Seeing North Dakota on the schedule should bring back pleasant memories for Wisconsin fans. Only two years ago, Frank Kaminsky – a junior at the time – had his coming out party with a school-record 43 points in the 103-85 Wisconsin victory. It is unlikely fans will see a repeat performance from that entertaining night, especially since Wisconsin continues to search for offensive consistency.
North Dakota (1-0) won its first game of the year by 30 points over Minnesota-Morris, but the Badgers will face an opponent who had a losing record last season for the third straight game (UND was 8-22). North Dakota will bring a young team to Madison, as seven of the 15 players on the roster are freshman after the program lost three starters and eight players.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as it strives to win against North Dakota.
Lay up: The play of Vitto Brown
Despite scoring 11 points in the season opener, Brown struggled in his debut defending the post against Western Illinois. That wasn’t the case for Brown on Sunday, doing a much better job defending the low block and holding his ground against defenders. Although held without a steal or a block, Brown collected seven rebounds, six of which came on the defensive glass.
The question is which Brown will show up against North Dakota – the one that helped take pressure off Bronson Koenig in the first half with Nigel Hayes on the bench with foul trouble or the one that looks lost on the floor? Ten of Brown’s career-high 16 points came in the first half as he consistently showed that he was too much for Siena to handle defensively. It is still early in the season, but how Brown closed out the first game and played against Siena show that he could be looked to as the third scoring option this year. The key with Brown is being able to consistently string these types of performances together, something that he has struggled with his first two years.
Despite North Dakota starting a three guard lineup, Brown will likely get challenged by the 6-11 Carson Shanks, a target formerly on associate head coach Greg Gard’s radar. Brown will need to take advantage of his post touches and continue to remain aggressive, like he was against Siena, to try and get Shanks into foul trouble. His early confidence with his mid-range game could also give him a chance to help pull Shanks from out underneath the rim, which can create possible mismatches around the basket that favor Wisconsin. Consistent paint touches is the best way for production and avoiding scoring droughts against North Dakota.
Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin attack the glass?
With a height advantage, Wisconsin has averaged 38 rebounds through two games, a number that can reach against a team that allowed 35.6 rebounds a game last season, 11th in the Big Sky Conference. Winning by an average of 9.5 rebounds per game, Wisconsin’s ability to fight for rebounds has limited second-chance opportunities. Through two games Wisconsin has allowed opponents an average of 9.5 offensive rebounds a game. North Dakota only averaged 8.6 from a season ago.
North Dakota was outrebounded by an average of 3.6 a game, which ranked last in the Big Sky conference, but UND managed 52 rebounds in the season opening win for a plus-15 edge. The key for Wisconsin will be to continue to give itself second-chance opportunities if they miss a shot, as teams averaged 9.6 offensive rebounds last season against North Dakota. One thing North Dakota struggled with last season was defensive rotation, allowing opponents to shoot 46.5 percent from the field.
If Wisconsin can consistently find ways of getting a rebound it should allow an opportunity of either getting an easy put back or allowing them to reset their offense. Through two games Wisconsin has been able to find ways of capitalizing on second chance opportunities, averaging 17 points. Freshman Khalil Iverson and Charlie Thomas, who lead Wisconsin with seven and six offensive rebounds, respectively, have done well off the bench attacking the glass on offense.
3-pointer: Slowing North Dakota’s backcourt down
Siena’s guards were able to have success at times locating the open driving lanes and getting to the hoop. The issues weren’t as prominent compared to in the season opener, and Koenig and Zak Showalter were able to show small improvements in this area, which gives hope they will continue to progress as the season continues.
Wisconsin’s backcourt combination will get another test as they prepare to go up against Cortez Seales and Quinton Hooker, who scored 27 and 12 points, respectively, in the first game. If Wisconsin’s defense plays like it did against Western Illinois, Seales could have a field day attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line. The combination of Koenig and Showalter will need to provide pressure to make the duo uncomfortable. That especially goes for Hooker, who scored in double figures 19 times last season.
Koenig will likely draw the matchup against Hooker, who connected on 44.9 percent of his shots from last season and has the ability to distribute the ball. He had seven assists in the season opener and averaged 4.2 per game last season. UW would be best suited clogging the lane and letting North Dakota shoot from the perimeter, a region where UND shot 33.1 percent from 3-point range last season.
One area where Koenig could find success against Hooker is by supplying good defensive pressure. Koenig is still looking for his first steal of the season but if he can help cut off any passes, especially with Hooker averaging 2.2 turnovers per game last season, it could wind up in the hands of one of his teammates. As is the case in any game, Wisconsin can’t allow playmakers to get comfortable and exploit the driving lanes.