As long as Tony Bennett remains in Charlottesville, there will be ties between Virginia and Wisconsin. Tony’s father, Dick Bennett, coached all over the state of Wisconsin, but had the most success with the Badgers. In 2000, he led the team to the final four, and then retired during the following season. Current Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan took over for Bennett. Dick returned to coaching a few years later at Washington State, and Tony took over when he retired from that job. Many people believe that Wisconsin is the one job that Tony would leave Charlottesville for.
Wisconsin has been to the NCAA tourney each of the past 14 seasons, including all 12 under Bo Ryan. This year’s team is likely to extend that streak, as they are 8-0 already and currently ranked 8th in the AP Poll. This team, however, is somewhat different from past Badger teams. While they still play tough defense and play at a slow pace, this team can score much more effectively that past squads.
Last year, the Hoos went to Madison and won 60-54 behind 22 points from Joe Harris. The Hoos scored 1.07 points per possession in the game, but held Wisconsin to just .96 ppp. That was the difference in the outcome. Again, this year’s Wisconsin team is far more advanced offensively, while still playing good defense.
While last year’s Wisconsin team finished #1 in the country in defensive efficiency, this year’s team is 37th. Virginia was 24th last year, and is 4th thus far this year. Offensively, the Badgers were 108th last year and sit at 13th this year. The Hoos were 89th last year and are 58th so far this year.
The biggest advantage the Hoos will have in this game is their depth. While the Hoos legitimately go 9 deep and don’t have a single player averaging 27 minutes, Wisconsin’s starting 5 all average over 28 minutes per game and just 3 other players see 10+ minutes per game.
The Badgers lost 3 of their top players from last year’s squad (Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz). Those were the Badgers top 3 rebounders, 2 of the top shot blockers and 2 of the top scorers.
The top returning player is Ben Brust, who led the team in scoring last year. Despite the fact that he’s the team’s 3rd leading scorer right now, he’s the top threat on the team and led them with 15 in last year’s matchup. He shot 38% from 3 last year (and is at 44% this year), so he’ll need to be watched on the perimeter. While he looks like a PG and certainly has the ability to create shots for his teammates, he’s really a scorer. He’ll pose problems for the Hoos, who do not really have an ideal candidate to guard him. He’s quicker than most of the Hoos. The Hoos’ best bet for guarding him might be Justin Anderson, who has the quickness to stay with him and length to bother his shot.
The team’s leading scorer this year is Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky is a 7 footer who played limited minutes last year and averaged just 4 points and 2 boards. He’s averaging 15 points per game this year, but that includes a 43 point barrage against North Dakota. It’s safe to assume that the Hoos will defend him better then North Dakota did. Despite his 7 foot frame, Kaminsky is not an interior player on offense. He’s taken nearly a third of his shots from 3 and he’s shooting 48% from behind the arc. Last year, he shot 31% on 45 attempts. Defensively, Kaminsky is very good shot blocker and could cause problems on dribble drives. He also matches up well with Mike Tobey, who is used to having significant height advantages down low.
Sam Dekker is 2nd on the team in scoring and first in usage rate. As a freshman last year, Decker averaged nearly 10 points and over 3 rebounds per game. This year, he’s up to nearly 15 and over 5. He also shot 39% from 3 last year, and he’s shooting 38% so far this year. He’s also likely to be the main matchup for Joe Harris. He’s really the only player on the team who matches up with Joe in terms of both size and athleticism. Dekker was one of the top recruits in the nation in 2012, and his game is reminiscent of Joe’s.
Josh Gasser returns after missing the entire season last year with a torn ACL. He’s shooting 45% on 3s this year, after shooting about that in 2012. Gasser is actually the most efficient scorer on the team, and has taken fully half of his shots from beyond the 3point line. He’s still getting his legs back under him after the injury, and has been mostly acting as a spot-up 3 point shooter.
The final piece of the Wisconsin starting 5 is PG Traevon Jackson. Jackson is also shooting 45% from 3 (noticing a trend here?) but leads the team in assists by a wide margin. He’s also a very good rebounder from the PG position. He’s a pesky defender and has a knack for poking the ball out. With the problems Malcolm Brogdon has had handling the ball, this is something to watch if Brogdon finds himself playing PG.
The only other player of consequence for the Badgers is freshman Nigel Hayes. Hayes was a top 100 recruit and is the best interior player on the team. He’s averaging just 15 minutes per game, and he’s still learning how to play college ball. He turns the ball over on nearly 25% of his possessions, and he’s been below average when he doesn’t turn it over. This is due largely to his abysmal FT shooting. He’s drawing fouls at a high rate, but shooting just 47% from the charity stripe. He could play a big role in this game because of his interior presence, to help counteract the Hoos frontcourt depth.
Duje Dukan and Bronson Koenig also average around 15 minutes per game. Dukan is a bit of a Sam Dekker-lite, with the ability to knock down the 3 point shot. He’s taken half his shots from 3 point range and made 42% of them. Koenig is a freshman who is a pure PG. He’s seen largely garbage time, but he’s made 5 out 9 treys and 6 out of 9 twos. He’s quick and although he’s inexperienced, he may be called upon if Wisconsin finds themselves in foul trouble.
As you may have noticed, the Badgers feature a lot of 3 point shooters. All 5 starters are legitimate threats from downtown, although Jackson isn’t nearly as dangerous a shooter as the rest. As a team, they are shooting nearly 44%. If that continues, the Hoos are in trouble. It likely won’t continue. But keeping the Badgers from getting open looks outside is the key to the game for the Hoos. Brust is the biggest threat, and the main guy to watch. Dekker may end up leading the Badgers in scoring, largely because of all the attention Brust will draw.
The Hoos are far and away the deeper team. They are also bigger, with 4 starters over 6’5" (Wisconsin likely has just 2 starters over 6’5" as they have been starting 3 guards). Wisconsin rebounds the ball as a team, with all 5 starters averaging about 5 boards per game.
Wisconsin doesn’t give up many offensive boards, but the Hoos have better offensive rebounders than Wisconsin has faced thus far. The Hoos are 2nd in the nation in preventing offensive rebounds, and combined with Wisconsin’s lack of height and likely gameplan means Wisconsin is going to be one-and-done on most of their offensive trips.
The game is going to come down to Wisconsin’s perimeter shooting versus the Hoos interior dominance. If Wisconsin is able to knock down contested 3s, they’ll probably win. If they aren’t, they probably won’t.
Prediction: Hoos 68, Wisconsin 58 with Wisconsin starting out hot from outside, but faltering late due to foul trouble and the Hoos interior game.