The Wisconsin Badgers (6-5 overall, 1-1 B1G) men’s basketball team has had a pretty light schedule around the holidays this season. That’s probably for the best as it has hopefully given them some time to straighten out some of their shooting woes that plagued them through a four losses in five games streak at the end of November/beginning of December.
UW takes the court again on Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn. to do battle with the Tennessee Volunteers (8-3 overall) who are a team that looks vastly different from last year. The Badgers got back on the winning side of the ledger with a dominant display against Milwaukee, but Tennessee provides a whole new challenge.
Our SB Nation cousin Terry Lambert at Rocky Top Talk was nice enough to answer some of our questions over the Christmas break so you can be fully prepared for the game on Saturday.
1) What has the adjustment been like for the Vols after losing Grant Williams, Jordan Bone, Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander? How different are things on offense and defense?
It’s been pretty rough!
Tennessee was tasked with replacing virtually all of their scoring and leadership, so naturally it’s been tough. Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner were role players for the past two years and were suddenly forced to be option A and B for Tennessee. Unfortunately, they just haven’t been consistent enough. Rick Barnes is currently trying to get other guys up to speed to take the pressure off, but things got even more complicated when Turner announced that he was having season-ending shoulder surgery last weekend. Now the Vols need to make another massive adjustment — I’m not real sure they have it in them, honestly.
2) Can you give us a brief update on how the season has been going for UT? Seems to be a little up and down, which isn’t surprising given what was lost from last year.
It started better than expected and then kind of regressed to the mean. Tennessee dropped games to Memphis and Cincinnati last week, thanks to some truly awful 15 percent three-point shooting. They’ve just been lost offensively for the better part of three weeks. They beat Washington in Toronto early in the year, but got good production from Yves Pons and Jordan Bowden in that one.
When those two aren’t producing, you pretty much know Tennessee is going to be taking that loss. Thankfully the defense has been really good for the most part, which has masked some offensive issues.
3) How had Lamonte Turner adapted to his role as lead dog and who do the Vols turn to now that his season is over?
Unfortunately he never got the chance to show that he could be the lead guy. The shoulder issue was a problem all season long. He shooting was down nearly ten percent from three, so he pretty clearly wasn’t the guy that he used to be. It’s a shame too, because Turner was awesome. He was the guy that Tennessee went to in crunch time to take and hit big shots. He killed Kentucky late twice in his career and hit a buzzer-beater against VCU earlier this year. He’s going to really be missed, especially considering the fact that Tennessee doesn’t have anyone to replace him.
4) Who is an under the radar player that Wisconsin fans can impress their friends at the bar by saying “watch out for this guy?”
Yves Pons. This guy is a complete animal. I’d bet a lot of money that he sends at least one block into the stands on Saturday afternoon. He’s a 6-6 rim protector that is still trying to find his offensive game.
Barnes was forced to move him down to more of a power forward role this year and he’s really responded. Pons has NBA upside, if he can just find that offensive consistency. But I’m not joking when I say that he might be the most athletic player to ever come through Tennessee.
5) Is true freshman Josiah-Jordan James, or Triple-J as I like to call him, ready to take on more of a leadership role? What does he need to work on with Turner out?
Well, uh, he better be.
Tennessee now has exactly one lead guard on the roster and it’s him. His court vision and basketball IQ have been great so far this year, but he’s been lacking in the aggression and scoring departments. It’s just like he doesn’t feel totally comfortable just yet as a scorer, but we’ve seen some signs of life lately. JJJ just needs to put his foot on the gas and go. Drive the basketball, shoot the open shots. It sounds simple, but he’s too talented to play as passive as he has to this point.
6) Score prediction and MVP for Tennessee, please.
I’m going with the law of averages here. Tennessee has to shoot the ball better than they have in the last few games. It surely can’t stay like this right? That’s what I’m going to tell myself, at least.
Thompson-Boling Arena is a tough place to play. I think Tennessee’s defense keeps them in the game and James and Bowden make enough plays down the stretch to win.
Tennessee 59, Wisconsin 55