For the first time in 15 seasons, Wisconsin will play a basketball game without Bo Ryan on the sidelines. Following an eight day break, a needed layoff to deal with final exams and to absorb the sudden shock of Ryan’s retirement, the Badgers begin the adjustment to interim head coach Greg Gard and prepare for their final nonconference game against Green Bay (6-4) Wednesday night.
The Badgers will be challenged right out of the gate in the Gard era, as the Phoenix have won six of their past seven games and would love to make UW winless in its three games against in-state opponents this season for the first time in program history.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as they face Green Bay in the nonconference finale.
Lay up: Getting off to a quick start
Wisconsin was able to overcome a slow start against Texas A&M Corpus Christi last week Tuesday, shaking off a first half where it made only nine field goals to shoot 64.7 percent (11-for-17) in the second half. It was the first time in five occurrences this season that Wisconsin won after making fewer than 10 field goals in one half.
The Badgers might not be able to afford another slow start against a Green Bay team that’s averaging 85.4 points per game (20th in the N.C.A.A.), shooting 44.2 percent from the field and coming off of a 108-point performance against UW-Superior. Considering the way the Badgers offense has shot this year (41.2 percent), Wisconsin will need to be able to try and find a way of avoiding any scoring droughts to begin the game.
Wisconsin started last Tuesday’s game going 0-for-10 from the field and committed 15 turnovers in the game. While youth can be used as an excuse, junior Nigel Hayes committed six of the turnovers. The layoff hopefully will have allowed the Badgers to work on their communication with each other and eliminate some of the unforced errors that have lingered this season.
The Phoenix have been able to find ways of consistently creating turnovers (18.7 per game) and have a combined 33 takeaways against their two opponents from power five conferences, so Wisconsin can’t do them any favors.
Mid-range jumper: Slowing Carrington Love down
The defense for Wisconsin, especially in the interior, has slowly started to improve, but Gard said the group still has a long way to go in order to become consistent. Before Wisconsin starts Big Ten play, Wisconsin’s starting backcourt will receive a test against Love, as he averages 18.8 points a game.
Love has shown his ability to score, registering at least 20 points four times and scoring 32 against Stanford. Only Georgia Tech and Akron were able to hold him to single digits, as the defenses held him to a combined 5-of-23 shooting from the field. Wisconsin equaling that defensive effort will force someone else for the Phoenix to pitch in. Currently only Charles Cooper (11.3) and Jordan Fouse (11.3) average double figures.
The guard combination of Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter will need to force Love to settle for perimeter shots. Love is shooting 42.2 percent from the field on 13.5 shot attempts but is only 38.8 percent from 3-point range on his 6.7 attempts.
While Wisconsin’s backcourt could disrupt Love’s rhythm, the Badgers will likely struggle knocking in out of his comfort zone. Love has only committed a total of 13 turnovers this season. Over the last five games Wisconsin has averaged 4.6 steals a contest and Showalter (12 steals in last eight games) has been one of the reasons as to why.
The big key for Showalter is keeping himself on the floor. The junior has committed at least four fouls in five of the last six games and fouled out against Milwaukee. The junior has been one of the best defensive assets for the team with his ability to create extra offensive possessions and fast break opportunities. Because of his four fouls against the Islanders, Showalter played only 27 minutes and the Badgers registered zero fast-break points.
3-pointer: Can Wisconsin establish the paint?
Wisconsin has consistently struggled establishing the post this season, not a surprise considering the lack of height in the rotation. Averaging 25.3 points in the paint, Wisconsin has seen that number dip to 20.6 points down low. Fortunately for UW, Green Bay allows 32.9 points in the paint, which could allow struggling post players – like Hayes – to get some production at the rim.
Shooting just 35.9 percent this season, Hayes should try and get back to his game plan against Temple, when he attacked the Owls’ post defense and didn’t attempt a 3-point shot. The result was scoring 18 points on 6-for-16 shooting from the field. Although he didn’t shoot a good percentage, Hayes found ways to get to the free throw line seven times by staying aggressive around the rim.
If Hayes can remain aggressive around the rim throughout the game, it should help open up opportunities for Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown, as the two have each registered double figures in points over the last two games while shooting at least 46 percent from the field. If Happ and Brown can continue to move well without the basketball, Hayes – averaging six assists over his last two games – should be able to find them.
With Green Bay having no player taller than 6-8 in its starting lineup, UW should be able to crash the glass, especially on offense. UW is averaging 14.6 offensive rebounds per game while Green Bay is giving up 11.9, but the Phoenix gave up 13.5 offensive boards against power five opponents.
With Wisconsin’s starting frontcourt registering 103 of the team’s 176 offensive rebounds, the Badgers need to use their height advantage to convert high percentage shots at the rim. After scoring double figures in second chance points in nine of the first 10 games, Wisconsin has failed to crack 10 points in the last two outings.
Green Bay is giving up 12.4 second-chance points per game, so better success around the rim is critical for UW’s offense.