With finals done for the semester, No.5 Wisconsin can turn its focus back on the season after a nine day layoff. Wisconsin’s first game back will be a challenge, putting its 5-0 road record on the road when they face California in the second part of a home-and-home series (UW won by 25 in Madison in 2012).
California (9-1) has played a favorable schedule, only playing two team from the power five conference, beating a then-ranked Syracuse team before they lost to Texas the next day in the 2K Classic Title in Madison Square Garden. Wisconsin has shown they can win on the road, as the Badgers have won 10 consecutive regular season, nonconference games away from the Kohl Center.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as they strive for a fourth win in a row as they prepare to play California for the ninth time in program history.
Lay up: Can Vitto Brown keep it up?
Since not seeing the floor in the 11-point win over Marquette, Brown has stepped up over the last two games averaging eight points, 4.5 rebounds and has been shooting 62.5 percent from the field. Brown has been active around the rim, evident by him attempting eight free throws against Nicholls State, but he has shown that he is capable of hitting the shot from the high block.
Brown has either been able to get to that high block area by either finding the opening on the court or Wisconsin getting Brown open off of a screen. Brown will need to continue that trend as California is a decent defensive team, as the Bears are only giving up an average 59.3 points this season and over 70 points once in a regulation game.
The question with Brown is was his offensive performance in the last two games due to the opponent or has he turned a corner? It could be a product of both but we’ll get a better idea of Brown and where his offensive game stands as the level of competition increases. If Brown can start to show his ability of knocking down a couple shots a game from around the hoop to mid-range, it will give Wisconsin another player with length who can score from anywhere on the court.
Brown will likely be the third player off the bench again and the trio of Duje Dukan, Bronson Koenig, and Brown are averaging 14.9 points off the bench this season. Despite Brown becoming more efficient on offense over the last two games, he has also been effective on the defensive side of the floor, recording a steal in each of the last two games. Brown was somewhat of a question mark coming into this season with what he could do offensively off the bench but has been a nice addition as of late.
Mid-range jumper: Frank Kaminsky vs. California’s frontcourt
Kaminsky will be relied on to try and help get Wisconsin off to a fast start against California. The Bears start three guards and Kaminsky will be facing either the 6-8 Christian Behrens or the 6-10 David Kravish. Kaminsky has been shooting the basketball effectively (averaging 15.4 points a game over the last five games) and has been shooting 51.8 percent from the field.
Kravish could draw the match up on Kaminsky due to his size. If that is the case, Wisconsin will have to try and get the basketball to the low block to get Kaminsky to help open up the scoring and also to try and get Kravish into foul trouble. Kravish has registered four personal fouls in three of the last five games. If Kaminsky can attack Kravish early and force him to the bench with foul trouble, the Bears will lose considerable size from the interior, likely forcing Cal to put 7-0 freshman Kingsley Okoroh, who’s averaging 10.1 minutes a game, to matchup with Kaminsky.
If Kravish continues to get into foul trouble, Kaminsky should be able to find success around the paint when you consider it would be difficult for the 6-8 Behrens to consistently defend him. Kaminsky also has the edge over Okoroh with experience. If California goes to zone, Wisconsin will need to show they can make jump shots to help Kaminsky down low.
Not only would Wisconsin take away some size with Kravish, but the Badgers would take some production off the court, as Kravish is averaging 10.7 points a game and is second in rebounds with 5.8. Kravish has done well in giving the Bears second opportunities - recording 20 offensive rebounds on the season. Kaminsky will need to be able to box him out and make sure he can’t get a put back basket or have the Bears reset on offense. Kaminsky should be able to win his fair share of rebounding battles as he averages 7.6 boards a game.
3-pointer: Can Wisconsin slow down Tyrone Wallace?
Wallace has been able to do it all as he leads the team in scoring (19.5), rebounds (8.9), and assists (4.4). Josh Gasser will likely draw the assignment of defending the 6-5 Wallace, a tall task considering the junior has scored 20 points six times this season and at least 16 points in 10 games. It is clear Wallace knows how to find the hoop, attempting 14.5 shots per game, and he has been an effective shooter by hitting 50.6 percent of his shots from the field.
Gasser will need help making sure Wallace doesn’t have the same success by cutting off driving lanes, trying to force a trap on defense and make him settle for perimeter shots. Although Wallace is shooting 50 percent from 3-point range this year, he shot 28 percent from distance on 232 attempts in his first two years. With the Badgers being such a strong defensive team they will have a chance of slowing Wallace down.
The question with Gasser is will he provide the same defensive presence that he did against Buddy Hield of Oklahoma. Hield entered the championship game averaging 18.2 points but Gasser was able to hold him to nine points. Wallace and Hield are similar in size and Gasser was able to disrupt Hield from finding rhythm from the start. If Gasser can follow the same success plan it should force someone else besides Wallace to beat Wisconsin.
One area where Gasser could have success on defense against Wallace is turnovers. Averaging a team-high 2.7 turnovers a game, Wallace has committed a turnover in 10 of 11 games and three turnovers in four of the last five games.
Wisconsin has shown this season they have the ability of creating turnovers thanks to the length amongst its starters and the top three off the bench, as they are forcing 13.5 turnovers a game. The high number of turnovers has helped the Badgers score an average of 18 points off of opponent miscues. If Gasser can have a hand in creating turnovers, it should lead to more offensive possessions for Wisconsin, which could help them erase a deficit or build their lead over California.