The best way to stay relevant is to keep winning, which Wisconsin (11-0) did on Wednesday. But as I laid out the other day, this year's team can aim higher than merely staying relevant. To that end, the Badgers must continue to churn out impressive performances against lower-rated teams.
Doing so against Eastern Kentucky (7-3) this Saturday -- and remaining undefeated -- will be a more interesting task if Frank Kaminsky is absent. The junior center missed Thursday's practice with his right foot in a walking boot, leading to some speculation that he might rest this weekend. It's the second time since the start of fall practices that Kaminsky has been seen in a walking boot. One can only hope that this is just a preventative practice and not something chronic (UPDATE: Kaminsky is a game-time decision).
Luckily, Wisconsin's guards have the ability to pick up the slack. Traevon Jackson continued to show off his improved all-around floor game against UWM. He and Sam Dekker were both very efficient. Ben Brust was the latest Badger to break out in the scoring department, hitting on his first four 3-pointers in the first half, en route to 16 of his game-high 18 points.
Eastern Kentucky, meanwhile, knows a bit about guard play also. The Colonels took VCU to overtime just last week and come from an Ohio Valley Conference that has brought us tourney darlings such as Murray State and Belmont in recent years. Eastern will lean heavily on a four-guard lineup in which each starting guard is junior college transfer.
Well-rounded guards Glenn Cosey and Corey Walden are Nos. 1-2 in most major stat categories for Eastern Kentucky. Cosey leads the Colonels with 19.3 points and 4.9 assists per game (and a 2.3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio) so far as a senior. A 6'2 junior, Walden leads Eastern with 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game, and is second on the team in assists (3.1) and third in scoring (12.0). These guys nail their free throws, too.
|EKU is located in Richmond, Ky., about an hour north of Corbin, where Colonel Sanders first started peddling chicken. A coincidence?|
As you might expect from a team starting four guards, it really limits what kind of a team they are. For one, saying Eastern Kentucky struggles to get offensive rebounds is probably an understatement. The Colonels are basically the worst in Division 1 -- snatching up only 18.8 percent of their own misses -- so Wisconsin should be able to save a lot of its effort for the offensive end.
Additionally, the Colonels shoot a ton of 3-pointers -- half of their shot attempts, in fact. So while they are only OK at making them, that is where they will get their points. Conversely, EKU cannot stop many teams inside, so Kaminsky could thrive if he plays.
One thing Eastern does have going for it is experience. However, considering how well this group of Badgers has been playing together from the season-opener until now, I'd say Wisconsin has more than enough experience of its own. And that's good because another advantage of a four-guard lineup is generating steals, which EKU is one of the best at, too.
There is little history between these two teams, but the lone previous meeting was certainly dramatic. Very early in a forgettable 2005-06 season, Wisconsin needed a late 3-pointer by Kammron Taylor to force double-overtime in an eventual 95-89 win over the hot-shooting Colonels at the Paradise Jam semifinals in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Alando Tucker finished with a career-high 38 points and 10 rebounds that day.
Projected Starting Lineups
|Frank Kaminsky, Jr.||F||Eric Stutz, Jr.|
|Sam Dekker, So.||F / G||Tarius Johnson, Sr.|
|Josh Gasser, Jr.||G||Marcus Lewis, Sr.|
|Ben Brust, Sr.||G||Corey Walden, Jr.|
|Traevon Jackson, Jr.||G||Glenn Cosey, Sr.|
KenPom win probability: 94% (73-57 W) 63 possessions
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