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Behind Enemy Lines Q&A: Wisconsin Basketball

Jake Kocorowski of Bucky’s 5th Quarter talked with us about this weekend’s big trip to Madison.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

For years, the Kohl Center in Madison terrorized Michigan basketball.

The Wolverines failed to leave the Badger State victorious from 1999 to 2013. Nik Stauskas led the long-awaited breakthrough in 2014, draining a dagger late to seal the 77-70 win.

A road triumph last year made it two wins in the last four trips. Michigan goes for its third in five this Saturday (noon ET, ESPN) while also looking to remain undefeated in 2018-19.

To prepare for this weekend, we talked to Jake Kocorowski of Bucky’s 5th Quarter, our SB Nation Wisconsin affiliate. He kindly answered my ridiculous questions.

Gone are the days of Bo Ryan terrorizing the Big Ten with his grimace and ability to churn out great defenses. How do fans feel about Greg Gard?

With the recent skid and some poor play you mention in your next question, I think there is a hint of uneasiness from a small portion of the fanbase after a really promising start.

However, Gard also has worked with those that remain from the class of 2015 (Ryan’s last recruiting class) that has not made a huge impact outside of two frequent contributors. Overall though, this team should still be in position to make the NCAA Tournament.

You’re seeing contributions from younger players like sophomores Brad Davison and Nate Reuvers, whereas maybe on previous teams, seniors would be more prevalent. He is a great teacher and recruiter, and the players certainly work for him.

The Badgers have lost four of their last five games, including twice at home (Minnesota and Purdue). One was a defensive slog, and the other was high-scoring. What exactly has been the problem the last few weeks?

After leading at halftime against Western Kentucky, Wisconsin allowed the Hilltoppers to get hot (made over two-thirds of its field goal attempts) in the second half. Against Minnesota and Maryland, they scored only 14 and 15 points, respectively, in the first half with some putrid shooting (less than 24 and 27 percent, respectively, in those games’ first 20 minutes).

Despite that, both games could have been won by Wisconsin--even going up by one against the Terps at the Xfinity Center with about two minutes left in the game.

The Purdue loss can be attributed to turnovers (17 ... unfathomable at the Kohl Center in a home contest) and poor defensive rebounding. For that latter stat, Purdue grabbed 39 rebounds, with 17 of them of the offensive variety.

Wisconsin really could have won all three of their conference losses, but we’ll see if they’ve learned some lessons in trying to take down the Goliath of the Big Ten in Michigan.

What makes Ethan Happ so dangerous, and how could Jon Teske and Michigan slow him down?

Happ can score inside in an extremely smooth fashion, grab boards and dish out some assists, all impressive for a big man in college basketball.

He has the ability to create space for short shots — whether it be a layup or quick hook shot via spin move or other techniques — or make the right pass for a soul-crushing three by one of his teammates. Defensively, he can grab rebounds off the glass and also make some steals. He really is the most unique college basketball player I’ve witnessed.

In slowing Happ down, teams can double-team him at opportune times inside, forcing turnovers (nine vs. Purdue) or allowing him to pass to a teammate on the perimeter. That latter outcome could be dangerous if the Badgers get hot from three-point range — a “Pick Your Poison” type scenario.

If Teske is as imposing as Bruno Fernando was for Maryland on Monday, guarding him one-on-one with efficiency could also allow so much more for Michigan’s defense in restricting open shot opportunities.

You can also play “Hack-A-Happ” (trademark pending), as the big man has hit less than 50 percent of his free throws so far this season.

Brad Davison is on fire from three, hitting 47 percent is conference play. What else does he bring to the table?

Davison is one of those players that opposing teams and fanbases will hate.

(Ed: I wonder why...)

He can make those clutch shots at times — especially the three-pointer at Maryland on Monday to give UW a one-point lead late — but he takes charges and can be a pest defensively. He also has that hustle aspect to him where he’ll dive for a loose ball.

Beyond the court, there is a leadership skill for this program that will be even more prevalent in the next two years.

Who else needs to step up to get Wisconsin back on track and into the top-25?

We’ll start with the scoring. Redshirt sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice started the season off hot, and we all knew there would be some regression (because shooting 60 percent from three-point range is just B-A-N-A-N-A-S). Against Maryland, he came on late but also shot poorly overall from the field. If he can regain some of his earlier form and efficiency, that would go a long way.

Davison has begun to emerge more as a scorer recently, but I also like how Reuvers stepped up. With Happ on the bench for about half of the final 10 minutes in the Maryland loss, Wisconsin cut the deficit significantly. That was due in part to Reuvers scoring a big portion of his career-high 18 points in that span.

The sophomore big man needs to do more in the rebounding phase of the game (imo), but he has shown an inside-outside game offensively that could bring a lot of buckets for the next two seasons as Wisconsin will have to adjust to a post-Happ era.

Also, free throws (and I forgot to mention this in your second question). This team is only shooting 66.2 percent from the line this year, and that has also been some undoing in their losses at Marquette and at home against Minnesota and Purdue. They need to improve in that aspect to keep themselves closer in conference contests.

Wisconsin has broken many team’s hearts over the years. There’s Josh Gasser 2011 or Ben Brust 2013 against Michigan, Kentucky in the Final Four and Villanova in 2017. Do you have a favorite moment along these lines, and do you get sick pleasure out of your team torturing opposing fanbases?

I mean the Kentucky one is the win that really stands out as THE game in this category.

I remember watching on my laptop at my father-in law’s house to experience Wisconsin becoming the “1 in 38-1,” to take from a famous Paul Heyman WWE quote (I trained as an indy wrestler in college, so apologies on the odd reference). That team was special and maybe one Wisconsin won’t experience for quite a while.

That was when I was covering Wisconsin athletics for B5Q, mostly football and not basketball (the latter started with last season). Even before I started my “career” in “media,” the 2013 Brust shot instantly pops up. Reason being, my wife and then-newborn were taking their respective naps, and I woke both of them up with a awe-inspired yell.

The former, uh, was not happy.

What’re the chances undefeated Michigan leaves Kohl Center unscathed?

I think chances are good.

The Badgers just have not been firing on all cylinders in the last five games outside of the Penn State win. If it’s not turnovers, it’s poor shooting from either the field or on the free throw line (or both!).

Now, there is always the chance they somehow put it all together, on such a network like ESPN, and potentially upset to Wolverines. I think the energy in the Kohl Center will be charged up, and that Wisconsin will use its second half against Maryland to springboard into better play.

That being said, I think Michigan is one of the best in the nation for a reason. Wouldn’t be surprised by an upset, but the Wolverines pull off a 76-68 win on the road.

Special thanks to Jake Kocorowski of! Head on over and check out Jake, and the rest of the team’s coverage of the Badgers in advance of this weekend’s journey into dairy country.