Editor's Note: This story was written and posted prior to the knowledge that Frank Kaminsky (concussion-like symptoms) is questionable for tomorrow night's game. This topic will be further addressed in our game breakdown Sunday.
Three games into Big Ten play and Wisconsin is the lone undefeated team in the conference. It would be a surprise if that record doesn’t go to 4-0 Sunday when the Badgers head to Piscataway, N.J>, to take on Rutgers.
Playing the Scarlet Knights for the first time since completing a home-and-home series in 2004, Rutgers (9-7, 1-2) registered a home win over Penn State but suffered a home loss to Northwestern and lost at Nebraska Thursday. Wisconsin is a perfect 4-0 in true road games this season.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as they strive for a ninth straight win and its first career Big Ten victory over Rutgers.
Lay up: Wisconsin bench bounce back
The trio of Duje Dukan, Bronson Koenig, and Vitto Brown failed to score a single point in the win over Purdue for the first time this season, resulting in the Wisconsin starters needing to do the heavy lifting. Wisconsin survived the dog fight against Purdue, but that can’t consistently happen going forward in Big Ten play.
It wasn’t just that the bench failed to score against Purdue, but they were also ineffective in providing assists for made field goals and turning the basketball over. Dukan and Koenig are key in making sure the bench doesn’t have a repeat performance.
It was the first time this season Dukan failed to score, surprising considering he has proved to be a consistent scorer this year and he should find a way to turn things around on offense. Dukan’s offensive success is predicated on his ability to create space to get open, giving him the chance of making a three. Dukan is averaging five field goal attempts a game but three of the five on average come from beyond the arc (there’s been only one game this season he hasn’t attempted a 3-pointer). Rutgers’ opponents have been able to make on average 6.2 three attempts a game on 30.2 percent from three.
Koenig has been good at taking care of the basketball only committing seven turnovers to 33 assists this season. The sophomore will have to be ready for a Rutgers defense forcing 12.9 turnovers a game, but he has proven that he has the ability to effectively run the offense, regardless of what kind of defense is pressed on him.
It is just one game, Dukan and Koenig have shown that they can be both effective on the offensive side of the floor and defensively.
Mid-range jumper: 40 minute game
Wisconsin has been able to figure out how to overcome slow starts to eventually take control of games. A slow start could spell some trouble against Rutgers, which has shown to be tough on defense. Allowing 60.5 points per game, good for sixth in the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights have been even better in conference play, holding their first three opponents to only 54 points.
With only two starters - Kadeem Jack and Greg Lewis – at 6-9, Wisconsin will have the height advantage over Rutgers, and Frank Kaminsky, who is four points shy of reaching 1,000 in his career, should be able to find ways to score on either one of them. Rutgers does have a 6-11 freshman in Shaquille Doorson, but he only averages 1.7 points a game in 9.3 minutes of work. If Kaminsky can take advantage of the height advantage down low, he could help Wisconsin take control of the game early.
In order to sustain success and make sure Rutgers doesn’t hang around, Wisconsin will need to consistently make shots around the perimeter in order to take some pressure off of Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes down low. Making a handful of jump shots will draw some defenders away from the rim, playing right into the hands of a UW team that uses its size and length to average 30.8 of their 74.2 points in the paint.
3-pointer: Strong defensive performance
Although Rutgers has shown to be tough on defense, the Badgers are no slouches themselves, leading the Big Ten in scoring defense only allowing 54.1 points a game. After giving up 72 points to a hot-shooting Penn State, UW has regrouped to give up only 55.5 points the last two games. The strong scoring defense has a good chance of continue considering Rutgers ranks last in scoring offense (58.2 points a game) and are last in field goal percentage (38.1 percent).
Josh Gasser will defend Myles Mack (13.3 ppg), who has reached double figures in five of the last six games this season. Mack (pictured above) has only failed to score in double digits four times this season as he is shooting 40.2 percent from the field. Hayes and Kaminsky will likely switch off on Jack (12.1 ppg), who will either play power forward or center when he’s on the floor, is shooting 37.5 percent from the field.
Wisconsin’s length should prevent Rutgers from consistently scoring in the paint. If Hayes and Kaminsky can take away Jack’s low-post presence, it will force Rutgers for settling for shots from mid-range and out. Rutgers’ 3-point field goal percentage is last in the Big Ten (28.8 percent). The Scarlet Knights also are coming off a 19-turnover performance in a loss at Nebraska Thursday.
If Wisconsin can continue playing its brand a defense, it should lead to transition opportunities and minimal penetration into the lead, which should lead to the Badgers winning the rebounding battle.