Wisconsin (2-2, 0-0 Big Ten) vs. Virginia Commonwealth (2-1, 0-0 Atlantic 10)
Date/Time – Sunday, November 22, 2:30 p.m. central
Arena – Madison Square Garden (19,812)
Television – ESPN2 (Dave O’Brien and Seth Greenburg)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Mike Heller and Patrick Herb)
Series – First Meeting
WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS
3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Junior Guard, 8.3 ppg)
10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Junior Forward, 16.0 ppg)
22 Ethan Happ (6-9 Freshman Forward, 10.3 ppg)
24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Junior Guard, 16.5 ppg)
30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Junior Forward, 12.0 ppg)
OFF THE BENCH
21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Freshman Forward, 3.3 ppg)
24 Alex Illikainen (6-9 Freshman Forward, 3.7 ppg)
30 Charlie Thomas (6-8 Freshman Forward, 3.3 ppg)
PLAYER TO WATCH
Hayes shook out of a somewhat early season shooting funk in the semifinals against Georgetown. Hayes scored a game-high 22 points, adding 4 rebounds and 2 steals. On the season, the preseason All-Big Ten selection is averaging 16.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and a team-high 4.0 assists.
VCU PROBABLE STARTERS
1 JeQuan Lewis (6-1 Junior Guard, 9.0 ppg)
4 Justin Tillman (6-7 Sophomore Forward, 5.0 ppg)
12 Mo Alie-Cox (6-7 Junior Forward, 10.0 ppg)
20 Jordan Burgess (6-5 Junior Guard, 8.3 ppg)
32 Melvin Johnson (6-4 Senior Guard, 19.0 ppg)
OFF THE BENCH
5 Doug Brooks (6-4 Junior Guard, 6.0 ppg)
11 Michael Gilmore (6-10 Sophomore Center, 4.0 ppg)
23 Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed (6-9 Junior Forward, 6.0 ppg)
24 Korey Billbury (6-4 Senior Guard, 10.0 ppg)
PLAYER TO WATCH
Johnson scored 20 points (4-for-6 from 3-point range) in the 79-71 loss to Duke Friday. Johnson is shooting 54.2 percent (13-for-24) from 3-point range.
LAST TIME OUT
NEW YORK – The first game away from the Kohl Center against the first legitimate opponent on its schedule did not go well for the University of Wisconsin.
Mired in a long shooting slump that lasted throughout the first half, the Badgers never could dig themselves out from their self-imposed hole in a 71-61 defeat to Georgetown at Madison Square Garden Friday afternoon.
Junior forward Nigel Hayes did his part, scoring a game-high 22 points, but Wisconsin (2-2) didn’t get much help from anyone else.
Junior forward Vitto Brown was the only other player to make more than four shots but it took him 13 attempts to get there. He finished with nine points before fouling out in the final minute. Ethan Happ finished with 12 points but junior guard Bronson Koenig struggled mightily, finished with nine points (five in the final 45 seconds) on 2-for-12 shooting, including 1-for-6 from 3.
Four players scored in double figures for Georgetown (1-2), who avenged a loss to UW in the semifinals of the Paradise Jam tournament last season. Isaac Copeland led the quartet with 14 points.
Georgetown led throughout the entire first half because Wisconsin couldn’t make a shot. The Badgers started 2-for-14, including missing their first nine shots to start the game. UW didn’t get on the board until Hayes delivered a put-back dunk after 6 minutes, 29 seconds had elapsed.
UW finished the first half 9-for-30 from the floor, including 1-for-10 from 3-point range, and only strung points on consecutive possessions twice.
Wisconsin seemingly found a rhythm coming out of the locker room, scoring nine points on its first five possessions and going 4-for-4 from the floor, but the Badgers couldn’t get closer than two in the second half because the Hoyas would immediately answer with a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession.
Eventually Wisconsin went cold again, shooting 11-for-33 in the second half (31.7 percent for the game).
The Badgers are 9-7 all-time against teams from the Atlantic 10 Conference. UW’s last contest against a team from the A-10 was a 63-57 win over Saint Louis in the 2013 Cancun Challenge semifinals.
The Badgers did face VCU coach Will Wade last season while he was the head coach at Chattanooga, earning an 89-45 win at the Kohl Center. In that game, Wisconsin had a 49-21 rebounding advantage and a 42-18 edge in points in the paint. The Badgers actually owned a 10-0 margin in fast break points
Freshman Ethan Happ tallied his first-career double-double with 12 points and a careerbest 11 rebounds in 27 minutes vs. Georgetown. All of Happ’s points came in the second half, including a 6-for-6 effort at the free throw line. Happ is the first Badgers freshman to post a double-double since Josh Gasser recorded the school’s only triple-double (10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists) on Jan. 23, 2011.
Happ is now averaging 10.3 points and a team-leading 7.0 rebounds per game. The last Wisconsin freshman to average at least 10.0 points per game was Alando Tucker in the 2002-03 season.
The Badgers have out-rebounded each of their first 4 opponents and own a +8.0 boards per game margin. On Friday vs. Georgetown, Wisconsin owned a 40-36 edge on the glass, including 18 offensive rebounds.
On the year, UW has grabbed 33 more offensive rebounds than its opponents (65-32) and is averaging 16.3 offensive boards per game. That has led to an average of 16.8 second-chance points per game for the Badgers.
VCU has made five consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament, including a Final Four berth in 2011. VCU has lost its first game in the tournament each of the last two seasons, both coming in overtime.
The Rams’ frontcourt averages 38.6 points in the paint, and are coming off a season high 44 points in the paint against Duke. VCU also shoots 40 percent from 3-point range (24-for-60).
Tillman averages a team-leading 7.7 rebounds per game.
Lewis leads the team with eight steals and 21 assists.
To say Wisconsin struggled out of the gate against Georgetown in the first half would be putting it nicely. The Badgers converting nothing in the lane to start the game and it only got worse as the game progressed. Georgetown’s length bothered Wisconsin at times, as it was consistently challenging to get a shot off. VCU didn’t register a block against Duke, but the Rams are averaging 3.6 blocks per game and limiting 41.9 percent from the field.
Even when Wisconsin has been able to run its offense effectively, resulting in open shots, the buckets haven’t always fallen. Wisconsin can’t afford any scoring droughts against a team that’s averaging 79.3 points a game. An inconsistent UW offense could turn a close game into a double-digit deficit in a hurry for a UW team that doesn’t appear well built to be playing from behind.
The Badgers also can’t afford another poor shooting performance from Koenig. The junior shot better than 46 percent through his first three games, leads the team in scoring and is a veteran, all things that give confidence that Friday was more a blip on the radar. VCU struggled at times to keep Duke’s backcourt from finding the driving lanes, as Grayson Allen scored 30 points off the bench for Duke. Not to mention Allen’s aggressive style allowed him to get to the free throw line nine times. Koenig will need to take what is given to him and capitalize, especially since the Rams committed 27 fouls against Duke.
Committing a season-high 14 turnovers also didn’t help matters, a rare occurrence for a Bo Ryan coached team and some of the players on it. Hayes had his first three turnovers of the season, Showalter had three turnovers after having one total the previous three games and Koenig had a pair. Wisconsin is 91-53 under Ryan when they commit at least 12 turnovers and 268-74 when committing 11 or less. Against VCU’s havoc defense, sloppy ball handling won’t cut it, especially since VCU forced 14 turnovers and six steals (bumping their season total to 36) against Duke. VCU averages 24.3 points off turnovers.
The eye test doesn’t look pretty here: a young Wisconsin team struggling and a good VCU team pushing the No.5 team in the country to the brink with a low-post presence.
Badgers fall by 14.
Worgull's Record: 3-1
Points off Prediction: 58 (14.5 per game)