Before the season tipped off, we previewed the Badgers in a general Q&A session with Bucky's 5th Quarter, SB Nation's Wisconsin blog. Now that the ACC/B1G Challenge is upon us, we dive a little deeper. Be sure to drop over to B5Q and check out our answers to their questions too.
STL: Wisconsin has stacked up several nice early-season wins over Florida, St. Louis, St. John's and West Virginia. The only weird thing about those wins is the scores: every Badger opponent has scored at least 53, and North Dakota put up 85 (while still losing by 18; yes, Wisconsin scored over 100). Should we be expecting something different from the fabled tempo-crushing Bo Ryan squads of years past?
B5Q: I think you will be pleasantly surprised to some extent, but it really is all relative. This season Wisconsin simply has much more capable offensive players than it did last season (and in quite some time honestly). Guys like Frank Kaminsky and Josh Gasser are just so efficient. The versatility and balance is a strong point -- anyone in the starting five could go off for a big game. The flip side is there isn't a defensive stopper among the bunch and the group appears a bit soft to the naked eye. Those things allow contribute to a slightly faster pace, but when your starting point is being one of the slowest teams in Division I basketball, the pace will not feel that fast to an outsider. Whether it's the 100-point game or not, I just have this uncomfortable feeling about the Badgers being ranked in the Top 10 this soon.
STL: Sam Dekker had a crazy impressive freshman season last year, albeit in more of a contributing role. So far this year, it seems like he's been asked to be a bit more of The Man, and has responded well. What's the thing that makes his game go? Are there early signs to watch that he could be in for a big night?
B5Q: Dekker came to Madison with a great deal of hype and seemed primed for a huge season, but he's still picking up on how and when to take over a game. He's developed into a killer 3-point shooter (38.8% for his young career)—and the more I watch, the more he seems to hit the one that shifts momentum. With his great court vision, Dekker really excels in the open court with his ability to make the right pass, but also to slither into the right spot on the court to make a play. His weakness right now would be going off the dribble, but he is also has had games with a number of turnovers or trouble finishing at the rim.
I wouldn't really say certain things point to a big night because it can just happen in such a hurry with Sam. A couple turnovers can lead to a fastbreak slam sandwiched in between a pair of treys ... after he's done nothing for 8–10 minutes. Also, watch for Dekker on the baseline; he will kill you there if you give it up.
STL: Ben Brust is the guy who actually scares me the most. I feel like every time I turned on a Wisconsin game last year, Brust was hitting a big shot from about 40 miles deep with 200 hands in his face. Is there a way to take him off his game? If the game is close late, is he the go-to guy or is it someone else?
B5Q: Perception is a funny thing. Brust is a deep sea bomber for sure and I love his energy. He has really grown on me over the last four years, becoming a more complete player, but he's not really a creative force on offense. Some of those threes are still forced, even though they usually go in. Actually, either Dekker, or more likely Trae Jackson, will have the ball in their hands with the game on the line. Jackson has already made a handful of huge shots in his year running the point. He truly has a knack for it.
STL: Do Bo Ryan and Jamie Dixon share hair product? Do you think they had trouble smuggling that much industrial sealant out of a Navy shipyard?
B5Q: As a former MP in the Army, I'm sure Ryan has some sort of hookup to those materials you speak of. I think Dixon is using all the product Bo used to need when he had more hair, so ... maybe? The similarities between the coaches run deeper than Dapper Dan though. Dixon and Ryan have each had one Elite Eight run but otherwise only mediocre tournament success. Secondly, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh have typically had stout defenses, yet very underrated offenses respected by advanced metrics. And each guy is wildly successful despite only rarely having any NBA talent on his roster.
STL: Wisconsin is 6-8 all-time in the ACC/B1G Challenge. The Badgers only road win was 2008 in Blacksburg. In last year's matchup, Virginia led almost coast-to-coast, and took advantage of a few long Badger dry spells to pull away in the second half. What do you expect from this year? End of the day, who ya got?
B5Q: It's really tough. The most important thing in basketball is being able to make shots and the Badgers can do that. If Dekker's bounceback double-double against West Virginia is a sign of him becoming what we all expected, then I will be wrong about Wisconsin being overrated. But I don't have enough evidence yet on that front. So I'm picking Virginia because of the home court advantage. The Cavs' utter dominance last year showed me they have a toughness about them that I'm not sure this UW team has yet.
So there you have it, Hoos fans. Thanks to Phil from B5Q for taking time to answer our questions again. Come out to get JPJ rocking tonight! If you can't make it to Charlottesville, tune into ESPN2 at 7 PM.