The Wisconsin Badgers return to JPJ to take on the Hoos tonight for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Wisconsin has fallen a bit from the lofty heights of the Bo Ryan era in the last couple seasons. After finishing no worse than 12th in the KenPom rankings from 2010-2015, they were 38th and 21st in the two years since Ryan retired. This year, they are 31st in the early going. The Badgers are 3-3, with losses against the only three good teams they’ve played (Xavier, Baylor, and UCLA) and wins against three sub-100 teams (South Carolina St., Yale, and Milwaukee).
Wisconsin is led by junior big man Ethan Happ. The 6’10” 235 pounder is a beast inside. He averaged 14 points and nine rebounds last year and is up to 18 points and nine rebounds this season. He’s good on the pick-and-pop, though he’s not a three-point shooter. He’s very strong on the defensive glass, and would likely be better on the offensive glass if he wasn’t taking most of the shots. Jack Salt will match up with Happ, which likely means Happ will spend most of the game looking for shots outside. That would be just fine for the Hoos as it gives them the advantage on the defensive glass. Happ is capable of hitting some outside shots, but that’s preferable to having him inside drawing fouls and controlling the game.
The other two “bigs” for Wisconsin are Andy Van Vliet and freshman Aleem Ford. Van Vliet is Belgian and he’s a 7-foot jump shooter. He can block some shots due to his length, but like Jay Huff he struggles inside against stronger post players. Ford redshirted last year and though he’s started the past two games, he hasn’t scored in either of them, but he did have six rebounds and five assists against Milwaukee on Friday. He’s made just 4-of-14 from behind the arc and he’s turning the ball over far too much.
The backcourt consists of sophomore D’Mitrik Trice and freshman Brad Davison. Trice is a small PG who can shoot it a bit (42%) but can also get to into the lane. He’s actually more of a scoring PG than a passer. Davison can play some point as well, but he’s a deadly shooter. He’s making 48% of his treys early in his career and is the team’s second leading scorer. At 6’3” and 205, he may be too big for Kyle Guy, so Guy may end up on Trice with Jerome on Davison.
On the wing, Devon Hall matches up with Khalil Iverson, Allen Iverson’s cousin. Khalil isn’t the dynamic scorer that his Hall of Fame cousin was, but he’s bigger and stronger. He’s a slasher who has made just 6-of-31 from three in his career, but excels in transition and off the bounce. This is the first year he’s had extended run, since he was playing behind Nigel Hayes previously.
The Badgers still play a similar style to the Hoos, slowing down the game and running their version of the Pack Line. But they lack the strong perimeter defenders that the Hoos have. Against Rhode Island, the outside shots weren’t dropping, so the Hoos went inside with success. That probably won’t work with the size that Wisconsin has on the inside, so the Hoos had better hope Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome can get their perimeter shots to fall again.
In the past, these matchups have been tough to watch, including a dreadful 48-38 game in the last matchup in 2013. Both teams seem to be a bit more offensive-minded this year, so I expect something in the 50s rather than the 40s. But expecting much more than that would be foolish. The Hoos have more depth and possibly more talent. They also have the home court advantage, though these two teams split their last two matchups with each road team winning. Let’s hope that streak ends tonight.
Game tips at 9pm and will be televised on ESPN2.