For a second consecutive game, Wisconsin will face an opponent with a losing record when they play Nicholls State Saturday in Madison. Nicholls State (1-4) has played a difficult schedule, facing three teams from power five conferences (UCLA, Wake Forest, Michigan) losing to them by an average of 29.6 points.
Nicholls State has also only played one game at home, a December 6 win over Loyola New Orleans, meaning the Colonels should be comfortable playing in an environment like Wisconsin when they walk into the Kohl Center.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for No.5 Wisconsin as they strive for its third win in a row as they prepare to play Nicholls State for the first time in program history.
Lay up: Repeat Performances
It was the game Wisconsin fans have been looking for from Sam Dekker, as the junior appeared to return to form by scoring 15 of his 17 points in the first half against Milwaukee. The question with Dekker is can it continue and can he show that his ankle injury is behind him. There should be a good chance for Dekker considering the Colonels don’t seem to have a player who can match his athleticism or defend him. Sam McBeath will likely defend Dekker and can match up well with Dekker’s height, but he may struggle to stay in front if Dekker decides to attack the basket.
Dekker needs to come out aggressive like he did against Milwaukee, looking to find his shot by either driving to the hoop or settling for jump shots. McBeath doesn’t appear to be much of a defensive threat, as he only averages one steal a game.
Outside of Dekker returning to form, the Badgers bench was able to give the starters a nice lift against Milwaukee, going 13-for-23 (56 percent) from the field as they scored 31 points, a season high. Duje Dukan has looked good so far and Bronson Koenig seems to be becoming more aggressive in trying to find his shot, as he has been averaging 6.2 shot attempts over the last five games. It is good to see Koenig try and be more aggressive on offense as he can hit from the mid-range.
It has helped that Koenig can fill in for either Josh Gasser or Traevon Jackson if either are struggling to shoot from the floor. Koenig continues to show that he can find open teammates, as he recorded at least two assists in each game, and continues to take care of the basketball, going turnover free in five games and has yet to record multiple turnovers in a game.
Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin cause havoc on defense?
Wisconsin’s defense continues to play well through 10 games and should frustrate a Nicholls State team averaging 15 turnovers a game. The Badgers have been able to play smart defense without fouling and are forcing their opponents into 12.6 turnovers a game, with half of those turnovers coming off of steals (5.8). Three players for Nicholls State are averaging two or more turnovers a game but guard Richie Lewis averages a team high 2.6 turnovers. Lewis had a season high five turnovers against Loyola New Orleans. With Gasser likely drawing the assignment of covering Lewis, the UW senior’s defensive ability should allow him to find ways in slowing Lewis down (6.4 points a game) and making sure he can’t get off a pass without much pressure.
A plethora of turnovers can help Wisconsin get the basketball out in transition to possibly to some easy points and the chance to help build a lead at the beginning of the game. Wisconsin has done well in converting mistakes into points, as they have averaged 17.7 points a game off of turnovers, only failed once to get in double digits in points off of team turnovers this year.
Nicholls State averaged 15.3 turnovers in its three power-five conference games, including a season-high 18 at Wake Forest. An early UW lead could force the Colonels into rushed possessions or ill-advised passes. Four of the five starters for Wisconsin average more than a steal a game, and the UW guards have done well in cutting off passing lanes. With Wisconsin consistently being alert on defense and having the length over Nicholls State that once again could be the case.
3-pointer: Being the aggressor
Wisconsin could have the same success like they did against the Panthers in the paint, which in turned open up shots from the perimeter. Wisconsin has shown to be an efficient team from the field, shooting above 50 percent five times this year. When Wisconsin shoots better than 45 percent from the field, they are 204-18 under Bo Ryan.
Good ball movement around the perimeter should open up perimeter opportunities and wear down the Colonels defense by forcing them to play deep into possessions by Wisconsin, possibly opening another opportunity in the low post. It also won’t help the Colonels if Wisconsin can consistently grab an offensive rebound, giving the Badgers a second chance.
Frank Kaminsky should be able to beat Liam Thomas around the hoop if he can position himself well around the hoop. Kaminsky, like always, can stretch the floor if need be by looking for a shot from the perimeter in order to help open up his post game even more around the hoop. Kaminsky has shot above 40 percent from the field over the last four games and better than 50 percent in three of those games.
Over the last two games Wisconsin has only attempted nine free throws. Prior to that the Badgers were able to get to the free throw line at least 20 or more times in six of eight games. Nicholls State on average is sending opponents to the free throw line 14.4 times a game, meaning the Badgers should have plenty of chances tomorrow. The key being can Wisconsin make its free throws as they are shooting 70.9 percent as a team while attempting 18.2 free throws a game. If that trend can continue, it should help Wisconsin build an early lead and help put the game out of reach.