The Wisconsin Badgers are back and seemingly better than ever. We saw that firsthand on Friday night, as they dismantled the Central Arkansas Bears 79-47.
The Badgers were on offensively from start to finish, as Wisconsin was able to give multiple bench players double-digit minutes. Bronson Koenig led the way with 16 points, including four three-pointers and four rebounds. Nigel Hayes added 14 points and hit two of his six three-pointers, showing he may be reigniting his spark behind the arc that was so dangerous two years ago.
The most exciting part of the game for me was seeing the bench production. It's expected for younger players to produce against cupcake opponents like Central Arkansas, however the performance of true freshman guard D'Mitrik Trice in the first game shows how much potential this young stud has. In just 13 minutes, the younger brother of former Michigan State star Travis Trice scored 8 points off of 2 three pointers and also notched a couple rebounds. The learning curve was present, however, as he also turned the ball over three times and committed three fouls.
Tuesday night's opponent Creighton won in a surprisingly close matchup versus UMKC. That was likely due to the team stepping off the gas in the second half after building up a solid first half lead.
Creighton relies on the superb scoring guard trio of Marcus Foster, Khyri Thomas and Maurice Watson Jr. The Badgers have to be diligent defenders on the perimeter as well as closing up driving lanes.
Now onto my three X-Factors for the game and my prediction.
Draw Fouls Early and Often
Creighton showed last game that they cannot trust their bench, as even in limited minutes last game they were partially responsible for the offensive explosion of UMKC. The Badgers are adept at drawing fouls and it could benefit them greatly in a tough road environment this week. The starting five of Creighton drew five fouls in their opening game, and 6 of those were credited to the high-scoring guard trio.
Force Creighton Inside
The Blue Jays thrive off of their stellar perimeter offense. Last season and during their last outing they often score double digit threes and often eclipse 20 assists. If the Badgers are able to force the ball inside, they can use their height advantage and rebounding strength to their advantage. Expect tight defense from Gard's squad.
Feed Nigel Hayes the Basketball
This is one of those games where I think Nigel Hayes could absolutely dominate. The Jays start three guards who are limited in height, and will be forced to use their taller starters on Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown. Hayes is that versatile wing that can use match ups such as these to score efficiently and in large swaths. How the Jays set up their defense will be interesting to watch, as game time approaches. They may slide reserve center Zach Hanson into the lineup to mitigate their height disadvantage.
A tough road environment will likely keep this game closer than one might think, but I have the Badgers pulling off the W in this Top 25 battle. The seasoned veterans of this Wisconsin squad have a lot of experience in much tougher road atmospheres, and I think they will be able to control the tempo of this game from start to finish.