Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Elsewhere in the B1G: No. 21 Wisconsin 80, UW-Platteville 51

File photo (Fouad Egbaria)

The Wolverines opened up their season against a vastly overmatched Concordia squad last night, eventually leaving the floor with a 117-44 victory. Although much of the preseason focus has been on the Wolverines and Spartans this season, this is the Big Ten; several other teams will be in the mix for title contention this season.

As usual, one of those teams will be the Badgers, who began their season tonight against UW-Platteville in the Kohl Center for an exhibition tune-up before taking on St. John's next Friday in Sioux Falls.

Bo Ryan is faced with the task of replacing multiple key pieces seemingly every year, and yet the Badgers always seem to turn out all right. The 2012-13 UW squad went from a mediocre 6-4 start to a 4-seed (and a first round bye). This season, the Badgers have to replace Jared Berggren, Mike Brusewitz and Ryan Evans in the frontcourt.

However, UW returns rising star Sam Dekker, Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson at the point, not to mention Josh Gasser from injury.

Dekker, Gasser, Jackson, Brust and Frank Kaminsky got the start for the Badgers tonight; given the aforementioned departures, the Badgers will need big minutes from Kaminsky this season. In any case, this will certainly be a backcourt-oriented squad this season.

Due to technical difficulties, I missed the first 4:30 or so. Platteville gained a 12-11 lead early.

RS Jr. Duje Dukan came in for Dekker at the first break. Naturally, Jackson pushed it in transition and hit Dukan in the corner, who nailed the open trey. I say "naturally" because Dukan is, of course, 6'9'', continuing the UW tradition of big guy three-point shooters.

The 6'7'' freshman forward Nigel Hayes also entered the game early; he took a bad jumper from the left side and then failed to convert on a second chance opportunity around the rim. The same competition caveats brought up re: Michigan's exhibition yesterday apply here; it's difficult to tell what to expect from certain guys after a game like this. With that said, given the lack of much proven frontcourt production, the Badgers will have to rely on the freshman Hayes and fellow freshman (and fellow Ohioan) Vitto Brown.

As far as backcourt reserves go, freshman Bronson Koenig is an interesting prospect. At 6'3'' 190 pounds, the freshman offers up some solid size at the guard spot. Also at the guard spot, 6'3'' freshman Jordan Hill joins the fray.

Platteville hung tough for about the first 10 minutes, but after Hayes reeled in a rebound off a missed Kaminsky three and put it in, the Badgers boasted a 29-18 lead.

Given the guard-heavy nature of this squad, some wondered if this iteration of UW basketball would like to push the pace more than it has in the past. The commentators mentioned this, but even though this was just an exhibition, the Badgers found quite a bit of success in transition, running the floor with nice spacing and hitting the open man at the right time.

Now, I don't expect the Badgers to play like Louisville or anything this Big Ten season, but don't be surprised if they do attempt to get some mine some easy buckets in transition.

Dukan had a bit of a rough sequence in which he was slow to help after Platteville executed a nice backdoor pass; on the ensuing offensive possession, Dukan threw up a rough shot on the block. It seemed like he expected a foul, but there didn't seem to be much contact.

The Badgers went into the half up just 37-30. UW's three-point shot would not fall in the first 20 minutes, as the Badgers shot just 1-for-11 from beyond the arc, including a pair of misses at the end of the half when Platteville switched to a zone.

Wisconsin shot just 33% as a team last season, good for 7th in the Big Ten and 225th nationally, so it's not as if they shot the three well last season either. Gasser shot a tremendous 45% from three back in 2011-12, and Brust has shot exactly 38.9% each of the last two seasons. If those two can fill it up from downtown, whatever contributions the Badgers can get from bigs like Kaminsky and Dukan will be gravy.

As with yesterday's post, I'll skip the second half narrative and jump to miscellaneous observations via bullet.

  • Kaminsky led the Badgers with nine points in the first half; Dekker and Brust scored six apiece. 
  • Whenever I've watched Traevon Jackson play, I've never been particularly impressed by any singular aspect of his game (especially his funk shooting motion). Yet, I still really find myself enjoying his overall game; he definitely plays the part of the floor general for a top 5 in the B1G squad. Not every point guard can be Trey Burke, but Jackson seems to have good floor sense, decent quicks and a solid ability to distribute to his scorers. However, Jackson does need to take care of the ball much better; in 2012-13, he finished with a turnover percentage of 25.3%
  • Nigel Hayes had himself some productive minutes in the second half, scoring in the paint on back-to-back possessions about seven minutes in. Hayes has a bit more heft than Ryan Evans did--and thus doesn't seem to have the footspeed that Evans had--but he is still a freshman, obviously. In any case, I'm not sure who, if anybody, will get fed the ball in standard post-up situations for the Badgers this season. With Evans no longer wearing Badger red, my guess is the UW guards just won't be throwing it down into the post very often this season. 
  • I didn't notice a whole lot from Koenig through about 30 minutes, but I do remember some good things from him when I was able to catch bits of UW's Canadian road trip a couple of months back (which, again, competition caveats apply). Just a hunch, but I think Koenig--who was named Wisconsin's Associated Press player of the year--will be a good one down the road. 
  • The Badgers will have to go small a lot this season. About 12 minutes into the second half, Sam Dekker was the tallest player on the floor for the Badgers. 
  • Vitto Brown swatted a shot later in the game, ran the floor and converted an easy two in transition at the other end. The 6'8'' 237 pound freshman has some athleticism to him, and definitely appears capable of running the floor when the Badgers do push it. 
  • The Badgers looked much better against the zone in the second half. About 16 minutes into the second, Wisconsin found George Marshall in the right corner after a series of quick passes. Marshall attacked the rim and completed an and-1 at the line. 
  • UW finished 7-for-22 from beyond the arc. 
It wasn't a particularly pretty outing for the Badgers, but in a meaningless exhibition game, aesthetics aren't the primary concern. Like last year, this is another UW squad that will look much different by January/February. For this Badgers squad to once again find itself in the top four of the B1G, the frontcourt will have to grow up fast, Jackson will need to cut down on the turnovers and finding a second scorer to complement Dekker will be crucial. 

As I mentioned before, this is a young team overall that does boast experience at the guard spots. Bo Ryan will have to lean on his guards for the first couple of months of the season until the new faces in the frontcourt get acclimated to Division I basketball. 

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