Each year Wisconsin participates in one of the many nonconference holiday tournaments and have taken home titles in two of the last three years (Cancun Challenge in 2013, the Chicago Invitational in 2011). While those two tournaments have provided a varying degree of challenges, neither will likely boast the level of competition that the Battle 4 Atlantis will provide, as Wisconsin could possibly face two ranked teams over the three day tournament (November 26-November 28).
Wisconsin – up to No.2 in the latest AP poll - starts the tournament by playing Alabama Birmingham (2-2) and will play either No.16 Florida (2-1) for the third year in a row or Georgetown (3-0) Thanksgiving. Win or lose Thursday, Wisconsin’s final opponent will be No.5 North Carolina, No.22 UCLA, No.26 Oklahoma or Butler.
Even though there is plenty of talent, Badgers coach Bo Ryan helped guide the Badgers to an 8-2 record over top 25 opponents a year ago and has to be feeling where his program is after four blowouts to start the season. In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as they enter the Battle 4 Atlantis in Nassau, Bahamas.
Dekker was averaging 17.3 points a game through the first three but scored a season-low four points on four shots against Boise State. Wisconsin didn’t need his scoring, as Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes did enough damage in the low post to beat Green Bay, but UW will need Dekker to be productive offensively to have success in the Bahamas.
In order for Dekker to start the tournament off on the right foot, he’ll have to be able to create offense for himself against UAB. The Blazers will most likely have Tosin Mehinti defending Dekker during the game, and Mehinti has shown to be a solid defender with his length, as he has at least one steal in three of UAB’s four games and is averaging two blocks a game. Dekker will need to be aware of where he is on defense so he can get a clean shot off on offense.
After UAB, both Florida and Georgetown have the length to alter shots, which will force Dekker to remain the same aggressive player he’s been this season, which has led to buckets driving to the hoop and running the floor in transition.
Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin continue its shooting streak?
Wisconsin has shot over 50 percent from the field the last three games by demonstrating good ball movement - passing up good shots for great ones – and utilizing its size advantage in mismatches. In order to win three games in three days against better competition, Wisconsin will need to stick to the same blueprint, even during times when shots might not be falling.
Wisconsin should be able to find success on offense against UAB (allowing 69.5 points a game) if the Badgers continue to showcase balance, which has helped them average 78.2 points through their four games. After its opening round game, Wisconsin’s offense will need to be crisp against a short-handed Florida team that has limited opponents to just 56.7 points per game.
Part of the reason for Wisconsin’s offensive success has been the willing to touch the low post on possessions. Quality opponents who will be able to match up with UW’s length is inevitable in Big Ten play, so the Badgers willingness to feed the ball to Hayes and Kaminsky is a must to help establish the rest of the offense.
If Wisconsin can establish the post it will start with Kaminsky and Hayes, who are scoring 19.3 and 15.3 points per game, respectively, both are aggressive enough around the hoop to create offense and draw fouls. If the Badgers’ opponents double team either player, both are good enough passers to get the basketball to an open teammate, athletic enough to drive the hoop and versatile enough to knock down a shot from the perimeter.
But in order to take pressure off of Dekker, Hayes, and Kaminsky around the hoop Wisconsin will have to be able to knock down perimeter shots. Wisconsin is only shooting 35.4 percent from 3-point range with Josh Gasser shooting a team-high 60 percent (6-for-10) from three. If Wisconsin can knock down the 3-pointer consistently, they should balance the offense, which will be difficult for any defense to defend Wisconsin.
3-pointer: How will Wisconsin handle three games in three days?
Wisconsin traveled to the Bahamas Monday to start adjusting to the new environment (and get the heck out of this snowstorm). The Badgers have already played four games in a nine-day span to begin the season. Throw in a long day of travel, Wisconsin could battle fatigued as the tournament progresses.
Ryan is 16-7 at Wisconsin in nonconference holiday tournaments, his lowest finish being fourth in the Big Island Invitational in 2001 (his first season). That experience suggests Ryan will be smart with how he spreads the minutes amongst his starters and bench.
Wisconsin should receive good production from its starters but will need some punch from its bench. The Badgers bench has averaged 13.5 points this season, and it appears that Duje Dukan and Bronson Koenig are starting to find a rhythm on offense.
If Wisconsin can start fast and control the game against UAB, Ryan will be able to allow his starters to player lighter minutes in the opening round game. If Wisconsin plays Florida Thursday, the Gators could be without guard Eli Carter or Dorian Finney-Smith due to injuries. If the Gators survive Georgetown, Florida could possibly be the more tired team, possibly allowing another opportunity for Wisconsin and Ryan to split up the minutes without having to play anyone for too long.
If the Badgers draw Georgetown, Wisconsin could be in for a battle. The Hoyas have a talented big in Joshua Smith who would be able to bang with Kaminsky. Smith leads the Hoyas with 17.3 points a game and is second on the team in rebounds (8.3). If Kaminsky has to consistently bang to try and get position around the hoop on both ends of the floor, the senior easily could get worn down for Friday’s finale.
Not only will Kaminsky and Hayes have to be ready for the physicality against Georgetown, the Badgers guards will have to protect the basketball. The Hoyas are forcing their opponent into 14.3 turnovers a game, 7.7, which come off of steals, meaning Gasser and Traevon Jackson will need to make smart decisions with the basketball.