The blueprint for defeating the Wisconsin men's basketball team was laid bare, swiftly and plainly, over the past week. On one hand, you need quickness on the perimeter. And on the other, have a stable of big bodies to push Wisconsin around inside.
It was easy to overlook the facts among all the football hoopla, but North Carolina and Marquette out-rebounded Wisconsin 80-54 to hand the Badgers their first two losses of the season. The Tar Heels go 7'0", 6'10", 6'9" and 6'8" on the front line, while the Golden Eagles measure a stout 6'6" and 6'11" up front in a three-guard lineup and bring 6'8" 290-pound wide-body Davante Gardner off the bench. Not to mention both teams had the athleticism on the wing to pressure Wisconsin into horrible shooting days.
Welcoming UW-Green Bay to the Kohl Center could be viewed as a momentary respite for the Badgers, especially junior Jared Berggren and his frontcourt mates.
The Phoenix are led by 7'1" sophomore center Alec Brown. Brown, who opened a multitude of eyes this offseason at the Amare Stoudamire big man camp, will present a unique challenge to the Badgers while at the same time allowing them to work on issues that crippled them against Top 15 competition. But beyond Brown and 6'9" 265-pound ex-Hawkeye Brennan Cougill, Green Bay cannot match the size and experience that Wisconsin boasts.
Berggren should be happy. At 6'10", Berggren has simply been outmatched on the glass during UW's two-game skid. The usually scrappy Mike Bruesewitz has been somewhat MIA this season -- due to either foul trouble or the Samsonesque loss of strength from shedding his curly red afro. Ryan Evans leads UW with 6.5 rebounds per game, but like Bruesewitz, he is only 6'6" and not muscle-bound by any means.
Wisconsin shot a combined 39-for-114 (34.2%) versus UNC and Marquette. Although better shooting could have limited the opponent's rebounding opportunities, the Badgers still would have to deal with the quickness of those teams.
The challenge is two-fold. Quick perimeter players create havoc on defense by applying extended pressure, resulting in more turnovers and the temptation to settle for bad outside shot attempts. Young guys like Todd Mayo and Vander Blue forced UW into 12 turnovers Saturday (and a career-high five TOs from Jordan Taylor).
On offense, fast athletic wings can break down the Badger defense, causing the big men to rotate over as help defense. All three starters need to do a better job switching over. Since Evan Anderson has not proved he can stay on the court defensively, the second line of defense when Berggren is out of the game is freshman Frank Kaminsky. Needless to say, he's been a pleasant surprise but still has a lot to learn about defense.
While Brown leads the Phoenix in minutes (29.4), points (13.8), rebounds (7.5), and blocks (2.6), Cougill is easily the team's best defensive rebounder. Second-year coach Brian Wardle runs out nine players regularly with around the same number of minutes, save for Brown.
But Wardle does start a freshman point guard in Keifer Sykes. So if there was ever a time for Taylor to reassert his dominance, this game is it.
Though his numbers are down across the board thus far, Taylor has a great opportunity to get back on track tonight. Even if he and his teammates continue to misfire, Berggren, Evans and Co. should be able to rebound nicely --literally -- from their recent subpar performances.
And that's what these in-state rivalry games are for sometimes: building confidence. Or in this case, rebuilding it.
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