Before the Hoos face the Hokies at 3:30 on the gridiron, the Virginia men’s basketball team goes for the Battle 4 Atlantis title against the Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin defeated Stanford and Oklahoma to reach the finals, while Virginia took down Middle Tennessee State and Dayton. In order to get a better understanding of the Badgers, we chatted with Jake Kocorowski (@JakeKocoB5Q) of Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q).
You can check out my answers to Jake’s questions here.
Streaking the Lawn: A lot of people will cringe when they see Virginia-Wisconsin based on style. What’s your thoughts on matching up with the Hoos again when the last two meetings have been rock fights?
Bucky’s 5th Quarter: We at B5Q are ready for the cringes and sighs and groans from the rest of the nation. However, it should be a great game to conclude a fun tournament, and from Wisconsin’s side, it really will be a litmus test for the Badgers to see if they can match up with a top five team after a disappointing 15-18 season.
We know how both programs operate and why they have been highly successful in recent memory. Even in an off year with some key injuries, UW knocked of a top-10 Purdue squad at home and played much better at the end of last season. Now with a lot of returners, including AP preseason All-American Ethan Happ, and health on their side for now, the Badgers have shown an early potential to do more than just return to the NCAA Tournament.
STL: It’s still early, but what’s your take on the Badgers? Are they outperforming expectations?
B5Q: Watching all five of their games, one can already tell this is a different Wisconsin team from last year. It is healthy, with D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison and Kobe King all at full strength. Trice and King missed all but missed 10 games during the 2017-17 campaign due to season-ending injuries, while Davison played with a recurring shoulder injury and had to learn how to play the point.
Greg Gard’s team is a year more mature and returned over 94 percent of its scoring from a season prior--this after trying to replace four seniors last year from a 2016-17 squad that featured Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown.
Based on their play against Xavier and the two wins in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament so far, I think the expectations are starting to build even further for the program again. The football team’s 7-4 record after the preseason CFP hype is probably helping get people excited more for basketball.
STL: Ethan Happ is one of the players to watch not just in the Big Ten, but in the country. What makes him so good, and what is a weakness the Hoos can try and exploit?
B5Q: I don’t know if I’ll ever cover another player like Happ. He can score. He can pass. He can rebound and play defense. He can post up on the inside, beat you with a seemingly effortless spin more for a basket… OR pass out to someone on the outside for an open shot. This year, he recorded the program’s second triple-double in its history during the season-opener and has had at least a double-double in the rest of the games.
Best bet to guard him is to try to double and triple team when advantageous, though with how Wisconsin is shooting so far this year--especially from three-point range--teams could be in a “pick your poison” situation. I would say if you hack-a-Happ, he only has made nine of 16 free throws (56.3 percent), and he actually shoots better from the field (56.7 percent). He also does not shoot well from three-point range.
STL: Who is a player that Virginia fans should keep an eye on?
B5Q: Trice returned from last season’s injury on a hot streak, averaging 19.2 points per contest while shooting 60.6 percent (20 of 33) from three-point range and 50 percent overall from the field. That included a career-high 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting (7-of-8 from three-point range) in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal win over Oklahoma. I’m not sure if his hot shooting will continue at this successful of a pace, but he is really forming a nice one-two punch with Happ that has helped Wisconsin stay undefeated through five games.
This team also can be deep with contributors, including Davison, King (who I think could have the most NBA potential on the team and had 14 points against the Sooners), and forwards Khalil Iverson and Nate Reuvers.
STL: This Virginia offense is better than years past thanks to guys like Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, and De’Andre Hunter. How confident are you in the Wisconsin defense to slow the Hoos down?
B5Q: Wisconsin will definitely have a challenge on their hands against the No. 4 team in the nation that averages over 77 points per contest. That’s not saying they will not have an opportunity to slow down the Cavaliers, as Gard preaches defense. I think the Badgers have a shot to contain to an extent.
Happ is a great defender, but I think Iverson is the team’s best as he can guard multiple positions. On top of that, Davison is a charge-taking machine on the defensive end, and Reuvers tied a school-record with nine blocks against Stanford on Wednesday.
Virginia comes into the game shooting over 50 percent from the field, so Wisconsin will have to grab rebounds and take advantage of opportunities on both ends of the court to grab their second Battle 4 Atlantis title.
STL: Who ya got!?
B5Q: I think Virginia takes home the title, but if Wisconsin gets hot from the field like they did in the second half against Oklahoma (59.3 percent shooting), it could get really interesting.
With a tough Virginia defense, they will have to be able to pass well and make the shots when they’re open. That, and try to feed Happ and let him work his magic. Defensively, they have to communicate and play the tough defense they’ve shown so far through five games.
Right now, I’ll say Virginia 67, Wisconsin 62. But really, America’s the real winner of this game in seeing how these two programs operate, and all will witness this in the finals of a highly-esteemed national tournament on ESPN.
Huge thanks to Jake and Bucky’s 5th Quarter for giving us the Badger lowdown. Tune in at 2pm on ESPN for the action. GO HOOS!