Breakdown: Northern Kentucky at Wisconsin

Getting ready to raise its Final Four banner and tip off the 2014-15 season, No.3 Wisconsin hosts Northern Kentucky tonight at the Kohl Center. BadgerNation looks at the matchup.

Northern Kentucky (9-21, 5-13 Atlantic Sun in 13-14) vs. No.3 Wisconsin (30-8, 12-6 Big Ten in 13-14)

Date/Time -Friday, November 14, 8 p.m. Central

Arena –Kohl Center (17,279)

Television -Big Ten Network (Brian Andersen and Stephen Bardo)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – First Meeting

Wisconsin Probable Starters (points per game from last season)

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 7.7 ppg)

12 Traevon Jackson (6-3 Senior Guard, 10.7 ppg)

15 Sam Dekker (6-9 Junior Forward, 12.4 ppg)

21 Josh Gasser (6-4 Senior Guard, 8.8 ppg)

44 Frank Kaminsky (7-0 Senior Forward, 13.9 ppg)

Off the Bench

3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Sophomore Guard, DNP)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Sophomore Guard, 3.5 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Sophomore Guard, 0.4 ppg)

Northern Kentucky Probable Starters

11 Jordan Jackson (6-2 Senior Guard, 13.5 ppg)

13 Daniel Camps (6-5 Sophomore Forward, 6.1 ppg)

21 Jalen Billups (6-6 Junior Forward, 9.6 ppg)

23 Todd Johnson (5-9 Junior Guard, 8.7 ppg)

25 Cole Murray (6-7 Sophomore Forward, 5.7 ppg)

Off the Bench

10 Tyler White (6-3 Junior Guard, 10.8 ppg)

20 Jake Giesler (6-7 Junior Forward, 4.2 ppg)

33 Anthony Monaco (6-4 Junior Guard, 3.1 ppg)

Last Time Out

ARLINGTON, Texas - A little softer bounce off the glass wouldn’t have caused the tears to run down the cheeks of so many players inside the University of Wisconsin locker room. A better bounce here or there over the final three minutes would have meant the Badgers would be playing for their first national title in 73 years.

The end to the magical ride was going to come this weekend regardless for Wisconsin, but the Badgers just assumed it would have ended better than this. In reality, any other scenario would have been better than the one they had to endure.

In a game where neither team led by more than nine points and the second half resembled more of a heavyweight title fight than the national semifinals, Wisconsin’s final six seconds saw them endure Aaron Harrison’s game-winning 3-pointer and Traevon Jackson’s potential winner bounce away, recipe for the 74-73 heartbreaker to No.8 Kentucky they were coping with as they sulked to the locker room, away from the NCAA-record 79,444 fans at AT&T Stadium that had witnessed a classic.

“You’re agonizing close to making history, and then it’s over,” said assistant coach Gary Close. “It will hurt for awhile.”

Wisconsin (30-8) was in prime position to be representatives of the right side of the bracket, had Jackson hit the same kind of shot he has been known to make throughout his entire career. The stage was set for him because of Aaron Harrison – one of Kentucky’s five freshmen starters – hitting a deep 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left.

It was a dagger, considering Jackson went 2-for-3 from the foul line seconds earlier – the only free-throw miss on 20 attempts for UW – and Josh Gasser, Wisconsin’s best defensive player, was right there defending.

“Obviously it was a huge dagger,” said Duje Dukan, who scored eight points off the bench in the second half to reinvigorate UW. “It’s a blow to your confidence and everything. When you are working so hard, you’re up two and really the game is in your hands, you just have to play solid defense. The kid hit a hell of a shot.”

“It looked like he was going to drive it,” added a red-eyed Gasser, “kind of pulled it right in the face and made a tough shot.”

Driving up the floor with time ticking down, Jackson got the separation he wanted from Aaron Harrison but his attempt off the glass was a touch too hard, bouncing off the right side of the rim and toward the court as the horn sounded and the Wildcats’ dog piled at center court.

- Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Series Notes

Wisconsin has only played one game against a team from the Atlantic Sun Conference, an 85-31 win over Kennesaw State on Nov. 12, 2011.

Northern Kentucky is 0-2 against Big Ten teams but 2-0 against teams from the WIAC, having beaten UW-La Crosse and UW-Stevens Point.

Wisconsin Notes

The Badgers return seven of their top eight scorers from last year’s team that finished 30-8 and advanced to the 2014 Final Four. UW loses only guard Ben Brust (12.9 ppg), but brings back 81.9 percent of its minutes played, 81.9 percent of its scoring, 85.9 percent of its rebounding and 89.1 percent of its assists.

UW has won 16 consecutive home openers dating back to 1998-99. Last season the Badgers topped No. 11 Florida, 59-53, in their first game at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin’s last loss in the home opener was a 65-60 loss to Marquette on Nov. 14, 1997 in the UW Field House.

The Badgers haven’t lost a regular-season opener since dropping a 74-69 decision at UNLV in Ryan’s debut on Nov. 17, 2001.

The Badgers have four players who could all reach the 1,000-point milestone in the 2014-15 season. If Josh Gasser (810), Sam Dekker (807), Frank Kaminsky (726) and Traevon Jackson (668) match their production from last season, each would eclipse 1,000 career points.

Wisconsin will enter the season with its highest-ever preseason ranking, checking in at No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and No. 4 in the Coaches Poll. UW has only opened the season in AP top-10 on two occasions: No. 9 in 2006 and No. 10 in 1962.

Northern Kentucky Notes

Northern Kentucky returns all but one player from last year’s team, returning 13 of 14 players.

The Norse return their top six scorers from a season ago return, including Jordan Jackson (13.5 ppg), Tyler White (10.8 ppg), Jalen Billups (9.6 ppg), Todd Johnson (8.7 ppg), Daniel Camps (6.1 ppg) and Cole Murray (5.7 ppg).

NKU returns 94.1 percent (5,718-of-6,075) of the minutes played, 93.8 percent (1,917-of-2,044) of points scored, 96.3 percent (905-of-940) of rebounds and 97.3 percent (325-of-334) of the team’s assists return for the 2014-15 season.

The Norse attempted 654 3-pointers per game last season, making 228 (34.9 percent) in 30 games.

Prediction

Sitting down with Wisconsin assistant coach Gary Close at the team’s media day last month, Close pointed to the roster and rattled off three different lineup combinations the Badgers could trot out at any point this year and be a stellar unit.

Wisconsin can go big with Dekker, Hayes and Kaminsky at the three, four and five, respectively. The Badgers can go small with Jackson, Koenig and Gasser at guard, or the Badgers could mix both groups together, pull five guys out of a hat and watch them flow effortless on the court.

“We’ve got options,” said Close, “and that’s good.”

Here lies a really good problem to have for a team that returns a lot of depth and experience from a Final Four run seven months ago.

Oh, and don’t forget about Showalter, who redshirted last season because of the overwhelming guard depth at the position, has gotten stronger in the weight program and has a bigger hunger now to play than he did two years ago.

“People always de-credit Coach Ryan’s recruiting, saying he doesn’t recruit the right guys, but if you look at our team now, we could be the best in the country at every position,” said Showalter. “That sounds pretty dangerous. Trae is one of the top guards in the country; Josh is everything you want in a two guard; Sam’s a freak at the three; Frank’s a freak at the five and Nigel is going to be up in that category too.”

Offensively Wisconsin is going to be fine (how could they not be?), but Close pointed to Ryan’s calling card – defense and rebounding – as the two areas that will allow this team to achieve a higher level of success than they did a season ago.

“Those were areas that were a little bit inconsistent at times last year,” said Close. “Offensively we’ve got some weapons, and we should be able to score some points. There are some nights where we might not score as many, but there’s where your defense is going to be important.”

Wisconsin is going to find out a lot of things about itself over the next eight days. Not only do the Badgers play twice in a little over 36 hours, they host a Green Bay team picked to win the Horizon League Wednesday and a Boise State team picked second in the Mountain West next Saturday.

“We’ll learn a lot in a week of where we are and what we need to work on,” said Close. “We’ll play a lot of different styles, so that will be good. Hopefully we can get through it and improve.”

The Norse was a dominant Division 2 program and is in their third season transitioning to Division 1. They are similar in a lot of ways to Wisconsin with their ball movement, rarely forcing a bad shot and making teams play defense. NKU also plays fundamentally sound and aren’t intimated of big environments, as this group of 13 returning players played at Purdue, Kentucky and North Carolina last season.

Upset in the making? C’mon. Wisconsin – the unanimous pick to win the Big Ten – should have no trouble taking care of a team picked fifth in the Atlantic Sun.

Hoping to get my predictions off to a good start, I’ve got Wisconsin by 33.

Worgull's 13-14 Record: 26-12

Points off Prediction: 350 (9.2 per game)


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