After a hot start to the 2017-18 season, the Wisconsin Badgers have run in to trouble with top competition. However, a return home to the Kohl Center for a Black Friday affair with the Milwaukee Panthers could be just what the doctor ordered.
Wisconsin comes in having lost three straight, all to ranked opponents (No. 15 Xavier, No. 22 Baylor and No. 23 UCLA). The temptation may be to think the Badgers are going to get back on track easily with the return home against an in-state foe, but Milwaukee comes in with plenty of confidence of its own.
Can a return home be enough or will the Panthers prove too tough a test for the changing Badgers? Let’s take a look at the five things to know about this game.
1. Milwaukee comes in with just one loss so far this season
The temptation always is to think of an in-state Horizon League foe as easy pickings for the Badgers, but the Panthers come in to this one at 4-1 on the season. It’s not just the hot start, one of those four wins came over Big 12 power Iowa State. So, Wisconsin better be on its game or it could be in for an upset at the Kohl Center. The Panthers certainly aren’t going to be intimidated. On the flip side, Milwaukee’s one loss was a bad one, coming against D2 opponent Concordia-St. Paul in the Black and Gold Shootout earlier this month.
2. Wisconsin is still well-respected by the stat machines
A 2-3 start was not ideal for Wisconsin, especially with all three losses coming to ranked opponents. However, there isn’t a lack of respect for the Badgers by the numbers. Wisconsin comes in to today’s matchup ranked No. 32 in the country by KenPom.com. What is really interesting is to see the Badgers evened out in the offensive and defensive categories. UW comes in to the game No. 52 in adjusted offense and No. 24 in adjusted defense, meaning they actually measure out well against the rest of the country despite the shaky start to the season. It also doesn’t hurt that they’ve played the No. 66-ranked schedule in the country either.
3. Three starters are averaging double figures for Wisconsin
Despite some of the troubles the Badgers have had with stopping opponents on the other end, scoring hasn’t been a problem for this team on offense. With the emergence of freshman Brad Davison in the starting lineup, Wisconsin now has three starters averaging double figures coming in to this game. Star forward Ethan Happ leads the way, averaging 19.0 points per game. Davison is second on the team with 10.4 points per game and fellow guard D’Mitrick Trice is averaging 10.2 points per game. Trice may be the most interesting one to watch in this trio, as he struggled against both Xavier and Baylor, scoring just 12 points combined in those two games. He rebounded with 14 points in the loss to UCLA on Tuesday though.
4. Milwaukee’s new head coach has had past success against the Badgers
UWM had to hire a new head coach this offseason, and they dipped in to the Big Ten to find said new head coach. Former Northwestern assistant Pat Baldwin took over the program in June, and you can bet he’s very familiar with the Badgers. Baldwin coached under Chris Collins for the last four years in Evanston and went 3-3 against the Badgers in the regular season during those four years.
5. Happ is reaching historic territory already
It’s early in the season, but the numbers Ethan Happ is putting up are out of this world. He’s not only averaging 19.0 points, but also has 9.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game to date. Those numbers lead the Badgers in each category, but Happ is also the only major conference player to average those numbers in the entire country. If he can keep up or even improve on those numbers, Happ could becoming only the third player in the country to average at least 19 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists per game. The other two were pretty dang good players too — Ohio State star Evan Turner and LSU’s Ben Simmons.
Prediction: Wisconsin 80, Milwaukee 66
There is some reason to be measured in this contest, as Milwaukee found a way to bite the Cyclones already this season. However, they also went ahead and lost to a D2 school. Having seen some of the film on the Panthers already this season, I’m convinced the Iowa State win was more fluke than indicative of anything great the Panthers are going to accomplish. Add in the fact that Wisconsin has been competitive in three losses to ranked opponents and this should be the medicine needed before a trip to Virginia in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Look for Happ to dominate down low and for Davison to have a huge game on the outside.