Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Elsewhere in the B1G: Wisconsin looks for revenge, Michigan State squares off against No. 1 Kentucky

If you haven't noticed, I've been writing a decent bit about non-Michigan things here of late. As we head into basketball season, I'm going to try to expand my writing here to nudge this place toward general interest material, particularly with respect to college basketball. There's a lot of great stuff happening out there in the world of sports, and there's no point limiting myself to writing only about Michigan. 
While Michigan squares off against another overmatched opponent tonight at the Crisler Center, a pair of big games featuring Big Ten squads are on the docket tonight as the Tip-Off Marathon draws to a close. Wisconsin draws Florida at the Kohl Center, while Tom Izzo's Spartans get No. 1 Kentucky at the United Center in Chicago.

So, let's start with the Badgers:

No. 20 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Florida--Kohl Center, Madison, Wis. (9:00 ET, ESPN2)

Fouad Egbaria

The Badgers scored a solid victory against an athletic St. John's squad in Sioux Falls on Friday; they'll look to build on that tonight as Bill Donovan's squad comes to the Kohl Center. 

Of course, there's not much here yet. The Gators have played one game, an uninspiring (by the box score) 77-69 victory against North Florida on Friday. Senior forward Casey Prather led the way with 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting; Prather also pulled down eight boards. 

Freshman point guard Kasey Hill scored 15 points of his own (5-of-9 shooting), plus four assists, two steals, a block and two turnovers. 

North Florida's frontcourt seemed to have some success against their Gator counterparts. Forward Travis Wallace scored 15 and 6'11'' center Romelo Banks pitched in 10 of his own. The Gators did force 17 UNF turnovers, but the Ospreys did also pull down 13 offensive boards, good for an ORB% of 34%. 

Most years, this would be big for a frontcourt-oriented Badgers squad; however, as I've noted here before, Bo Ryan's squad will be powered by its backcourt this season, until younger options, like freshmen forwards Vitto Brown and Nigel Hayes, get some seasoning. Frank Kaminsky is Wisconsin's only experienced big guy, but he is more of a shooter than a true low post warrior. 

The Badgers took their worst loss of the season last season against Florida down in Gainesville, a 76-54 loss almost a year ago on Nov. 14. There's no question that the Badgers will be looking to avenge that loss in front of a raucous Kohl Center crowd. 


On the bright side for UW, despite Florida's currently shiny ranking, this Gator squad is probably not as good as it was last year. Erik Murphy, Kenny Boyton and Mike Rosario are gone, and the Gators are also dealing with a trio of suspensions

At that link is a solid Q&A between SB Nation's Bucky's 5th Quarter and Alligator Army; as noted there, Prather and Hill will represent the bulk of UF's offensive firepower, especially Prather. 

Senior forward Patric Young (who is actually listed at center despite only being 6'9'') will be key for the Gators' chances tonight, particularly given the unsettled nature of the Badgers frontcourt. Florida will need much more than the two point, two rebound effort Young pitched in against UNF. 

Forward Will Yeguete and guard DeVon Walker round out the starting five for UF; they went a combined 1-of-6 from the field against UNF. Yeguete had himself a nice game against Michigan in the Elite 8 last season, going 5-of-5 from the field for 13 points. 

As for the Badgers, Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Ben Brust, Traevon Jackson and Sam Dekker should once again comprise the starting five. Gasser's post-injury debut against St. John's was wildly successful, scoring 19 points on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc and 8-of-8 from the charity stripe. 

With Ryan Evans no longer on the roster, production from the low post might be hard to find for the Badgers this season. However, with Brust and Gasser shooting well, and Dekker filling it up as he is wont to do, the perimeter game should more than make up for it most nights. 

Points of Emphasis
  • In that vein, how do the Badgers respond if their shots aren't falling and they can't find opportunities in transition? This game should provide a good test in that regard. 
  • Who checks Patric Young? The odds are good that Young won't be held to just two points again tonight. Can Kaminsky and the young forwards, Hayes and Brown, slow him down?
  • According to Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army, UF's perimeter defense has been "almost embarrassingly bad" thus far. The Badgers should get some good looks. For all of the advanced stats that now exist to dissect the game of college basketball, it always comes down to simply making shots. 

Ken Pomeroy predicted a 65-63 UW victory with 57 percent confidence. He's a smart guy, and I tend to agree with him. If the Gators were at full strength, maybe this would be different, but with the Badgers playing at the fortress that is the Kohl Center, I think they shoot well enough to keep a depleted UF squad in check. I agree that both teams will land in the 60s, but I think the Badgers win by a few more points than Kenpom thinks. 

Score: Wisconsin 68, Florida 61. 

And with that, I'll move on to the main event of the night: No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 2 Michigan State. 

No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 2 Michigan State--United Center, Chicago, Ill. (7:30 ET, ESPN)

Despite failing to make the tournament last season, John Calipari's UK squad, after yet another talent-rich recruiting haul, finds itself atop the polls. The 'Cats bring in a whopping eight players in the 2013 cycle, including five-star prospects Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Julius Randle and James Young, all ranked in to the top 20 nationally. These days, it's as if Kentucky is quite literally a new team every single year, which I suppose is the price of winning and the resulting recruiting success. 

Nonetheless, Michigan State returns four of five starters, with Derrick Nix the only loss from the 2012-13 squad. As loaded as UK may be with young talent, the Spartans are proven and equal to the test. 


Michigan State is 1-0, with a 98-56 victory against McNeese State on Friday to their name. Four of five Spartan starters scored in the double digits. Sophomore Gary Harris led the way with 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting and 10 rebounds, albeit with a team high four turnovers. 

Branden Dawson and Travis Trice also scored 10+ off the bench (12 and 11, respectively). 

Meanwhile, the young Wildcats are 2-0, with 89-57 and 93-63 victories against UNC-Asheville and Northern Kentucky, respectively. The Harrison brothers scored a combined 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting, but forward Julius Randle led the way with 22 points and 14 rebounds. 

Willie Cauley-Stein, the lone returning player still in the starting lineup, has averaged just 5.0 points per game thus far. 

I ran down the relevant personnel above, but the convenient thing for the Spartans is that most of last year's big contributors are back. Point guard Keith Appling, now a senior, might be MSU's most important player vis-a-vis controlling the pace of a game that Calipari wants to be played at speeds that Autobahn drivers would likely look at with curiosity. 

Having not seen either of UK's two warmup games, and with all of their primary contributors being new faces (save Cauley-Stein), it's difficult to say much about their roster other than what everybody already knows: they're athletic, talented and will score the ball with impunity. 

Points of Emphasis
  • Winning the first half. If the Spartans can survive the first half, the second can be won with experience. As is always the case in the game of basketball, defense begins on the offensive end. The Spartans have to avoid bad shots --and the resulting long rebounds-- or UK will be off to the races in transition. Additionally, unless Appling plays a perfect game, the Spartans will have a hard time keeping the UK onslaught at bay. 
  • Rebounding. Cleaning up the glass has always been a forte of Izzo's teams, but the Wildcats have size and athleticism from top to bottom. Everyone, including all three starting guards, is 6'6'' or taller in the UK starting lineup. The onus will thus fall on Adreian Payne and the 6'4'' sophomore Gary Harris to put a body on Cauley-Stein, Randle and the three 6'6'' guards (Young and the Harrison twins). This goes without even mentioning UK's bench, which includes the 7-footer Dakari Johnson and 6'9'' forward Marcus Lee. 
  • Matt Costello vs. take-your-pick UK frontcourt option. This is the biggest mismatch of the game for the Spartans; Tom Izzo will need to figure out a way to hide Costello on the defensive end, which, unfortunately for him, probably means some open looks on the perimeter for UK's guards. 
Making a prediction for a game like this is especially difficult given the nature of UK's roster. Obviously, they are very good, but will they click right away against a legitimate, experienced top 5 team? We'll find out tonight, but I'm leaning toward the pure talent and athleticism of Kentucky for now. 

Score: Kentucky 75, Michigan State 68. 

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