Know Thy Enemy: Badgers in midst of transitional year
It’s been a down year for Wisconsin basketball.
After upsetting top-ranked Villanova in last season’s NCAA Tournament, the Badgers are in jeopardy of missing the tournament this season.
MSU (18-3, 6-2 Big Ten) hosts the Badgers (10-11, 3-5) at the Breslin Center tonight at 8 p.m. The Spartans have won their last two, while Wisconsin is looking rebound after losing 85-67 on the road to Iowa (11-11, 2-7).
To better understand the Badgers, The State News interviewed Ben Pickman, sports editor and men’s basketball beat writer for The Daily Cardinal — the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s independent student newspaper.
Here’s what he had to say:
Q: It’s been a down year compared to the typical (Greg Gard) team, what are your thoughts on how the team has reached its shortcomings?
Pickman: “So this is a major transitional year for Wisconsin. Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown all graduated. The Badgers are starting four new players, and for a team that has had a consistent starting lineup for a couple years now, this year has seen a lot of transition and a lot of switching.
“Right now the starting point guard at the beginning of the season, D’Mitrik Trice, he's still out. His status, I think is unknown for Friday’s game. He started the first game, he hasn’t played for little over a month. So you have Brad Davison, who is a freshman, and you have Nate Reuvers, who was initially redshirting, and sat out the first five games planning to redshirt, he’s now starting. You have Ethan Happ, who’s the staple and the centerpiece of Wisconsin’s offense and then you have Brevin Pritzl, who’s a shooting guard and has struggled shooting the basketball.
“So a lot of transition, a lot of turmoil, and kind of some uncertainty. That’s how Wisconsin’s 2017-18 season has gone.”
Q: What has been Wisconsin’s biggest win so far and what have been the losses that have defined this team?
Pickman: “Biggest win, I think, they beat Western Kentucky just before finals week. That was an 81-80 victory. Brad Davison drew a charge with just over two seconds remaining and they beat a good Western Kentucky team. It seemed to give them good momentum heading into the finals break.
"They beat Penn State on the road. They just survived, which was a really good victory. … They’ve really have lost a lot of really close games, especially early on. Wisconsin has one of the hardest schedules in the country. They lost to Xavier down the stretch, it was a 10-point final, but it was a tie game with two to go. They lost to Baylor close, UCLA close. They struggled to close games out early in the season, and now in conference play they’ve really struggled, most recently against Iowa. They fell behind big early, Purdue they got blown out. Nebraska they struggled to score the basketball, same thing against Rutgers.
"The conference play hasn’t been up to the typical Wisconsin standard, but a lot of that is because of a very different roster.”
Q: Is Wisconsin’s offense easy to manipulate, one-dimensional, once you take Ethan Happ out of the mix?
Pickman: "Yeah. Everything has revolved around Happ. He has as many post moves as anyone in the country. He really, it’s amazing to watch him down low. To see his footwork is truly special, but other than that, the team struggles in two ways: they’re either inconsistent shooting the basketball, especially from 3, and they don’t have anyone who creates."
Q: What does Wisconsin do best as a team?
Pickman: “They still defend. This is Greg Gard’s team. Bo Ryan, going back to Bo Ryan’s team have always been incredibly principled defensively. They play physical defense. They don’t really beat themselves defensively. They gave up 85 points to Iowa, and that was really one of their defensive low points, I would say. They struggled defensively against an underperforming, underwhelming Iowa team, but sensibly, Wisconsin is still a very good defensive team.”
Q: Score prediction and why?
Pickman: “MSU 77, Wisconsin 52. I think Michigan State wins pretty comfortably. Wisconsin might be able to match up against a Jaren Jackson or a Nick Ward. I don’t really see anyone who can guard Miles Bridges. I know Michigan State said their guard play isn’t the strength of the team, but even Josh Langford or Winston, even Tum Tum Nairn could have a good game.
"I think the Badgers are just too young. They don’t match up well. I don’t see them really scoring. Even if they play good defense, and I expect them to play hard defense and play hard, I don’t see Wisconsin scoring nearly enough to keep pace with the Spartans.”