Milwaukee vs. Wisconsin preview: Time to gear up for greatness

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Badgers are flying high and trying to match the program's best start in the modern era. Wisconsin welcomes its final in-state foe, Rob Jeter's UW-Milwaukee squad, into the Kohl Center on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. CT.

Okay Wisconsin, you've gotten everyone's attention. What are you going to do with it?

It is not quite Beatlemania, but Buckymania is bubbling. With Badger football on hiatus and Aaron Rodgers sidelined, the people of Wisconsin are talking Badger hoops. A 10-0 start against one of the toughest schedules in the country has allowed No. 4 Wisconsin to break into the AP poll's Top 5 for only the second time ever. (The vaunted 2006-'07 team that spent a week atop the polls is the other.) This year, UW's eight Top 100 RPI wins are far and away the best in the land. Near-universal praise is raining down on the Badgers.

The Badgers have proven they can race to high-scoring wins and also grind them out as usual. I am not going out on a limb by saying this might be the best the team will look on paper the entire season. Not only did all five Wisconsin starters score in double-figures in the win against hated rival Marquette, but all five guys are averaging double figures.

Sooner or later, other teams' resumes will eat away at the gap created by Wisconsin's strong non-conference slate. The Badgers won't always be able to say they're undefeated (well okay, maybe!) or get away with playing top teams missing key players (Florida, Marquette).

Wisconsin should not lose again in 2013, as it finishes December against three non-Top 100 teams. That is why I think this is the part of the season where the Badgers plot to take over the universe.

Sam Dekker is coming on strong, posting two double-doubles (West Virginia, Marquette) in his last two outings. There is no reason to think he cannot keep things rolling and develop some consistency against less gifted opponents heading into Big Ten play. As Dekker becomes the focal point of opposing teams' scouting reports, that only opens things up more for teammates like Frank Kaminsky and Ben Brust.

Another reason the final stretch of non-conference play is a gift relates to Josh Gasser. His recent performances have shown how valuable Gasser can be when he's on the floor, making it easy to forget the kid is still coming back from a major knee injury. After averaging over 36 minutes in the last three games, Gasser could use some rest.

Additionally, there are a few freshmen looking to further integrate themselves into the rotation. Bronson Koenig is obviously in line for additional minutes since the departure of George Marshall, but Nigel Hayes has room to grow too. Hayes has slumped a bit of late, struggling with his shooting and foul trouble. The sturdy freshman clearly has Bo Ryan's confidence, but now might be the ideal time for Hayes to regain some confidence for himself. Even so, I am hopeful that we will also see an appearance or two by Vitto Brown in December. You can bet Brown is working hard to make that happen before the tightened rotations of league play set in.

* * *

With college finals week upcoming and plenty of laurels to rest on, now is the time for Wisconsin to double-down and focus on the opportunity it has in front of it -- the opportunity to be great. That means leaving no doubt that the Badgers are who everyone thinks they are at this moment.

That means beating up on UW-Milwaukee pretty soundly Wednesday night. The Panthers (9-2) come to Madison riding a five-game winning streak of their own, off to their best start under head coach Rob Jeter. Jeter and assistants Sharif Chambliss and Duffy Conroy are all former staff members under Bo Ryan.

Milwaukee's strength is at forward, where Randolph native Kyle Kelm and sophomore Matt Tiby lead the way. Kelm, a senior, has finally stepped up his inside game this season and ascended to a starting position five games ago.

Tiby is somewhat of a bully down low. At 6'8", 230 pounds, he attempts nearly one free throw for every field goal attempt he shoots. The transfer from Kirkwood CC in Iowa leads Milwaukee in scoring (14.7 per-game) and rebounding (6.9). Either he or Kelm will provide decent opposition to Kaminsky down low.

Some UW fans may recognize point guard Steve McWhorter from the recent Racine St. Catherine's powerhouse teams, Madison Edgewood alum Austin Arians at forward and Brodhead's J.J. Panoske off the bench. McWhorter transferred in from Indiana State last year. Though not much of a scorer, McWhorter's steadying presence has been a key factor in Milwaukee's marked improvement over last season.

Jeter will bring anywhere from three to four players off the bench, depending on the health of reserve guard Thierno Niang.

The Panther defense should be ripe for the picking tonight, ranking just 232nd in defensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy.

Just remember Rob, it's nothing personal, just the first step in world domination.

Projected Starting Lineups

Wisconsin Pos. Milwaukee
Frank Kaminsky, Jr. F Kyle Kelm, Sr.
Sam Dekker, So. F Matt Tiby, So.
Josh Gasser, Jr. G / F Austin Arians, So.
Ben Brust, Sr. G Jordan Aaron, Sr.
Traevon Jackson, Jr. G Steve McWhorter, Jr.

KenPom win probability: 95% (78-60 W) 64 possessions

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For more Wisconsin basketball coverage, follow Phil on Twitter @hoopsmarinara.

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