Hoops Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Previewing tomorrow's trip to Madison, where the Wolverines will take on the No. 3, one-loss Wisconsin Badgers.

Date: Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014

Time: 6:00 ET

Location: Kohl Center--Madison, Wis.

TV: ESPN

Wisconsin Badgers (16-1, 3-1)

As I discussed during yesterday's story time, Michigan hasn't had much luck at the Kohl Center in the new millennium. In fact, they haven't won there this millennium at all; as I'm sure every Ann Arbor and Madison-based beat writer has probably mentioned this week, the Wolverines haven't won at the Kohl Center since 1999.

While anything can happen, this year probably doesn't offer the Wolverines their best opportunity to break that streak.

The Badgers and Wolverines have seemingly switched roles. Last year the Badgers started 6-4, while the Wolverines started with that record this year. Last year the Wolverines started 16-0, while the Badgers reached that mark this season, suffering their first loss of the season in Bloomington on Tuesday.

Season So Far

After obliterating Illinois at the Kohl Center, the Badgers secured their best start in program history, notching 16 consecutive wins to start this season. Bo Ryan's squad, which had to replace a significant amount of frontcourt production this season (Mike Brusewitz, Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans), did it against one of the toughest schedules in the land.

In fact, the Badgers' SOS is currently ranked 4th, behind only Kansas, Long Beach State and Boston College. UW's 16-1 mark is legitimate and battle-tested.

UW started the season with an at the time impressive victory against an athletic and talented St. John's team at The Pentagon in Sioux Falls. Steve Lavin's St. John's team sits at just 9-7 right now, but that mark is not quite indicative of the talent that team has.

Four days later, the Badgers returned to Madison to take on a short-handed Florida squad, looking to avenge last year's thumping in Gainesville. UW ground out a 59-54 win, then hit the road again for a sneakily difficult game against Green Bay in Ashwaubenon, Wis. Green Bay's Keifer Sykes scored a whopping 32 points, but the Badgers pulled out a 69-66 win to move to 3-0.

Other impressive non-conference wins include a 63-57 win against St. Louis (RPI-29) in Cancun and 48-38 hammer fight of a win at Virginia (RPI-23). In the RPI 51-100 range, UW boasts wins against St. John's (RPI-72), West Virginia (RPI-79) and Marquette (RPI-84).

One of the most significant (at least symbolically) developments of the non-conference slate was Frank Kaminsky's school single-game record 43 points against North Dakota State on Nov. 19, accomplished with a downright silly eFG% of 100 percent (16-of-19 from the field overall, 6-of-6 from three). After being a sparingly used role player during his first two seasons in Madison, it became clear very early this season that Kaminsky would capably slot in as the next Wisconsin three-point shooting big guy.

As for the Big Ten schedule, the Badgers easily handled Northwestern in Evanston, 76-49. They then defeated a scary Iowa team after going into the half down 11, partially aided by Fran McCaffery's ejection. The Badgers then absolutely pasted Illinois three days later, 95-70, a sort of "take notice" game.

However, the perfect season came to an end on Tuesday in Bloomington, when the Hoosiers broke a 12-game losing streak against the Badgers. While many have marveled at the Badgers' uptick in offensive production, there has been a downside to that: the Badgers are giving up more points on the other end. UW gave up just 55.9 ppg through all of last season (good for 7th in the country). So far this season they're giving up 61. ppg, good for 25th in the country. The drop hasn't exactly been precipitous or anything, but the defense has been a shade or two below what we've typically seen from Bo Ryan's teams.

The defense was a major issue against the Hoosiers on Tuesday, a showing about which I've seen many in the Wisconsin Twitterverse refer to as one of the worst defensive performances in the Bo Ryan era.

In addition to giving up 75 points, the Badgers allowed Indiana to shoot 51.6 percent from the field while rebounding 37 percent of their misses and turning it over a modest nine times. Yes, they were playing at home, but those sorts of numbers against Wisconsin is a pretty big accomplishment.

In any case, with a return to the friendly confines of the Kohl Center, the Badgers will look to up the defensive intensity when the Wolverines roll into town tomorrow. As is typically the case when a Michigan team hits the road in the Big Ten, I'm sure the Kohl Center crowd will bring a similar intensity.

Personnel

The Badgers are a scary team to deal with simply because they have so many shot-makers. Anything less than your best defensive effort can end with the Badgers dropping 95 points on you (e.g. the Illinois game).

After a promising freshman season off the bench, future NBA prospect Sam Dekker leads the way for the Badgers, averaging 14.0 ppg and 6.1 rpg while shooting 35 percent from beyond the arc. He can shoot the three, the mid-range, and, as he's shown in both the halfcourt and in transition this season, he can do this:

Dekker is Wisconsin's best all-around player and a guy with some sort of NBA future ahead of him. With that said, as I mentioned earlier, you can file 7-footer Frank "The Tank" Kaminsky's 2013-14 season to date under the Norm Macdonald "What the H!" category.

Kaminsky is averaging 13.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 1.8 bpg and has been a deadeye shooter from downtown (48 percent). Like all UW bigs, he can step outside and hit you with a three, but he's also shown the ability to create in the post. In fact, in the final minute or so of the Indiana game--that is, before UW's last possession--the Badgers didn't throw it to Dekker, they dished it to Kaminsky in the post, who scored three buckets at the rim in the final two minutes.

Ben Brust is a painfully familiar name for Michigan fans. If you give him a lane, Brust can get to the rim, but he is mostly Just A Shooter; he shoots 32 percent from 2-point land but a sterling 42 percent from beyond the arc. Brust is also a very good rebounder for a guard (4.9 rpg).

Josh Gasser is another painfully familiar name for Michigan fans. After missing last season with an injury, Gasser has returned and gives the Badgers yet another deadeye shooter. Gasser averages 8.7 ppg and shoots 39 percent from beyond the arc.

Point guard Traevon Jackson seems to be a divisive figure for UW fans at times. Despite his funky shooting motion and his propensity to turn it over in bunches at times, if you help lead a team to a 16-0 record, you're probably not a bad player. Jackson averages 11.4 ppg and 4.2 assists per game, and, like Brust, Jackson is also a capable rebounder (4.2 rpg).

Turnovers have been less of an issue this season for Jackson, but they have been a big problem at times. Jackson's turnover percentage, 18.9 percent, is good for just 28th in the Big Ten. Against Iowa, Jackson committed a career-high seven turnovers. He atoned for that by committing five against Illinois and Indiana combined.

Jackson is not necessarily a primary scoring option, but he flashed the ability to pour it in early in the second half against the Hoosiers, scoring 11 points in the first six minutes of the second half. With that said, the offense runs through Dekker and Kaminsky, with Gasser and Brust sniping from the outside when defenders start to get tired or lazy.

Coming off of the bench is an intriguing player, freshman forward Nigel Hayes, a 4-star prospect from Toledo. Despite being named Nigel, Hayes is not a British ornithologist. In fact, quite the opposite.

As basically every commentator has noted during UW games this season, Hayes is built. At 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, Hayes has shown the ability to get in the paint and finish through serious contact; the guy really does look like he could be a senior.

Depending on UW's lineup combinations, Hayes could give Michigan some problems. If the Badgers go big (Kaminsky-Dekker-Hayes-guard-guard), Michigan might have to resort to the dreaded two-big lineup, which limits its ability to get out in transition.

A player like Jordan Morgan matches up well against a bruiser like Hayes, but when you've got a mobile 7-footer like Kaminsky in the mix, some mismatches are bound to happen throughout the course of the game.

The other reserves worth mentioning are both freshmen, guard Bronson Koenig and forward Duje Dukan. Neither has contributed much in Wisconsin's two close Big Ten games against Iowa and Indiana. That said, Koenig is an athletic guy who brings some ball-handling off of the bench, but if a non-Hayes reserve makes a difference, it'll be Dukan. Dukan is your stereotypical UW shooting tall guy; he shoots 36 percent from beyond the arc. When he does enter the game, whoever is checking him needs to know that he can and will shoot the three.

Keys to the Game

  • Run. The Badgers have shown the ability to push the pace a little more this season than we've seen in the past, but this is still an offense that wants to produce via ultra-efficiency as opposed to volume of possessions. On the other hand, Michigan is a team that operates best in transition. Michigan's ability to clean up on the defensive glass and get out in transition will go a long way toward mitigating that whole problem of the Kohl Center's shrinking rims.
  • Guard the 3-point line. Naturally, this is far easier said than done. But, when you have a starting lineup in which every player from spots 1 through 5 can shoot the three, you have to play a little closer to your man than you otherwise would against an average team and hope for some misses from inside the arc. Wisconsin is a middling team as far as assist percentage goes (49.8 percent, good for 7th in the conference) and is not a team that necessarily excels at breaking you down off the dribble. Then again, Michigan hasn't exactly been good at defending dribble penetration against basically anyone, so who knows. The Badgers might not break you down much, but they run good offense and with so many shooters on the floor, one defensive miscue means an open three.
  • Morgan/Horford vs. Kaminsky. This, to me, is the biggest matchup of the game for Michigan. Wisconsin has always had big guys who can shoot, but I'm not sure they've had a guy with Kaminsky's skill set. Horford doesn't really have the mobility to guard Kaminsky out on the perimeter, but Morgan doesn't have the height to contest him on the low block; in the case of the latter, Morgan's best defense is using his body to deny Kaminsky the low block. Even so, Kaminsky might just be able to shoot right over him.

Outlook

In a lot of ways, Michigan is playing a mirror image of itself in this one. These are two perimeter-oriented squads with ultra-efficient offenses. Neither team is a defensive powerhouse, although the two squads are operating on very different planes of badness; Michigan's defense is downright awful, whereas the Badgers are playing defense that's just not as good as they're used to playing.

Can Michigan pull out a win? Sure, why not. Crazier things have happened, and while the Badgers are obviously a much, much better team than either Penn State or Nebraska, I don't think they threaten Michigan off the dribble like those teams did.

Michigan can make hay in transition, but at this point in the season it seems like Iowa might be the only team capable of imposing its will on the pace of a game against the Badgers. Despite losing the game, the Hawkeyes gave UW fits with their size and ability to play the game at lightning speed. Michigan's offense is very good, but it's not quite the well-oiled machine that is Iowa's.

Quite honestly, no outcome would surprise me. I could see Michigan getting blown out, not unlike last season's game in East Lansing. I could see the Wolverines putting up a fight and losing a close game. I could even see them, miraculously, winning a close game.

With that said, unless Jackson puts up another 7-turnover performance and two or more of UW's shooters go cold, I'm not sure Michigan's offense in the context of this game is good enough to steal a win. In Ann Arbor, the Wolverines have a shot. But, in the Kohl Center, the Badgers will likely control the pace, make few mistakes and hit enough shots from beyond the arc and at the free throw line to outpace Michigan's own excellent offensive attack.

In the end, the Badgers' offensive efficiency and the Kohl Center advantage will be too much for this Michigan squad. However, the Wolverines can offer some reasons for optimism even in defeat , as the schedule won't get any easier going forward.

If the Wolverines, especially freshman point guard Derrick Walton, can put together a competitive performance in Madison (i.e. be in the game heading into the final five minutes), that is a good sign and something to build upon.

With that said, I think Michigan's losing streak at the Kohl Center likely extends to 13 straight on Saturday. The streak will end at some point, but I don't think this is the year.

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