It has been a pile of bad news for the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball program as December has rolled around. But, UW hopes to turn things around after a few practices with a roster they know will be around this week.
Waiting in the wings for the Badgers following their worst loss to Marquette at home since the Kohl Center opened will be the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. But, lest you believe this will be a reprieve from the most difficult start to a season in recent memory, the Hilltoppers come in plenty prepared to take on the Badgers.
Can UW’s depleted backcourt finally show up, or will the struggles from beyond the arc lead to more trouble for UW?
We’ll discuss that and more in our look at the five things to watch heading in to tonight’s matchup against WKU. Tip is scheduled for 7pm on FS1.
Does Practice Make Perfect?
Wisconsin didn’t make the public aware of the injury status for either Kobe King or D’Mitrick Trice until right before the Marquette game. But, the team had to know what was coming down the pipeline. Head coach Greg Gard seemed caught off-guard about what to do with his backcourt rotation with no practice under their belts.
That won’t be an excuse or the case on Wednesday night though, so the buck stops with the performance of the players and the decision-making of the coaching staff on rotation, minutes and the like.
Saturday we saw Brad Davison, who is struggling through a separated shoulder injury of his own, play nearly ever second of the game against Marquette. He was exhausted and nothing left in the tank over the final 3 minutes of the game.
Everyone also saw T.J. Schlundt thrust in to a prominent role, and he delivered some quality minutes on the court. But, the Badgers need more than minutes, they need actual production in terms of points from the backcourt. To that end, Wisconsin has hinted at using another walk-on, this one named Walt McGrory. He’s a 6-3 freshman from Minneapolis.
That’s just how desperate UW is for bodies, let alone production.
With a few practices under their belts, can Schlundt, McGrory and most importantly, the starters of Davison and Brevin Pritzl finally deliver for the Badgers? The good news is that Pritzl finally went in to double digits against Marquette, but that has been few and far between for the season.
Can Happ Carry the Badgers if Backcourt Can’t Help?
The answer to this question was an easy no against Marquette, but the former Hilltoppers, Warriors (or whatever their nickname is today). Happ scored 17 points, but was hounded by the pressure to put the team on his back. He was just 8-15 shooting from the field and while he put up 9 rebounds and 4 assists, he also turned the ball over 5 times.
Mistakes like that, and in the quantity that happened on Saturday won’t cut it going forward. Happ has to find a way to play mistake-free basketball and shoot a higher percentage around the rim than he has over the past few games. This is not the time for Happ to go in to a funk, so let’s see if he can be the one to carry this team early on and be a true leader on the court.
WKU Won’t Be Intimidated
A Conference-USA opponent coming in to the Kohl Center? No problemo, right?
Tell that to Purdue, who suffered a loss at the hands of the Hilltoppers already this season. Now, that win didn’t come at Mackey Arena or anything, as the two met at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas earlier in the season. But, the point is, this Badgers team is nowhere near the level of Purdue in terms of production.
If WKU can get a win over a quality team like that on a neutral court, what could it do on a good day against a down Badgers program on the road?
This is also one of the most balanced teams the Badgers have seen all season long. WKU has just seven scholarship players, but six of them are averaging double figures.
Thompson vs. Davison Will be Fascinating
Point guard battles are usually good indications of how a game is going to go. Such will be the case on Wednesday night with two pretty good ones going at it.
Western Kentucky’s Darius Thompson is one of the better protectors of the ball and a great facilitator. That’s especially been the case as of late, as he has 19 assists and just three turnovers in the last three games. In his last six games, he has 30 combined assists and just six turnovers.
Davison comes in to this game having put up 18 assist to 13 turnovers, nearly the exact opposite of the effectiveness of Thompson.
Can Davison bother Thompson and keep from turning the ball over on his own? More importantly, can he be a facilitator for the Badgers offense? It is something that has really been lacking as of late. We’ll see if the adjustment can be made by Davison, but he’s going to have his hands full with Thompson.
Watch the Perimeter
If there’s one area that has killed Wisconsin this season, it has been a lack of perimeter defense (or offense for that matter). The Badgers are No. 200 in the nation in opponent three-point shooting percentage. That’s not good news when you are facing a team as good as shooting on the perimeter as the Hilltoppers are.
WKU ranks 38th in the country in 3-point percentage at 40.1 percent, and that’s a major area of concern for the Badgers in this game. It’s especially the case after Wisconsin saw Marquette go nuts to the tune of 63.6 percent from beyond the arc in Saturday’s blowout of the Badgers. Marquette was 14 of 22 from beyond the arc, and you can bet emphasis was made on never allowing that to happen again.
The problem is, Wisconsin has allowed teams to go gangbusters on them from three-point land plenty this season, so clearly an earlier message never got through to this group.
With Schlundt, Aaron Moesch and others getting in on the action, could some of that change heading forward? It will need to be much better on Wednesday night or Wisconsin is in serious trouble.
Wisconsin 62, Western Kentucky 60
It’s hard to see this as an easy win for the Badgers, especially given the recent trend downward. While it is tempting to pick against UW because there’s a lot to like about the Hilltoppers game against Wisconsin’s weaknesses, there’s a big strength that will pull this game out.
His name is Ethan Happ, and its the one area that WKU doesn’t have an answer for. If the Badgers can get him going early, often and efficiently, look for everything else to open up. I expect that to happen, and therefore UW wins…ever so narrowly.