knights.

For those of you who are a fan of high-scoring basketball, this may not be your game.

That means it could be a struggle to be entertained and a struggle to top 60 points from both of these teams. Let’s see if that’s to UW’s advantage or not.

Prediction:

Wisconsin 62, Rutgers 55

Something in me just doesn’t trust trips to New Jersey for the Badgers. However, this is going to be another grind-it-out victory for UW. Look for Happ to get going early and that lead to a big lead for the Wisconsin. The problem is that also means watch for Rutgers to make a nice second half run while UW’s defense relaxes a bit. It leads to a closer than expected win, but a sixth straight win for the Badgers nonetheless.

That sets up an interesting matchup with Nebraska on Tuesday night to say the least..if I’m right.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Badgers Basketball

Full Badgers 2018-19 basketball schedule revealed

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The moment every Wisconsin Badgers basketball fan was waiting for finally arrived on Tuesday afternoon. In a special on BTN, all schedules were released for conference games. 

For the first time ever there will be 20 conference games played, with the Badgers kicking off the B1G schedule on November 30 by taking a trip to Iowa City to face the Iowa Hawkeyes. 

Wisconsin will play a second Big Ten game that week, hosting Rutgers on Dec. 3. 

The overall schedule kicks off with the Badgers hosting Coppin State on Nov. 6 at the Kohl Center. 

Highlighting UW’s non-conference schedule are matchups against fellow Power 5 opponents like NC State, Xavier and Stanford (part of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament). Those were all matchups already known though. 

In between the Xavier matchup and UW’s trip to the Bahamas is a visit from Houston Baptist on Nov. 17. 

With the release of the schedule, UW will also see its annual rivalry with Marquette (Dec. 8) renewed.

As of now, there is one open date on the Badgers schedule for Dec. 13th and there has yet to be either Green Bay or Milwaukee on the schedule this season. 

It would be the first time in a very long time that neither of the other two in-state schools meet the Badgers in a regular season matchup. 

The non-conference slate will end on Dec. 29 with Western Kentucky coming to Madison.

Once the usual non-conference slate is finished, the Badgers have a pretty even ride through Big Ten play in January. 

There are challenging sections to the schedule, including a three-game swing in mid-January that will see UW play host to Purdue, travel to Maryland and then return home to play Michigan. 

However, February heats up with the Badgers having to face Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State amongst the final 10 games of the conference slate. 

The season will wrap up with UW taking on Ohio State in Columbus on March 10. 

Here’s a look at the full schedule for the Badgers:

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Badgers Basketball

Badgers land 2019 4-star SF Tyler Wahl

Badgers get 1st player in to the 2019 class and it’s a 4-star forward from Minnesota…sound familiar?

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The long-awaited first commitment of the 2019 class for Wisconsin Badgers basketball has happened.

On Thursday, 4-star 6-7, 200-pound small forward Tyler Wahl announced his verbal pledge to the Badgers.

The Lakeville (Minn.) North star visited UW unofficially on Thursday, following attendance at camps over the past week as well. Following that visit, Wahl decided it was time to wrap up his recruitment.

Wisconsin won out over offers from the likes of Butler, Iowa State, Minnesota and Northwestern and is getting the No. 125 ranked player in the country and No. 25 ranked power forward according to the 247Sports rankings.

It probably didn’t hurt UW in his recruitment to see what former high school teammate Nathan Reuvers did in his first season as a Badger. After playing sparingly early on, Reuvers became an important cog in the Badgers machine this past season.

According to Badger247, Reuvers had some advice for his former teammate if he wanted to be a Badger.

“Our relationship is really good,” said Wahl. “I talk to him at least once a week. He’s told me that they really like me. I just had to get my shot down and keep playing well.”

This past season, Wahl averaged 17.2 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game for his high school team. Lakeville North also went 22-4 and made the Minnesota state tournament.

What should be interesting is how Wahl’s decision impacts one of UW’s oldest targets in the 2019 recruiting class — Zeke Nnaji. The Badgers have been on Nnaji from the beginning, but the fellow 4-star recruit has seen his offer list blow up in the past few months.

The two are AAU teammates, and while that can be a factor, it may not be the deciding factor in Nnaji’s choice of schools in the coming months.

As for Wahl, he’s seen his shot come a long way and has shown some good defensive work during his recruitment. He screams classic Badgers forward, willing to do the little things on defense to help make the offensive side of the ball that much easier.

UW ranks No. 22 in the country with Wahl’s commitment and could reach even higher depending on what happens with Nnaji’s recruitment and the scholarships they decide to use or bank towards 2020.

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Badgers Basketball

DJ Carton surprises most, leaves Badgers off his final 6

Badgers were 1st to offer for 4-star PG, but were stunningly left off his final 6 list. Where do the Badgers go from here?

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The Wisconsin Badgers saw what no team in college basketball did in point guard D.J. Carton back in 2017. They were the first to offer the budding recruit and were after him hard, but in the end it didn’t apparently matter.

On Friday, Carton announced his list of final six schools via his Twitter account:

Missing from that list were the Badgers, a move that surprised many. Instead, it was Indiana, Iowa, Marquette, Michigan, Ohio State and Xavier that made the cut.

It wasn’t for a lack of effort on the Badgers part to say the least. Wisconsin put the full-court press on him early and often, sending Greg Gard and others to just about every AAU game and got an in-home visit with him in recent months.

So, why didn’t the first high-major team to offer make the list?

It could have had something to do with UW taking 2018 point guard Tai Strickland and thus having a pretty loaded backcourt for the foreseeable future. Strickland was added to the mix late in the 2018 recruiting process due to his skill set, but also because there was clearly a lack of depth in the Badgers backcourt.

That’s not to say Carton wouldn’t have been in the mix, but as a 4-star player he also was going to get opportunities to not have to compete so hard for immediate playing time.

Not seeing Carton in the top six is a bit stunning, given what UW has put in to his recruitment from the get-go. But, unlike years past, the Badgers are not a team stuck without options. The signing of Strickland helped them avoid a crushing blow like going all-in on Carton and not actually landing him at all.

UW also has been heavily looking towards the 2020 class, where there are a number of quality backcourt options out there. One name that UW has been heavily linked with in that class is point guard Reece Beekman out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His grandparents went to Wisconsin and he is a big-time academic person along with a quality point guard in his class.

So, while it may sting to see a guy that UW put so much effort in to not include them in the final mix, this isn’t a situation like missing out on Diamond Stone or Kevon Looney — guys that the Badgers were heavily all-in on and ultimately had to scramble to replace.

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Nigel Hayes pushes for boycott for pay while revealing Badgers nearly did it in 2016

Hayes hopes to spark major change in college athlete pay, while also pushing for a boycott that nearly happened at UW in 2016.

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Nigel Hayes has been an outspoken advocate for the movement to get players in the NCAA to get paid. He’s even still named as a plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit against the NCAA.

On Tuesday, Hayes, who is currently playing for the Sacramento Kings, was part of a panel titled “Future of College Sports: Reimagining Athlete Pay.” It was a panel to help facilitate a discussion around athlete’s pay in college sports.

But, it wasn’t what Hayes had to say around that part of the topic that caught the eye of many. Instead, it was what he revealed about the 2016-17 Wisconsin Badgers that made people take notice. Hayes revealed that he spearheaded a potential move to boycott a high-profile game early in the season.

That game was the matchup with a then-ranked Syracuse Orange team as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

According to Hayes, the idea was proposed by him in a group chat and that the majority of the team was in favor of the bold move. However, Hayes indicated that everyone had to be on board for such a move to happen.

“I knew 90 percent of the guys were on board from the get-go, before I asked the question,” Hayes told USA TODAY Sports after the panel discussion. “But I let them know that if one of you guys says no, we won’t do it because, obviously, we’re a team and we’re going to stick together.

Obviously that didn’t happen and the Badgers went on to win the game 77-60 in front of a packed home crowd at the Kohl Center.

It certainly would’ve been a huge headline-grabber, and Hayes believes that hindsight for those teammates who voted no would change their minds.

“In hindsight, I think those guys that said no would change their mind now. That’s usually what happens. The guys who don’t go on to the NBA, once they leave college, they look back and say, ‘Wow, I was exploited — and now I have nothing to show for it.’ … So, I think we missed our opportunity, but hopefully this word gets out and it will inspire a group of kids that in college now or will be in college.”

Is that really what those former teammates believe, or is Hayes just speaking for them in a way that helps his cause? What we don’t and likely will never know is just how many of his teammates really were against the move and just what those players believe about their college experiences.

Clearly that is a call by Hayes for someone to take up the cause he championed time and again while he was in college. Will someone do it and will it spark the change that Haye believes in?

“With all the money that’s being made that the players are not receiving, there’s going to be a point where the players don’t play,” he said. “It’s going to take the right player or the right team in the right big-game setting … but if you want to get something done, boycott it. That’s the best way to get anything done. … I think it’s something that if we did go through with it, we’d probably be having a very different conversation right now.”

Those are bold statements and there certainly are huge risks involved. College athletics is clearly at a cross-roads and what happens in the next few years may go a long way towards determining its future. Part of that future appears in the hands of the NBA and what it does with expanding the G-League opportunities to younger players and what it does with the path to the draft as well.

What Hayes revealed in this interview is that he clearly has an agenda and isn’t afraid to push people in today’s college game to do what he advocates for.

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