Max Siker/BadgerNation

The Greg Gard era at Wisconsin begins with a home matchup against Green Bay tonight

After seven days away from the court, Wisconsin returns to action at the Kohl Center tonight when it hosts Green Bay in the final nonconference game of the season. BadgerNation analyzes the matchup.

Green Bay (6-4, 0-0 Horizon) vs. Wisconsin (7-5, 0-0 Big Ten)

Date/Time – Wednesday, December 23, 8 p.m. central

Arena – Kohl Center (17,287)

Television – Big Ten Network (Brian Anderson, John Crispin and Lisa Byington)

Radio – Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Wisconsin leads 20-1 (Wisconsin leads 17-0 in Madison)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 84-60, on November 19, 2014, in Madison

WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Junior Guard, 8.1 ppg)

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Junior Forward, 15.6 ppg)

22 Ethan Happ (6-9 Freshman Forward, 11.2 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Junior Guard, 15.1 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Junior Forward, 10.0 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

15 Charlie Thomas (6-8 Freshman Forward, 4.4 ppg)

21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Freshman Forward, 3.2 ppg)

24 Alex Illikainen (6-9 Freshman Forward, 1.8 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Despite shooting a team-worst 35.9 percent, Hayes ranks among the top 10 in the Big Ten in all three major categories: points (9th), rebounds (10th) and assists (10th). He is also second in the conference lead with 3.2 offensive rebounds per game.

GREEN BAY PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Khalil Small (6-2 Sophomore Guard, 9.0 ppg)

4 Jordan Fouse (6-7 Senior Guard, 11.3 ppg)

12 Carrington Love (6-1 Senior Guard, 18.8 ppg)

34 Charles Cooper (6-4 Junior Guard, 11.3 ppg)

45 Kenneth Lowe (6-8 Junior Forward, 6.3 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

1 Kerem Kanter (6-9 Sophomore Forward, 5.6 ppg)

2 Turner Botz (6-7 Junior Forward, 6.8 ppg)

32 Tevin Findlay (6-4 Junior Guard, 7.1 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

A preseason first-team all-conference selection, Fouse has been a catalyst for the Phoenix this season, averaging 11.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, as well as team highs in assists (3.3) and steals (2.8). The Racine native is the only player in the NCAA to post two games of 15+ points, 10+ rebounds and 5+ steals.

LAST TIME OUT

MADISON – Make no mistake that there are still plenty of problems for a young team to fix but at least the Badgers got enough shots to drop to avoid another ugly setback, grinding out an ugly 64-49 win over Texas A&M Corpus Christi Tuesday night in what turned out to be Bo Ryan’s final game as head coach of Wisconsin.

“Since I’ve been coaching, there’s been 15 years of games around finals time, believe it not I’ve seen some that were a little bit more haywire,” said Ryan. “It’s tough time to play, but our guys found themselves (and) ended up doing some pretty good things.”

Forward Ethan Happ and guard Bronson Koenig scored 15 points and junior Vitto Brown registered his first double-double (12 points, 16 rebounds) for Wisconsin (7-5), which broke a two game losing streak and got its best RPI win of the season (the Islanders entered 35th)

“I was extremely proud of Vitto to get a double-double,” said Ryan, “and just keep battling.”

Expecting a test against a team with eight seniors, second most nationally, Wisconsin never hit a stride offensively but grinded out possessions and tried to make things tough defensively against a team averaging 71.5 points over its six game winning streak.

UW did that by attacking and getting to the free throw line, something they were negligent in against Marquette.

With Texas A&M Corpus Christi (7-3) averaging 23.1 fouls game, Wisconsin spent nearly 22 minutes of game time in the bonus, including the last 12:24 of the game, and scratched out points from the free throw line.

Drawing 24 fouls, Wisconsin made 18 free throws on a season-high 31 free throws.

The makes were minimal but proved beneficial during a 7-0 run early in the second half, as UW went 4-for-4 from the line to push a five-point lead into double figures for the first time and helping gloss over 15 Badgers turnovers.

LAST MEETING

MADISON - Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes again used their size advantage to register double doubles, as the Badgers overcame a woeful shooting night from the free throw line to distance itself from Green Bay in the second half for an 84-60 victory at the Kohl Center.

Hayes finished with a team and career-high 25 points, including two crucial 3-pointers on consecutive possessions – one from each elbow - in the second half around the 13 minute mark that finally allowed Wisconsin (3-0) to feel generate some space against the feisty Phoenix.

Hayes also finished in double digits rebounding for the third consecutive game, finishing off his second straight double-double with 11 rebounds. Kaminsky finished three blocks shy of a triple double, pouring in 20 points and 15 points, his third straight double-digit rebounding game. Junior Sam Dekker added 19, as UW’s three bigs scored a combined 64 points on 22-for-36 shooting, not to mention securing 30 of the team’s 45 rebounds.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons on this team,” said Kaminsky. “This is a pretty deep team. Things were clicking on the right cylinders for us tonight. We went out and everyone had a good game. I don’t see why we can’t do this more going forward.”

A year after pouring in 32 points against the Badgers, senior guard Keifer Sykes – the first player in program history to appear on the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 - again found ways to generate offense. He finished with 20 points on 9-for-17 shooting, but got little help from his teammates.

Nobody on the Phoenix scored more than eight points and players not named Sykes shot a combined 14-for-48 from the floor.

SERIES NOTES

Wisconsin and Green Bay have played every year since 1999.

UW is 62-4 all-time vs. teams in the Horizon League. UW lost to Milwaukee, 68-67, earlier this season.

Wisconsin has won each of the last five meetings with Green Bay by an average of 18.0 points per game.

Since the regular meetings began in 1999, Green Bay is averaging 56.7 points per game against UW and has scored more than 62 points just twice (2009 and 2013).

WISCONSIN NOTES

Since 2003-04, Wisconsin is 92-5 (.948) vs. unranked non-con opponents, including 3 such setbacks already this season.

The Badgers have outrebounded each of their first 12 opponents and own a +9.1 average margin.

Wisconsin held Oklahoma, Temple and Marquette to season-low point totals and limited Syracuse to its second-lowest output game (a game that went to OT).

During Bo Ryan’s 14 full seasons, Wisconsin accumulated an overall record of 357-125 (.741). That win percentage ranked ninth among all NCAA Div. I teams in that span.

GREEN BAY NOTES

Through Green Bay’s first 10 games, the Phoenix has forced opponents into double-digit turnovers in every game, while forcing 20.1 per game over its current 6-1 stretch dating back to 11/22 against Minnesota-Duluth.

Green Bay has generated 11.3 steals per contest this season, which ranks second in the nation behind West Virginia (12.1) as of Monday, while Fouse and Love have averaged 2.8 steals apiece, which individually rank seventh in the NCAA. As of that same date, the Phoenix leads the nation in steals per turnover ratio at 0.95.

As of Dec. 20, everyone player on head coach Linc Darner’s roster has posted a new career high in scoring. The Phoenix has 10 players averaging better than 10.0 minutes per game thus far.

Despite losing over 63 percent of its scoring entering the season, Green Bay has averaged 85.4 points per game through its first 10 games, which ranks third in the Horizon League and inside the top-20 in the country (T-20th).

PREDICTION

While the initial shock among the players is gone, the fact that Bo Ryan abruptly left the program a week ago Tuesday is still being felt on the roster.

Koenig called it “a shock that it came so quick” and that practices have been “pretty weird” without Ryan on the sideline. Happ, Showalter and others echoed those sentiments.

But with long-time associate head coach Greg Gard now calling the shots, don’t expect the Badgers to come out in a 2-2-1 zone.

“Different face, different voice,” Hayes said, “still the same expectations.”

While there will likely be some tweaks, there won’t be many too drastic changes under Gard’s watch. After all, he’s been a big part of the foundation of what made Ryan so successful at three different coaching stops. In Gard’s eye, the big thing the Badgers need to develop is consistency on defense and efficiency on offense.

There’s no more or less pressure on Wisconsin to win for Gard, only that the Badgers need wins to get themselves on the right side of the N.C.A.A. tournament bubble and start erasing an unthinkable three nonconference home losses.

How Gard plans to put his fingerprints on Wisconsin is a mystery. He decided to close practices this week in order for the team to block out any outside noise, but he did hire former assistant coach Howard Moore to fill the vacancy on his staff, further evidence that things aren’t going to change too much from a philosophy standpoint.

One thing that has to change is the improvement from UW’s eight freshmen and the inconsistencies of the upperclassmen. That has to start with the vocal leadership from Hayes – which has been missing – and the on-court play of Koenig, who admitted that better spacing is vital for UW over the next few months.

If you read the notes on Green Bay, the Phoenix can score in bunches and have a lot of players who can contribute – many more than the Badgers. Green Bay’s 350 points through its first four games was the most it’s scored since 1971-72, when it averaged 89.3 PPG through four games in Division II.

Those lofty point totals are a combination of three things: committing a turnover on 14.9 percent of its possessions (21st nationally), forcing a turnover on 21 percent of the opponent’s possessions (58th) and throwing in some full court press for good measure.

But the most important factor is the Phoenix like to get out in the open court and run. The Phoenix are second in the country in adjusted tempo, according to kenpom.com, averaging only 13.6 points per possession.

Needless to say, this is a different Phoenix team under first-year head coach Linc Darner, who helped coached Florida Southern to the Division II national championship last season by having the Mocs average 87.9 points per game.

The one area that UW does have an edge is a height advantage in the low post, meaning the Badgers have to be active crashing the glass, converting high-percentage shots and staying aggressive to get to the free throw line.

Green Bay has also struggled from the charity stripe thus far, ranking 326th out of 351 qualified teams at 62.1 percent. That could come costly in crunch time, which UW has found itself in multiple times already through 12 games.

This has the makings of another ugly game that the Badgers can scratch out and win. I have a feeling that the players will play inspired for Gard against a school that bypassed him previously for a head coaching role. Wisconsin by 11.

Worgull's Record: 7-5

Points off Prediction: 148 (12.3 per game)


Badger Nation Top Stories