All things considered, Wisconsin should feel pretty good with how they fared in the 2K Classic in New York, splitting a pair of games against worthy NCAA tournament teams. The first night against Georgetown wasn’t pretty by any means but Coach Bo Ryan had to be pleased with how his team responded to beat a veteran VCU team with a game-winning layup by Bronson Koenig.
After playing tough competition, Wisconsin returns to the Kohl Center to face a Prairie View A&M team that’s 0-4 and trying to replace the top four scorers from a team that finished fourth in the SWAC.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as it strives to win against Prairie View A&M.
Lay up: Can Wisconsin not turn the ball over?
Wisconsin committed 31 turnovers in two games in New York, a trend Ryan certainly doesn’t want to see. Probably the most surprising fact about the turnovers was Koenig turned the ball over a combined five times to push his season total to a team-leading nine. There has been a theme with Koenig’s turnovers, either over dribbling or miscommunication with other members of the offense. When Koenig builds confidence in the pieces around him, those numbers should go down.
An offensive flow was an issue at times last weekend, so correcting that against a Panthers team forcing 16.25 turnovers per game is important. Granted the teams the Panthers have played haven’t been extremely difficult, but they still forced VCU into 17 turnovers and are coming off a defensive performance where they forced Radford into 18 turnovers.
The Panthers have been able to create a majority of the team’s turnovers by steals (35 on the season). Jaryn Johnson and Avery Lomax lead the team with 2.0 and 1.8 steals a game, respectively. If there are any lazy passes or miscommunication, the Panthers will likely find a way to capitalize on Wisconsin’s mistake, as UW has allowed 11.6 points off its turnovers through five games.
Mid-range jumper: The play of Ethan Happ
After a slow start to the season, it appears Happ is starting to get into a rhythm with consecutive double-doubles. Happ could fill that role of a consistent third scorer, as he is shooting 55.9 percent (19-for-34) from the field and has done most of his work within 15 feet of the basket.
Happ has been the most effective in the second half, as 33 of his 53 points on the season have come after halftime. It seems that part of the reason for Happ’s second-half success is his ability to make the necessary adjustments after seeing how teams are trying to defend him. It also helps when he limits the fouls, as Happ has been known to get into early foul trouble that forces him to sit on the bench. When Happ finds ways to attack off the dribble or move effectively without the ball, it has been difficult at times for opposing teams to defend him.
With Prairie View usually going with a three guard lineup, Happ could find himself in favorable matchups at times on offense. If Happ can be aggressive against either Admassu Williams or Karim York down low from the start, he should be able to balance out his scoring.
3-pointer: Working for the best shot
Prairie View has struggled to contest shots, allowing teams to shoot 48.9 percent through four games. Wisconsin has had its moments of struggles this year where they have suffered through scoring droughts but moving the ball effectively within the offense and searching for the best shot should yield success.
Doing that will start with Koenig (16 assists) being able to attack the basket and distribute the ball to his teammates around the rim for a possible easy layup. Wisconsin is averaging 26.8 points in the paint and will have a chance of increasing that number with its frontcourt wearing down Prairie View – averaging 20.2 fouls per game - as the game progresses with consistent post touches.
If the Panthers clog the post, UW will have to kick the ball out to the perimeter to reset the offense or attempt a jump shot by one of its guards. The Panthers on average give up 19.7 3-point attempts a game, so Wisconsin will have to connect on some early shots to allow some breathing room in the paint.
Forcing the Panthers to play catch up will put pressure on top scorers Williams (13.8 points on 58.5 percent shooting) and Tevin Bellinger (12.3). Bellinger is averaging a team high 12.5 shot attempts a game but is only connecting on 38 percent of his attempts. Forcing Bellinger to settle for jump shots from the perimeter is a win for Wisconsin, as the Badgers can’t allow him to have too many chances at a high-percentage shot in the paint.