Finally we have a game to talk about.
One of the most anticipated seasons in Wisconsin basketball history kicks off this weekend with the Badgers playing a pair of games, starting with Northern Kentucky on Friday and UT-Chattanooga Sunday.
There will be plenty to talk about by the time the weekend is over with two games in less than 48 hours, a small sample size to allow fans to get a gauge on what kind of team Wisconsin is.
Still transitioning into Division 1, Northern Kentucky finished 9-21 in its second year in the Atlantic Sun Conference, including losing to No.1 Kentucky and No.19 North Carolina by an average of 22.5 points. The Norse also faced a Big Ten team a year ago Purdue, losing to the Boilermakers by one in Mackey Arena in the season opener.
Chattanooga finished 18-15 last season and lost its only matchup against a ranked team (41 points to UCLA). They lost to Northern Kentucky 87-71 at home in the nonconference season.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin to have success as Wisconsin opens up the season.
Lay up: How will Vitto Brown play?
With redshirt senior Duje Dukan having to sit out the first two games, it will allow Brown to receive more minutes and create a role for himself in the rotation. Brown shined during the Red/White scrimmage and was effective in his 14 minutes off the bench against Parkside scoring four points on 2-for-4 shooting.
Brown will be the first big off the bench for Wisconsin and will likely get meaningful minutes. Although Northern Kentucky and Chattanooga may be overmatched by Wisconsin, Brown could have a chance to be a key contributor off the bench. Brown may not necessarily score in double digits in either game, but he could have a chance to draw plenty of fouls thanks to his length.
Converting free throws is a must for him to stay on the court. Brown didn’t see a lot of significant action (44 minutes played) but went 0-for-3 from the line. Brown should also be able to use his length on the defensive end helping either block a shot or helping cut off passing lanes.
If he decides not to redshirt, freshman Ethan Happ could possibly take some minutes away from Brown in the first two games, must like they did against Parkside. It appears Brown is currently ahead of Happ in the rotation and Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan wanting to get his rotation set, Brown’s experience gives him a leg up and a chance to be an impact player in the long run for Wisconsin.
Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin start quick?
No one is questioning that Wisconsin is the better team compared to Northern Kentucky and Chattanooga but it will be a chance for Wisconsin to show how dominant they can be from start to finish. Although Wisconsin won by 37 over Parkside, the Badgers weren’t as crisp as they could have been, allowing the Rangers to get off some uncontested shots at the defensive end.
Even though that changed in the second half, only allowing Parkside to 10 second half points on 3-for-25 shooting, Wisconsin needs to bring that sort of effort more consistently in its first two games. Regardless of who the opponent is, the players should know that a mistake on defense or offense will result in a seat on the bench at the next whistle.
A successful rebounding effort will help Wisconsin be productive early. Neither Northern Kentucky nor Chattanooga have a lot of size on their roster. Northern Kentucky has no player taller than 6-7 and Chattanooga tallest player, Justin Tuoyo, is listed at 6-10. All of Wisconsin’s bigs should have success around the rim. Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes should be able to pull their defender out away from the hoop, allowing them the ability to find space to drive to the hoop or hit a mid-range shot.
If Wisconsin can play the similar type of defense they did in the second half against Parkside, they should be able to pull away and allow everyone on the team a chance to play.
3-pointer: Defensive Success against guards and bigs
Northern Kentucky biggest strength is its guard play and Chattanooga biggest strength is its frontcourt, creating two opposite approaches this weekend for Wisconsin.Northern Kentucky senior guard Jordan Jackson averaged 13.5 points a game last year and finished second on the team in rebounds (5.0). Senior Josh Gasser will likely draw the matchup against Jackson and will need to try and limit his opportunities on the offensive end. Jackson appears to be the only legitimate threat offensively for the Norse, as he scored in double digits in 21 of 28 games last year, including a 24-point outing against Purdue.
Jackson has the ability to get to the free throw line (seven attempts a game last season) but with a challenge with Gasser in man coverage and Kaminsky or Hayes waiting for him around the hoop.
With Kaminsky being relied on to prevent Jackson from getting to the rim, he will also be expected to protect the paint against Chattanooga, which has a lot more size on the interior than the Norse. Kaminsky will be in charge of defending Tuoyo, a transfer from Virginia Commonwealth who appeared in 25 games, averaged 7.4 minutes and 1.2 points a game two years ago. Although Tuoyo isn’t much of an offensive threat, he is an asset on the defensive end, averaging 0.44 blocks per game at VCU. Tuoyo will be able to match up with Kaminsky’s size but Kaminsky’s game on offense should be too advanced for Tuoyo, especially with the Wisconsin senior’s size and array of low post moves.Hayes will likely matchup with Lance Stokes, who like Tuoyo is more known for his defense then offense. Even though Stokes averaged 3.9 points a game, he shot 51 percent from the floor last season. With Hayes having developed his game to the 3-point line this season, he should have success and be able to beat Stokes in whatever way he wants, potentially causing fouls, free throws and 3-point play opportunities.