Wisconsin is becoming familiar with last year’s Final Four teams. Having already played North Carolina and Syracuse, the Badgers will square off against one of the 2016 Final Four participants when they play Oklahoma Saturday afternoon.
Seeing the Sooners reach the Final Four in Houston wasn’t a surprise considering they had outstanding talent in both the frontcourt and the backcourt. UW saw that last year in a blowout loss in Norman. However, the team coming to Madison this weekend is vastly different, returning only 33.5 percent of their scoring. Despite the significant losses, Oklahoma does return two talented players in guards Jordan Woodard and Khadeem Lattin who played an important role of getting the Sooners to their first Final Four since 2002.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as the Badgers prepare to play Oklahoma for a second consecutive year.
LAY UP: Can Wisconsin win the turnover battle?
One thing fans usually can expect out of a Wisconsin team is they won’t turn the basketball over. That hasn’t been the case through eight games this season, as the Badgers has averaged 13.1 turnovers a game and committed at least 10 turnovers in every game this season.
Like Wisconsin, the Sooners have struggled to maintain possession, averaging 15.8 turnovers a game. Despite the carelessness, Oklahoma has made up for it by forcing opponents into 16.5 turnovers a game, which they have converted into an average of 21.8 points.
The good news for Wisconsin is they have started to revert back to its stingier ways. Over the last three games UW has dropped its turnover average to 11.3 per game, still too high for head coach Greg Gard, but a step in the right direction.
Turnovers were a problem a year ago but not against Oklahoma. UW committed only seven turnovers in the loss to the Sooners, one of only 13 games where Wisconsin committed single-digit turnovers (eight of the games came once Gard became head coach).
Currently posting a minus-2 turnover margin, Wisconsin could boost its 11.1 turnovers per game against an Oklahoma team that has four players averaging two or more turnovers. The key could be active defense, as 54.7 percent of Oklahoma’s turnovers come off of opponent steals. Wisconsin is averaging 5.4 steals a contest, so there will likely be opportunities for the Badgers to get their hands on some wayward passes or lax ball security.
MID-RANGE JUMPER: Creating a post presence
Scoring 40 points in the paint the first two games of the season, it has become apparent that Gard has made it a clear emphasis of creating post touches. The results have shown, considering over the last six games Wisconsin has averaged 31.6 points down low.
Oklahoma has done well of limiting post touches this year, allowing just 26 points in the paint per game which helped the Sooners defense hold opponents to 37.1 percent shooting from the field. With teams not having a lot of success shooting, being able to find a way to establish the post will help open up other opportunities for Wisconsin’s offense.
One of the reasons why the Sooners interior defense has been so difficult is because of Lattin, who led the Big 12 during conference play with 2.7 blocks a game and has picked up where he left off with 2.5 blocks per game. Lattin’s strong defense in the post has led to him to be able to consistently challenge shots, including a season-high five against Northern Colorado Tuesday.
Wisconsin will need to find a way to neutralize Lattin on the defensive side of the floor to make sure he can’t have a field day altering shots. Lattin has struggled to stay out of foul trouble, picking up four fouls in three of the last five games. That willingness to gamble makes it important that Happ is able to attack him down low with one of his post moves, including shot fakes to get him off his feet. If Wisconsin’s frontcourt players can take Lattin off the floor, life would be much easier for the Badgers.
3-POINTER: Can Wisconsin contain Jordan Woodard?
Wisconsin put the clamps on Woodard last year, holding him to one of his worst offensive performances with four points on 1-for-8 shooting from the field. Times have changes, as Woodard has been steady with a team-best 17 points per game on 43.4 percent shooting from the field.
As head coach Lon Kruger develops his rotation, Woodard has been counted on to do a lot to help guide the Sooners’ offense, as he has found himself to have the basketball in his hands often and become the primary option. And while he leads Oklahoma in assists at 4.6 a game, Woodward also leads the team with 2.5 turnovers a game.
Despite his mistakes with the ball, Woodard doesn’t force many of his shots. The combination of Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter will need to make sure to cut off any driving lanes and force him to settle for mid-range or perimeter jump shots. Woodard is shooting a high percentage, but his 3-point game has been inconsistent. After shooting 45.5 percent from three last season on an average of 4.8 attempts a game, the 3-point shooting has dipped to 35.3 percent. Wisconsin has allowed teams to shoot 34 percent from three on an average of six made 3s a contest.
Cutting off lanes could also help Wisconsin neutralize Woodward’s passing ability and getting the ball to either Lattin or Christian James in the low block, as the two average 11.5 and 11.3 points, respectively. It will be a team effort to help disrupt Woodard from establishing a rhythm but it will start with Koenig and Showalter. The combination between those two will need to either limit or shut down the Sooners main distributor in order for Wisconsin’s defense to have success.