Wisconsin hosts Nebraska Omaha at the Kohl Center Tuesday evening at 7 p.m., when its freshman forward will try to build off a fantastic first half against California.
If you've never seen poetry in motion before, watching freshman Sam Dekker take on Cal during the first half this past Sunday would have been a good introduction.
Gliding across the floor, Dekker sprung for 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 14 minutes against the Bears before halftime. He routinely weaseled his way near the hoop while absorbing contact and could have added a few more points if he'd simply hit his free throws. Able to see angles some of his more experienced teammates either cannot see or cannot act upon, Dekker also added two assists.
"He was able to get a couple creases and he’s pretty good at finishing around the basket," Bo Ryan said. "He’s just learning. But, he did give us a good spark."
Dekker plays at a different speed. He is third on the team in scoring (10.5 ppg) in only the seventh-most minutes (20.5 mpg).
Yet the Big Ten offers plenty of competition when it comes to talented newcomers. Deep on star power, the class of 2012 includes players like Indiana's Yogi Ferrell, Michigan State's Gary Harris, and a talented trio of Wolverines in Ann Arbor. Nik Stauskas has been the most pleasant surprise, winning the last two Freshman of the Week honors in the league by averaging 16.8 points and 3.5 rebounds for Michigan in his last four games.
Dekker, on the other hand, would be classified more as a bubbling volcano. Everyone you talk to about the Badgers senses Dekker's potential, and everyone in Kohl Center feels the excitement he brings to the floor each game. He posted a career-high 19 points against Arkansas 10 days ago.
Freshman mistakes are bound to happen. In 10 more minutes playing time in the second half against Cal, Dekker was held scoreless and got loose with the ball (3 turnovers). He added a few more rebounds, but basically disappeared.
That couldn't erase the impact he had already had on the game, however.
"Sam is good," shuddered Cal head coach Mike Montgomery after Sunday's game. "He’s a good player, there’s no question about that. He’s the real deal. He could be stretch-four or a three. He’s got a really nice stroke and is very, very confident for a freshman."
Confidence is not the icing on the cake; it is an integral ingredient to Dekker's success. That's why I see see him emerging as one of the team's leaders in just his first season. Dekker is the type of player that can rise to the level of his competition. Though Virginia bottled him up and he was average against Creighton, Dekker was the lone bright spot during the Florida debacle. That could mean good things for Wisconsin during the dog days of conference play.
For now, Dekker and the rest of the Badgers will keep the engine warm against yet another team from the Cornhusker State. (Note: This makes at least four times in basketball, two in football, and one series in hockey for those counting at home.)
Founded in 1908, Nebraska Omaha is a school of 15,448 students in its second year of Division I basketball competition out of the Summit League. The Mavericks boast three Wisconsin natives on their roster: Alex Welhouse, Justin Simmons and Jacques Coleman. Welhouse and Simmons make up 40 percent of an experienced starting five.
However, the Mavericks (2-7) have struggled in just about every area so far this year, ranking fourth to last in defensive efficiency, surrendering 1.12 points-per-possession. Simmons leads the team in scoring at 12.1 ppg.
The team may come in a bit more scrappy than Cal, but does not have the size or skill to contend up front. Wisconsin ought to have a field day on the boards against a team that doesn't clean the glass well on either end of the court.
Not to mention Omaha's unknown capacity to handle a spark plug like Dekker. Even Welhouse, who grew up a huge Badger fan, recycled the oft-used mantra about Wisconsin basketball, almost unaware of the buzzsaw the Mavericks are about to encounter:
"They're big and they like to slow it down and run the swing (offense) instead of taking a quick shot," Welhouse said.
Well, yes and no, Alex. I don't blame the kid for being focused on his own team, but Wisconsin will take a quicker shot than you think. And if it's up to Dekker, the Badgers won't slow anything down for Nebraska Omaha's sake.
Projected Starting Lineups
|Jared Berggren, Sr.||C||John Karhoff, Jr.|
|Mike Bruesewitz, Sr.||F||Alex Welhouse, Sr.|
|Ryan Evans, Sr.||F / G||Justin Simmons, Jr.|
|Ben Brust, Jr.||G||Alex Phillips, Jr.|
|Traevon Jackson, So.||G||Caleb Steffensmeier, Jr.|
KenPom win probability: 99% (88-53 W) 66 possessions
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