Each year Wisconsin participates in one of the numerous nonconference tournaments and find themselves to be competing against teams in a very strong field. 2016 is no different. Competing in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational, Wisconsin will be one of three teams currently ranked in the top 10 and one of four teams who made the N.C.A.A. tournament last season.
This will mark Wisconsin’s third appearance in the Maui Invitational and its first since 2009, as the Badgers hold a 3-3 record in the tournament. Already facing one ranked team this season (a 79-67 loss at No.22 Creighton), Wisconsin has a chance to face multiple top-10 teams in Oregon and North Carolina.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as they get set to compete in the Maui Invitational.
Lay up: Developing an offensive rhythm
Through three games Wisconsin’s offense has been up and down. The Badgers have struggled at times to generate points in the paint, primarily against Creighton (20 points), and have relied on 3-pointers more than they probably should, an area where they’re only shooting 31 percent.
In order for Wisconsin to be successful in Maui, it will need to be able to generate points from three and get the ball into the interior to try and generate high percentage shots or draw fouls. Assuming Wisconsin beats Tennessee in the opening round, they could face a talented and athletic Oregon team that will be able to consistently contest their shots (nine blocks a game). If they get past the Ducks they will likely have to face the length that would await them in North Carolina in the championship game.
These games will emphasize the Badgers moving the ball effectively and make good decisions to avoid wasting offensive possessions. Wisconsin still needs work on taking care of the basketball, a shaky area through three games. Wisconsin has averaged 13.3 turnovers through three games, which teams have converted into an average of 18 points, and Tennessee, Oregon and North Carolina all have the capability of forcing Wisconsin into turnovers.
Having two seniors starting in the backcourt is beneficial with Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter, who have demonstrated during their careers they’re capable of taking care of the ball. Having a third solid ball handler will be key and Gard has that with D'Mitrik Trice, as it is clear that the freshman is quickly earning his trust. Trice consistently makes smart plays and is coming off a game in which he finished with seven assists and zero turnovers. Trice will be facing talented guard play, so Gard will continue to get a good look at where his freshman is in his development. With the way he’s been taking care of the basketball through three games opposing teams may not be able to take advantage of his freshman mistakes.
Wisconsin taking care of the ball should lead to quality shots, which they’ll need to consistently make to avoid long scoring droughts and have success in Maui.
Mid-range jumper: Three games in three days
With the exception of Koenig’s 27 minutes per game, Wisconsin’s starting lineup has averaged between 19 and 25 minutes a game. Gard having the capability of going deep into his bench has allowed the starters to not log heavy minutes (Koenig, Showalter and Nigel Hayes all played one game of at least 30 minutes (at Creighton)). In order for Wisconsin to have success as a team, the bench is going to have to be able to produce in all areas.
With the talent in competition about to take a spike, Gard will get a better idea with what he has in his bench. You’re confident in what sophomore Khalil Iverson will give, a player who will play strong defense, be active on the glass and strong on both sides of the floor. Gard has also been able to give heavier minutes to forwards Alex Illikainen and Charles Thomas, two players who have taken a nice step in their developments. Tennessee and Oregon have been making a living down low in the paint, as the two schools have averaged 37 points and 33.3 points in the paint, respectively, and North Carolina registered 52 points in a win over Chattanooga.
Wisconsin has done well of limiting paint touches (18 points per game) but the Badgers frontcourt will certainly be tested and need to stay out of foul trouble, something that plagued Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown against Creighton. Illikainen and Thomas will play an important role in this area, as their productivity will allow Happ and Brown the chance to rest. Averaging four rebounds per game, Thomas has shown that he’s willing to mix it up down low and the physicality he plays with could pay dividends when he attacks the glass to help limit second chances.
Wisconsin has done well limiting points off of second chances but the length it’ll face over the three days will be a challenge of consistently boxing out and being able to get the better positioning once a shot goes up. Wisconsin can’t allow teams to get better positioning against them to get an easy put back.
3-pointer: Can Wisconsin slow down opposing teams guard play?
Wisconsin has faced some talented guards through three games and that won’t change in Maui. The backcourt will need to be ready to make sure they don’t allow opposing guard play to take over games by attacking the basket or distributing the basketball to one of their teammates.
In the first game against Tennessee, the Badgers are going to need to be aware of freshman Jordan Bone, who averages 14 points and is shooting 55 percent from the floor. Even if Wisconsin can slow Bone down, they still need to be cognizant of where Robert Hubbs (13.5 ppg) is on the floor.
The talent in the backcourt for Oregon is experienced with Tyler Dorsey, who can attack on the drive or create space for an open mid-range or 3-point shot (42.9 percent from three). Koenig would likely draw that assignment and, like he does for anyone, needs to stay disciplined and be persistent. Dorsey is capable of passing it to one of his teammates down low, making team defense important for the Badgers.
If Wisconsin happens to face UConn, they’ll be competing against a backcourt that’s led by Rodney Purvis, who has started 47 games in his career, and freshman Jalen Adams, who’s second on the team in points (11 ppg). If Wisconsin faces Oklahoma State, they’ll face two dynamic guards in Jawun Evans and Phil Forte who average 23.3 and 22 points, respectively, and both shoot above 54 percent from the field.
If Wisconsin meets North Carolina, the combination of Koenig and Showalter could have their hands full with Joel Berry, who averages better than 20 points a contest. Hayes will also need to be ready to defend the perimeter considering Justin Jackson has the ability to play down low or out on the perimeter. Hayes will need to be sound in his defense this week and make sure he doesn’t get in foul trouble, as the senior is one of UW’s best versatile defenders.
One of Wisconsin’s strengths lies in the backcourt, as the Badgers have the ability to slow down teams with their athleticism and experience. If teams are going to beat Wisconsin off the dribble, it won’t be because Koenig or Showalter make a mistake.