If you thought the 99-55 beatdown of Prairie View A&M lacked drama, withhold judgement until after Wisconsin (1-0) takes on North Dakota (1-0) Tuesday night. North Dakota was the worst team in the worst Division I basketball conference a year ago.
Besides being Phil Jackson's alma mater, the most interesting thing about North Dakota basketball is the university's ongoing nickname drama. Two years from now, North Dakota and a new, bland, politically-correct mascot will move on up to the Big Sky Conference. But for now the Fighting Sioux toil in the Great West Conference, a motley hodge podge of fledgling athletic departments slapped together in 2004. North Dakota joined in 2008 when they transitioned to D-1.
On the bright side, there is nowhere to go but up for UND. And who better to lead them than one of Wisconsin's very own? Freshman Troy Huff, who prepped at Brookfield Academy outside Milwaukee, debuted with a team-high 18 points and 6 rebounds on Friday. Sophomore Dan Stockman also hails from Sheboygan. In addition, the young team returns 6'8" junior wing Patrick Mitchell, a preseason all-league pick.
Lest fans get too cocky, remember that teams from the Roughrider State have pulled off miracles before.
From a Wisconsin perspective, Rob Wilson is expected to miss his second game with a strained hamstring. Look for freshman guard Josh Gasser to further solidify his spot in the rotation. Sunday night proved Gasser was a great talent, but also showed he's got work to do on defense. Prairie View A&M's 5'10" senior guard Trant Simpson scored 14 points and three of his 3-pointers came when being guarded by Gasser. It was frustrating at times for UW to chase a couple of water bugs around all night -- Jeff Wherry and Michael Griffin, both standing 5'8" if they're lucky, also came off the bench for the Panthers.
The Badgers shot 18-of-22 from the free throw line in the opener, successfully making more than the Panthers attempted as we discussed prior to the game. That is to be expected in early season games like these and you can expect it to continue tonight. Jon Leuer will not be stopped.
Personally, I will be more impressed with Wisconsin if they score fewer points, but do it by pounding the ball inside. North Dakota will have a bit more size than Prairie View A&M, but nothing UW needs to fear. The Badgers hoisted a ridiculous number of first-half 3-pointers (4-of-17) on Sunday before catching fire in the second half. It would be wise to avoid taking 30+ shots from downtown habitually.
To that end, hopefully Ryan Evans and Keaton Nankivil can bounce back against UND. Neither player turned in very good defensive performances last game, although Nankivil was impressive with three steals in the post and had six rebounds. Lack of playing time limited both players offensively, yet several of Nankivil's perimeter shots barely rattled out. A few more easy buckets inside should get 'em going.