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Wisconsin vs. Milwaukee preview: Will Badgers heed wake-up call?

A tough 1-1 week and a slew of upsets around college basketball alerted Wisconsin to a few aspects that need to be cleaned up. What kind of challenge can the struggling Milwaukee Panthers pose?

Milwaukee senior guard Steve McWhorter tries to poke the ball loose against Auburn in the season opener.
Milwaukee senior guard Steve McWhorter tries to poke the ball loose against Auburn in the season opener.
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin's final in-state foe on the schedule, Milwaukee, hasn't beaten a ranked opponent since 2009 let alone a team ranked No. 5 in the nation like the Badgers currently are.

However, strange losses and upsets have peppered the non-league schedule for several power conference teams this year already. Just in the last week, Michigan has been upset by NJIT and now Eastern Michigan, Yale beat UConn on a buzzer beater and Green Bay knocked off Miami (FL). No team can feel too secure in its place atop the mountain these days.

Alas, the Panthers (4-5) have only beaten two Division I foes all season. They've lost to three power conference teams on the road (Auburn, Oklahoma State, DePaul), but face their stiffest test of the year at home when the Badgers (8-1) return to town Wednesday. Wisconsin's elite status this season makes it a hot ticket, according to UWM.

Wisconsin found the city of Milwaukee inhospitable last Saturday when the Badgers shot a season-low 32.7 percent against Marquette. It wasn't the bounce-back performance Bo Ryan has hoped for following the team's loss to Duke, but it was a win nonetheless. The Badgers survived with an ugly 49-38 win thanks in large part to their distinct size advantage.

Oddly enough, the Panthers have more size than the Golden Eagles do, starting 6'8", 230-pound junior Matt Tiby at power forward and Brodhead's J.J. Panoske, at 6'10" in the middle. Tiby was having a fantastic sophomore year until about midway through the Horizon League schedule and he really hasn't produced at the same level since. However, he posted a 11-10 double-double against UMKC two games ago and definitely possesses the physicality to handle himself inside against the Badgers.

Still, it's all about the guards for 10th-year (!) head coach Rob Jeter. Racine native Steve McWhorter is the senior leader and rock for Milwaukee, leading his team in minutes (32 mpg), scoring (16.2 ppg), assists (3.4) and steals in addition to ranking second in rebounding (5.8) and blocked shots. He is the only Panther with a double-figure scoring average.

Beside McWhorter will be JeVon "J.R." Lyle (31.2 mpg) and Northern Illinois transfer Akeem Springs (26.0). Plus, 6'5" wing Cody Wichmann will be the deadliest three-point shooter on the floor whenever he checks into the game. The sophomore from Pulaski has made 19-of-41 (46.3 percent) from long distance this season. Wisconsin's Josh Gasser (13-of-28, 46.4%) may contest that last notion though.

Jeter will go a legitimate nine players deep in his rotation, despite being comfortable at a slow pace -- as you might have guessed from a Bo Ryan protégé. You may see appearances by East Troy's Prahl brothers (Brett and Alex) inside or guard Trinson White, a hometown guy from Riverside High School in Milwaukee.

The rest of the scouting report on Milwaukee isn't pretty. Following a remarkable run to the NCAA tournament last year, Jeter lost only two rotation players, but they were his top two scorers -- point guard Jordan Aaron and forward Kyle Kelm. As a result, the offense has struggled.

Part of the reason is the Panthers cannot get to the free throw line. And even when they do, they are one of the worst teams in the country at making their freebies (63.3%). Another factor is that Milwaukee is prone to giving up steals and getting shots blocked, both at a rate that is far below average.

Frank Kaminsky should be licking his chops. The senior stood out against Marquette and he should do so again Wednesday night. Kaminsky is a player who tends to pick his spots in the Badger offense, making it look almost effortless at times. In fact, as a two-year starter he's yet to have an off night against teams ranked similarly to this year's Milwaukee team by Ken Pomeroy.

One other major storyline for Wisconsin continues to be the performance and health of junior Sam Dekker. On Monday Ryan somewhat gruffly answered a question about sitting Dekker. "He's had rest," Ryan said. "What happens with the players that way is internal. Why even talk about it?"

Dekker's ankle doesn't seem to limit him that much when you watch him move, though his aggressiveness and ability to plant-and-cut don't look explosive. If anything, it's Dekker's confidence that has suffered. Fans are eagerly awaiting his recovery from the worst two-game scoring stretch of his career.

It seems likely that UW will shore up its minor turnover trouble over the next two games as well. Should be an easy fix, as long as Duje Dukan is not asked to break the press.


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