Making Friends with the Enemy: Talking Wisconsin Hoops with Bucky's 5th Quarter

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Get to know everyone's least favorite Big Ten team.

A look at the numbers shows that this Wisconsin team is cut from the same cloth as previous teams -- painfully slow, careful with the ball, and always with an eye for a three point shot. Give the Big Ten neophyte (aka: someone from Rutgers) a quick explanation of why the Badger's system works so well.

Wisconsin keeps winning because Bo Ryan's teams stay disciplined. By that I mean they keep turnovers to a minimum, control tempo -- often by choking off transition buckets and limiting offensive rebounds -- and wait for high percentage shots. Sometimes it works better than others, but over the long run of a regular season, the system works exceptionally well.

Now that Jordan Taylor has moved on, who is the most important player on Wisconsin's team?

You could make a strong case for several different players. There is a correlation between how well forward Ryan Evans plays and how successful Wisconsin is. But Evans has struggled this year, shooting .398/.087/.425 (FG/3FG/FT). Jared Berggren is the most talented and complete Badger, but probably not as "important" as Traevon Jackson. Jackson is the starting point guard and has gone through major growing pains but has to play well for Wisconsin to excel.

A less obvious choice would be junior Josh Gasser, who is redshirting due to an ACL injury suffered right before the season started. His absence has damaged Wisconsin's defense and thrust some inexperienced guards into leadership roles before they were truly ready.

What exactly happened for Wisconsin to pull the upset against Indiana in Assembly Hall? Do you think it was wise for Bo Ryan to sell his soul for an early season Big Ten game, or should he have held out until at least the Big Ten tourney to get full value for it?

Not sure why you'd think a worthless B1G tourney game would be more valuable than a regular season game to a team (miraculously) still in the title race, but I'll play along. Wisconsin simply hit shots (including free throws, this year's Achilles' heel), led by -- you guessed it -- Ryan Evans, won the turnover battle, and completely shut down Cody Zeller in the second half after he ran wild in the first half. Wisconsin's bench was also far superior to IU's that night.

And if Bo sold his soul, he did it loooong ago: Wisconsin has now won 11 in a row against Indiana, going back to 2008.

(Ed note: either that or he is the devil.)

How do you think Wisconsin matches up with Michigan? The Wolverines don't play at a fast pace, shoot the ball well, and don't turn it over. On paper this seems like Wisconsin kryptonite, but I'm still not all that confident because of the way Michigan's offense sometimes bogs down in the halfcourt. Tell me your read on the matchup.

I continue to think Wisconsin's perimeter defense is vulnerable. Michigan has just the weapons to exploit the Badgers, between Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway and even Little Big Dog. But as you say, a team that does not thrive in the halfcourt sets will be at risk against UW. Having a playmaker like Burke can offset that somewhat. I was surprised to see how slow a pace the Wolverines play at, but that's what taking care of the ball will do for your tempo numbers -- Wisconsin and Michigan are #1 and #2 in that department.

The other worry in my mind, though, is if a guy like Mitch McGary starts wreaking havoc on the boards. Iowa was much quicker to the ball for the majority of Wednesday night's game, which put Wisconsin in a real hole. I hope that doesn't become a trend.

Defensively, Michigan hasn't been great this year. The Wolverines are letting other teams shoot from the outside, struggle with post defense, and don't force a lot of turnovers. One of the best parts of Michigan's defensive footprint -- an utter lack of free throws given up -- actually probably hurts Michigan against a Badger team that can't shoot from the line to save its life. Will Wisconsin be able to overpower Michigan's defense, or will this be another case of Wisconsin taking what its given and trying to squeeze out a close win?

You nailed it with your last statement. Wisconsin plays like Wisconsin no matter what. But UW hasn't been able to bank on Berggren taking advantage of lesser players in the post, so that's a situation that warrants watching. If the Badgers are hitting 3-pointers, however, they will be tough to beat at home. Finally, even though the Badgers haven't made free throws lately, their clutch performance against the Hawkeyes could be a sign of a turnaround. Either way, I'd rather get the FT attempts than not, but it sounds like that's unlikely.

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