Wisconsin looks to bounce back against Siena in the first game of the 2K Classic

Before No.17 Wisconsin takes on Siena at the Kohl Center Sunday night, Badger Nation looks at the three burning questions we're looking to have answered.

Wisconsin has no time to lament about its season-opening home loss to Western Illinois, which is probably the only good news that came out of Friday night’s defeat, as they prepare to play Siena Sunday night. Even though Siena struggled mightily last season, posting a record of 11-20, Wisconsin fans now know there is no guaranteed victory on the schedule.

Siena also played on Friday night and were handled in Durham, N.C., by Duke, dropping a 92-74 decision. Siena won’t be fazed by the Kohl Center, meaning Wisconsin will need to come out with a stronger start to assert its dominance. If they let Siena hang around, the Saints are more than capable of pulling an upset.

In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as it strives to win against Siena, as the two programs meet for the first time in program history.

Lay up: Working for the best shot

With the new 30-second shot clock being implemented into college basketball, Wisconsin’s offense will need to work a little quicker than they have in the past. While the five fewer seconds didn’t seem to be a factor for the Badgers Friday, there were many possessions, especially in the second half, where Wisconsin rushed shots instead of working the shot clock.

It’s believed the Badgers will have some good looks on offense, as the Saints ranked 11th last year in the MAAC in scoring defense (73.8 per game). However, as we all saw on Friday night, Wisconsin’s youthful roster will go through offensive droughts, like the one that lasted over eight minutes that allowed Western Illinois to take advantage.

Siena allowed teams to shoot 45.2 percent from the field and 36.2 percent from 3-point range last season, but that might not matter if Wisconsin can’t solve its offensive woes. Wisconsin had chances of breaking the scoring drought had that settled into their offense, got some shots to fall and converted the multiple chances they were given at the free throw line.

Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes did some good things in the opener but need to be more consistent offensively and more vocal from a leadership standpoint. Hayes disappeared in the second half Friday, going 0-for-5 from the field and not attempting a shot over the last eight minutes.  On the flip side, Koenig managed only five points in 17 first-half minutes.

With inexperience around them, UW needs its two best weapons to play like it. If they can, the question becomes can the three new starters and the bench be able to get into a rhythm and help take pressure off them?

Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin protect the basketball on offense?

One of the only good things to come out of Wisconsin’s opener was that this Badgers’ team understands the value of taking care of the basketball to create extra possessions. UW committed only four turnovers in the opener and Koenig, who had a 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio (98-33) last year, didn’t have a miscue.

Despite how poor Siena was last year in terms of team defense in scoring and defensive field goal percentage, they found ways to create 14.2 miscues a game. In particular Siena was good at coming up with steals, averaging 7.5 steals a contest that ranked second in the MAAC and 46th in the NCAA.

Marquis Wright returns to the team after averaging two steals a contest so Koenig will need to be aware of where he is on the floor at all times to prevent easy transition opportunities. Koenig’s experience and savviness with the ball shouldn’t allow the 6-0 Wright to bother him to much as he tries to set Wisconsin up for success on each offensive possession.

When Koenig needs a break (he played 37 minutes on Friday), it will be interesting to see how Zak Showalter, Khalil Iverson or Jordan Hill do when they have the ball in their hands and are being defended by Wright. Neither of the three should be the primary point guard, especially if it’s another close game on Sunday, but the backcourt will need to return a similar result of ball security, whether Koenig is on the floor or not.

Siena getting extra offensive possessions will hurt Wisconsin’s defense, especially after how poor the defense played on Friday.

3-pointer: Defending Siena’s big three

Siena will have to replace its top scoring threat Rob Poole (14 ppg) but Wright (12.5 ppg) will be expected to take on a larger scoring role this coming season. Although Wright won’t have Poole to rely on, he will be able to look to the 6-7 Lavon Long (10.4 ppg) or 6-8 Javion Ogunyemi (9.3 ppg) to help provide the Saints with a scoring punch. The three combined to score 50 of Siena’s 74 points in the loss to Duke.

Wisconsin faced a talented scorer in Garret Covington and held him in check for about 26 minutes before he started to take over. It is safe to say UW’s defense will be looking for redemption as they try and slow Wright, Long and Ogunyemi down.

It will be a challenge considering how poor the communication was on defense at times, so it will be interesting to see how quickly Bo Ryan and the rest of the coaching staff can get that patched up. Koenig will likely draw the responsibility of defending Wright, meaning he’ll have to cut off driving lanes and the ability to create for Long and Ogunyemi, who both scored 15 points against Duke. Wright averaged 5.1 assists a season ago, which tied for first in the MAAC, and had five assists to three turnovers Friday. If Koenig can find a way to play Wright tough on defense, it should hopefully help prevent things from opening up so easily for Siena’s offense.

When either Long or Ogunyemi get post touches, Wisconsin’s frontcourt will need to make sure they just can’t pivot or spin and get to the basket. That especially goes for Vitto Brown, who will need to do a much better job of defending the post after looking like a turnstile at points and at other times getting backed down and beaten with post moves. Ogunyemi shot 54.6 percent from the field last year on an average of seven attempts.

Defending the low post is only half the battle, as Siena shot 43.8 percent (7-for-16) from 3-point range two days ago. UW needs to do a better job of protecting the paint and consistently contesting shots, needing to rely on its length to hopefully make life a little more difficult.

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