While the majority of the opponent Q&A's we have with bloggers are from ACC sites, we did get the pleasure of sitting down with Phil Mitten from Bucky's 5th Quarter, SBNation's Wisconsin site to get his insights and expectations on the upcoming season. Let's see what he has to say.
Streaking the Lawn: The Big Ten has won the last three ACC/Big Ten Challenges after going winless in the first ten years. Early guess for this year?
Bucky's 5th Quarter: The force is strong with the Big Ten this year, but I still see four or five epic matchups as usual. Without going too in-depth yet, I think the league has just the right swing games at home to keep the challenge streak going against the ACC.
STL: What was your biggest loss from last season's team?
B5Q: Wisconsin only graduated two seniors, in guards Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson. Have Cavs fans even heard of Wilson before? Taylor is obviously the bigger loss. He left as the NCAA's career leader in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.01) and the seventh-leading scorer in school history. Taylor's lasting legacy beyond his strength and steady guidance at the point will be his knack for taking (and hitting) big 3-pointers with the shot clock winding down.
STL: Who is the freshman that you think will make the biggest impact this year?
B5Q: Point forward-type Sam Dekker is one of the Top 15 incoming freshmen in the country, the type of talent that Bo Ryan doesn't often bring to Madison. The optimism regarding Dekker is humming along toward a fevered pitch. His ability to shoot, pass, get to the rim and free throw line will get him on the court, even as he fine tunes the defensive issues that keep most Wisconsin freshmen on the sidelines. However, people are not expecting too many mistakes, given that he's added strength in the offseason and has shown an early willingness to get physical defensively. Zak Showalter is the only other true freshman in the class, and he originally walked-on to the program.
STL: From the initial estimates, it looks like you'll have Bruesewitz back before the Virginia game. Even so, how much of a loss is he in the early season for the Badgers?
B5Q: Bruiser had a down year last year, but he's still the emotional leader for the team. So one of my worries would be lethargy. Without Taylor or Bruesewitz, who makes a big play to wake up the Badgers if they face a big early-season deficit? Tangibly speaking, Bruesewitz is one of the best offensive rebounders in the Big Ten. He's hustling at all times (read how he injured himself sometime). As an aside, having a leg injury, you wonder what his conditioning will be like for the Virginia game.
STL: Who does Virginia need to watch out for most this year?
B5Q: That is a really tough question because this might be the most balanced Wisconsin has been in a while. Redshirt senior forwards Ryans Evans (6'6") and Jared Berggren (6'10") are the leading returning scorers at around 11 ppg each. Evans took a huge step forward in his consistency last year, throwing up several double-doubles by the end of the year. He is also a versatile defender. With that said, Berggren is a real weapon because he can stretch the defense with his 3-point shooting. His sneaky athleticism allows him to make plays on big defenders and block a lot of shots.
STL: Which of Virginia's players gives you the most concern?
B5Q: Paul Jesperson. He's from Wisconsin so he's going to shoot the lights out, right? Oh, he only shot 23% on threes as a freshman you say? He'll settle in. Until he does, I'd be worried about facing multiple guards that can dribble penetrate. Josh Gasser is an excellent defender at 6'3" but he can't guard Jontel Evans AND Malcolm Brogdon. Forgive my ignorance, but if Evans is your classic little waterbug speedster, he could be one to watch.