Ahead of Tennessee’s non-conference matchup with Wisconsin, we figured it would be a good idea to reach out to our friends at Bucky’s 5th Quarter for a little intel on the Badgers. Thanks to Drew Hamm for helping us out today.
Let’s get to it.
We’re used to seeing Wisconsin make a lot of noise in March under Bo Ryan, but things have cooled a bit under Greg Gard. How has that transition been in recent years? What’s been different?
Gard was an assistant under Ryan for a long time, so not a whole lot has changed per se. One of Ryan’s final recruiting classes (the 2015 one) turned out to be a pretty big bust. Two of the five players transferred and the other three never reached their potential. Brevin Pritzl, a fifth-year sharpshooter and sixth man, is the only one still on the team and he is a useful player but he was a four-star recruit who has never been a starter for the Badgers. Anyways, that’s the one thing you’d hear a lot of yelling about when talking to Badgers fans about the transition.
As far as what has changed? Not a whole lot. The team is still patient and deliberate on offense and tries to play stout defense and make sure not to give up offensive rebounds. If anything has changed it’s that Wisconsin will now try and run a fast break once or twice a game, which is honestly really scary. All of the players look like they don’t know what they’re doing. This year’s team looks like it will struggle to make the NCAA Tournament but Gard has been recruiting really well and his 2020 and 2021 classes are two of the best the Badgers have ever had so his job is probably safe for at least another couple of years.
Any explanation for Wisconsin’s wild home/road splits?
Lumpy mattresses at the hotels they’re staying at? I don’t know, man, but it has been brutal to watch. All five of Wisconsin’s road/neutral site games have been against KenPom top-100 teams and all five have been losses. Tennessee will be the highest-ranked team Wisconsin has played all season, road or home, sooooo uh-oh. What has been the most striking difference is Wisconsin’s complete and utter inability to shoot once they leave the Kohl Center. Wisconsin is shooting 27-of-118 (22.9%) on threes away from home and for a team that takes nearly 44% of their total shots from distance...well, it isn’t a good outcome for them. To contrast those numbers, the Badgers shoot a hair over 40% from three at home, so clearly these players can make a three-pointer. The Badgers shot 10-of-22 from deep in their most recent game, against Milwaukee, and I’m hopeful, but not expectant, that those numbers carry over.
Give me one key strength and one key weakness of Wisconsin that has you confident/concerned heading into this one.
The one key weakness is definitely their shooting on the road, but I’ll give you another since we already talked about that one: Tennessee’s length. Even though the Vols don’t have anyone taller than 6-foot-9 in the rotation, with Lamonte Turner out and Josiah-Jordan James presumably replacing him, everyone will be taller than 6-foot-5 in the starting lineup. The Badgers guards, especially point guard D’Mitrik Trice, are short and may struggle to get shots up when guarded closely. The Vols also block a lot of shots, with Yves Pons and John Fulkerson being especially tough around the rim.
Wisconsin has been very good from the free-throw line this year, so if they can get the Vols into foul trouble, maybe by using pump fakes to get their shot blockers in the air, the Badgers could get a bunch of free points from the stripe. Tennessee is also a pretty bad three-point shooting team so the Badgers should try and keep the Vols offense perimeter-oriented and force UT to take some shots they don’t want.
Wisconsin seems to run through Nate Reuvers. What’s the quick scouting report on him?
Reuvers is Wisconsin’s best player. He’s a 6-foot-11 stretch big that is just as comfortable stepping out to take a three as he is banging bodies down low for a tough layup. He has shown nice touch around the rim this season and is one of the better free throw shooters on the team. He is extremely active on defense and is a superior rim protector. He holds the school record for blocked shots in a game and will definitely pose a problem for the Vols at the basket. One important thing to note: he has been quite foul prone this year and until the last game he didn’t have a serviceable backup (Micah Potter was finally eligible after the NCAA screwed him over, don’t get me started). If the Vols can keep Reuvers under wraps the Badgers should be in a lot of trouble.
I foresee very few scenarios where the Badgers leave Knoxville with a win even though Tennessee has been kind of up and down this year and just lost their starting point guard. I think those two factors will keep the game close but the Vols win 68-61.