Wisconsin will have another tough road test against No.14 Syracuse in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge

Before Wisconsin takes on No.14 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome tonight, Badger Nation looks at the three burning questions we're looking to have answered.

Syracuse entered the Battle 4 Atlantis unranked in both polls but made an emphatic statement by winning the tournament and knocking off two top 25 opponents (No.18 UConn and No.25 Texas A&M) in consecutive days. With Syracuse’s strong performance in the Bahamas, it vaulted the Orange (6-0) to No. 14 in the AP poll and became just another difficult opponent for UW to try and stop.

Playing its second road game in a row, Wisconsin will need to be ready to play a Syracuse team that is playing with confidence and finding its rhythm on offense. It will be no easy task considering how Wisconsin played in its loss to Oklahoma Sunday.

In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as it strives to beat the Orange in the ACC/Big Ten challenge.

Lay up: Defending the three point line

Part of the reason why Syracuse won the Battle 4 Atlantis was they found a rhythm from 3-point range, connecting on a season-high 50 percent (14-for-28) against Charlotte, 45 percent (9-for-20) against UConn and 44 percent (11-for-25) against Texas A&M. Through six games Syracuse is connecting on 41 percent from three, which is tied for 29th in the N.C.A.A., and average 10 made 3-pointers a game, tied for 23rd in the N.C.A.A. That could be a problem for Wisconsin considering the Badgers are allowing opponents to connect on 44.6 percent from 3-point range, which ranks 345th out of 346 teams.

Wisconsin has struggled too often to either close out on shooters or communicate switches on defense to contest perimeter shots, resulting in shooters getting shots off without a hand in their face and teams making an average of 13.14 3-pointers a game. With Syracuse attempting a high volume of 3-point attempts a game (24.3 per game), the Badgers will need to get their hands in the face of Michael Gbinije and Tyler Lydon, as both average at least 50 percent from three. Although those two lead Syracuse in 3-point field goal percentage, Trevor Cooney is the team leader in 3-point attempts with seven a game (31 percent).

Mid-range jumper: Creating turnovers

While showing to be a strong shooting team, Syracuse averages 14.7 turnovers a game. Although Wisconsin’s defense has struggled to communicate at times, they have been able to find ways of forcing the opposition into turning the basketball over, creating 12.1 turnovers a game.

Thirty-four of Wisconsin’s 85 turnovers have come off steals and at least five players have registered at least five steals this season (Zak Showalter leads the team with eight). Wisconsin’s best bet to force turnovers is from one of Syracuse’s top three leading scorers, as Cooney has committed 20 turnovers this season and registered only one game where he didn’t commit at least three turnovers.

Wisconsin will need to play aggressive defense without fouling and cut off any passing lanes for Syracuse’s offense. If they can do that, they will at least have a chance of creating extra offensive possessions for themselves, something they’ll need to help get into a rhythm.

But for a team that is finding ways to create turnovers, Wisconsin has struggled to convert miscues into points, as they have averaged 13.1 points through seven games. If Wisconsin is going to be able to stay within striking distance, they are going to need to make the Orange pay for mistakes. Wisconsin will have to try and find a way to get into transition for a possible easy layup and have to limit empty possessions. Most importantly, if Wisconsin can’t get a high percentage shot off of a turnover, they are going to need to be able to run its offense effectively and find a way to get the best shot off.

3-pointer: Can Wisconsin make at least 10 shots in one half?

There have been three different occasions this year where Wisconsin has made less than 10 field goals in a single half. Not surprisingly UW has lost all three games, including the 6-for-31 shooting debacle in the first half of Sunday’s game against Oklahoma that resulted in a 15-point halftime deficit.

Simply put, Wisconsin can’t shoot poorly from the field if it wants a chance to walk out of the Carrier Dome with a victory. While Oklahoma frustrated Wisconsin with its length, Syracuse’s 2-3 zone will give the Badgers trouble getting the ball inside, a place where UW scored only 10 points against the Sooners. If Wisconsin is going to break the Orange zone they will have to consistently make shots from the perimeter. Wisconsin has struggled this season from 3-point range, shooting 30.4 percent from three, which plays into a Syracuse’s defense allowing teams to shoot 28.6 percent from 3-point range.

Moreover, Wisconsin will have to do a good job of crashing the offensive glass to collect the rebound off of a miss against the zone. Syracuse gives up 15.5 offensive rebounds per game, so second-chance opportunities, low-post attempts and ability to draw fouls will be there for the Badgers. But if Syracuse can consistently force Wisconsin to settle for jump shots and shut down the lane, Wisconsin will have to play stout defensively. The Orange have four players (three starters) who average double figures: Gbinije with a team-best 19.7 points per game on 52.9 percent shooting, Cooney averages 15 points, Malachi Richardson averages 13.8 points and Lydon is averaging 11.5 off the bench. 

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