Tonight the Wisconsin Badgers will visit the Carrier Dome in a much anticipated matchup between a Syracuse team that is skyrocketing up the polls and a Wisconsin squad that is trending in the opposite direction. The Badgers, although still with some talent, are far from the same team that knocked off Kentucky and fell to Duke in the finals of March Madness last season.
Wisconsin has already dropped three games, to an unranked Western Illinois team, a competitive-but-unranked Georgetown team, and most recently to seventh-ranked Oklahoma. The team’s most impressive win was against VCU, although that was only by one point at home.
Without Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, who are now in the NBA, a majority of the Badgers’ scoring comes from returning scorer Nigel Hayes. He is currently averaging 14.9 points per game on 36 percent shooting. Similarly, Bronson Koenig, who came off of the bench last season, is averaging a team-leading 16.1 points per game on 44 percent shooting. Only two other rotation players are averaging double digits for Wisconsin, junior Vitto Brown (10.1) and freshman Ethan Happ (10.0).
Without Kaminsky, the Badgers are left without a ton of size. In fact, this matchup is projected to play perfectly for SU. Happ is the Badgers’ leading rebounder, averaging 7.6 boards per game, but he only measures up at 6-foot-9, 230 pounds. We’ve seen the Orange look borderline-dominant on the boards, but have also seen the team look completely out-matched. Because of Wisconsin’s lack of size, Dajuan Coleman and Tyler Roberson should be able to clean up on the glass tonight.
One other key stat that plays into the Orange’s hand is Wisconsin’s inefficiency at defending the three ball. In four of the Badgers’ seven games, opponents have shot over 50 percent from three. That’s a dangerous combo for Jim Boeheim, as the Orange has caught fire in games from behind the arc.
Wisconsin, on offense, lacks a true deep threat outside of Koenig. So, it’s going to be harder than ever for the Badgers to crack the zone defense without being able to stretch it. Koening is hitting 36 percent of his shots from three. Couple this with the fact that Wisconsin and Bo Ryan have not faced the zone since the 2012 NCAA tournament, and it could be a long day for the Badger offense.
As long as the Orange can create turnovers and stay out of foul trouble, SU should add another strong non-conference win to its tournament resume. It’s an important game to prove to the country that #14 isn’t a fluke.