Wisconsin begins its in-state round robin by hosting Milwaukee Wednesday

Before Wisconsin takes on Milwaukee at the Kohl Center Wednesday night, Badger Nation looks at the three burning questions we're looking to have answered.

Former Wisconsin assistant coach Rob Jeter has gotten his Milwaukee Panthers off to a solid 6-3 start. But over the Panthers’ first nine games, they have only faced one team from a power five conference, as they lost to Notre Dame by eight points.

Although the Panthers are off to a solid start to the season, they are getting set to play a Wisconsin team they have lost to 22 straight times dating back to 1992, trailing the all-time series 31-1. Milwaukee will have a chance to give Wisconsin a run for its money, as the three games Milwaukee has lost this season have come by an average of five points.

In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as it strives to beat Milwaukee to extend Wisconsin’s winning streak to three games.

Lay up: Can Wisconsin protect the basketball?

It has been a strange season for a Bo Ryan team, as it is hard to know whether or not Wisconsin will be able to protect the basketball and limit turnovers. Through nine games there have been only four times where Wisconsin has committed single-digit turnovers. As UW continues to play together, players will start to get the communication down and lower their 10.8 turnovers a game, which would be the highest since the 2008-09 season (10 turnovers).

UW will be tested by a Panthers team that has been able to force its opponents consistently into mistakes, as they create 11.9 turnovers a game. Creating turnovers is critical to Milwaukee’s success. In the loss to Notre Dame, the Irish committing only five miscues. The same goes for the three-point loss to Murray State (eight).

In order to make sure they don’t give the Panthers extra offensive possessions, Wisconsin will need to find a way to eliminate unforced turnovers they have committed over the last two games. Wisconsin did a much better job of protecting the ball against Temple than they did against Syracuse but the carelessness with the ball, due to the youth still gaining experience, is still prevalent. One would hope that the inexperienced mistakes will start to come to an end as Wisconsin slowly gets closer to Big Ten play.

The Badgers will need to be cognizant of where Jordan Johnson is on the floor as he has registered a steal in six of nine games this year. Johnson could match up against Bronson Koenig, but Koenig would have the height advantage over him and could be able to get past him at times off of a drive. If Johnson defends Zak Showalter (1.4 turnovers a game), Showalter will need to be patient and not try and force anything. If Showalter stays patient he should be able to find an open teammate as the Badgers continue to work the basketball around on offense.

Mid-range jumper: Low post success

As Wisconsin continues to work on its shot from three point range (31.7 percent), the Badgers should find success against Milwaukee in the paint. Wisconsin is averaging 26.8 points in the paint this season but the Badgers have scored at least 30 points in the paint in over the last four of five games.

That trend will have to continue Wednesday against the Panthers, who allow 31.3 points around the basket and have allowed 40 or more points in the paint in two losses this season. Part of the reason why teams have been able to have success around the rim against Milwaukee is because they have struggled to protect the rim, averaging 1.4 blocks a game (last in the Horizon league and ranks tied for 327th out of 346 teams in the N.C.A.A.).

If Wisconsin can stay patient on offense and not give in to the Panthers defense, they should be able to get the ball down low to one of Wisconsin’s frontcourt players. Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown should be able to have a chance to have bounce back games offensively, as the two combined for 14 points against Temple and were plagued by foul trouble.

In particular Nigel Hayes could be the beneficiary of the Panthers’ struggles around the rim. Hayes was dominant against Temple on the low block, was able to post his defender up and use one of his post moves to get a layup or draw the foul. If Hayes continues that level of play, the Panthers could put J.J. Panoske on him to try to alter Hayes’ rhythm. Panoske has been the only player for the Panthers to show some sort of consistency to protect the rim, as he has registered 11 of the team’s 13 blocks this season.

However, Panoske averages 3.3 fouls a game, has registered at least four fouls over the last three games and has fouled out once this season. If Hayes or someone from Wisconsin’s frontcourt can get him in foul trouble, it will result in Panoske having to sit on the bench and should continue to help open up the lane more for Wisconsin.

3-pointer: Supplying defensive pressure

Wisconsin’s defense has slowly started to improve over the last two games, holding Syracuse to 35.7 percent and Temple to 37.9 percent from the field. The past two defensive performances haven’t been perfect but Wisconsin has started to make things much more difficult on opponent than they were earlier in the season.

But the tests keep coming for Wisconsin’s defense, as all five starters for the Panthers average at least 9.9 points and four starters shoot 40 percent or better from the field. Wisconsin’s frontcourt will need to be ready for Matt Tiby, who leads the Panthers in scoring with 14.8 points a game on 43.5 percent shooting from the field. The starters for the Panthers are responsible for 80.5 percent of the team’s scoring, as Milwaukee averages 75.4 points a game.

Part of the reason why the Panthers have been so efficient on offense is that they have been able to find ways of distributing the ball, as they are first in the Horizon League with 18.1 assists per game. Johnson is the primary reason for that number, as his total assists (75) leads the N.C.A.A. and his 8.3 assists a game ranks second in the country.

Johnson’s 2.8 assist to turnover ratio, which ranks second in the Horizon League, make it tough on his opponents to disrupt his rhythm. But with him handling the ball so much, Wisconsin could create opportunities for a miscue if they play smart defense.

It will likely be a team effort between Koenig and Showalter, as Showalter leads the team with 11 steals. Wisconsin will need to try and find ways to cut off his passing lanes and try and disrupt his vision. If Wisconsin can do that, they might be able to have similar success like Duquesne did, as they forced him into four turnovers (his most in the Panthers three losses this season).

If Wisconsin does allow Johnson to consistently penetrate and distribute, it could result in the Panthers getting an easy look, as they shoot 45 percent from the field. Wisconsin will need to make sure they can continue to limit Milwaukee to just one shot per possession, as the Badgers have allowed only six offensive rebounds over the past two games.


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