The Boise State Broncos go on the road this Saturday night (10 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network) to take on one of the best college basketball teams in the country in the Wisconsin Badgers. To get the know the Badgers much more than myself we connected with Bucky's 5th Quarter to help us answer the most pressing questions for this big matchup this weekend.
1. What are the expectations of this Wisconsin season since they are ranked in the top five?
Given that Wisconsin welcomed back seven of their top eight players from a year ago, this has been maybe the most anticipated seasons in Badger history. The development of sophomore forward Nigel Hayes gives UW one of the top frontcourts in the nation and he's been one of the highlights of the first three games. Wisconsin has pulled away from Green Bay in impressive fashion earlier this week and has done nothing to dispel the notion that this team should be Big Ten Conference favorites and a threat to get back to the Final Four with a nice tourney draw.
2. What concern, if any, is there that Wisconsin has not been challenged in this early season prior to playing Boise State? And what type of test is Boise State expected to present to Wisconsin.
I don't think there is any concern about that. A very similar team beat St. John's, Florida and Green Bay to start the season last year. After a couple of cupcakes, Green Bay and Boise State are a definite step up and are good tests that start to prepare the Badgers for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament next week and the Duke clash on Dec. 3.
Boise State presents an efficient offense and a group that won't beat themselves, so it will be interesting to see if the Wisconsin offense flows as well as usual when not getting free opportunities. Defensively, I'll be watching pick-and-roll defense and how the Badgers rotate to account for a team with two legitimate scorers on it in Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks. Their rotations were a little slow in the first half against Green Bay.
3. Who are the key players for this Wisconsin team?
Everyone in the top six or seven in the rotation could be viewed as a key player this year. Preseason All-American Frank Kaminsky is the most versatile big man in the college game right now. His presence can force double teams on the block, allowing a wide range of shooters to cause trouble from behind the arc, or take a big guy off the dribble. Senior guard Josh Gasser is the most reliable marksman with Ben Brust graduated. Junior forward Sam Dekker also received some All-American hype in the off-season too. If he stays as aggressive as he's been, he might be in that mix. The thing is, as mentioned, Hayes is stealing everyone's thunder right now. Senior point guard Traevon Jackson can facilitate well when he wants to and can bully a smaller defender due to his size.
4. The Big Ten has been perceived to be offensively challenged, or if your prefer play a slower pace, which is the case for the Badgers?
I do prefer to talk in terms of pace, because Wisconsin and several other Big Ten teams (Michigan comes to mind) have most certainly not been offensively-challenged in recent years. The Badgers have had a top 5 offense in the country in terms of efficiency (points-per-possession) twice in the last four seasons. But Wisconsin's success has played a large role in the conference's perception I'm sure, as the Badgers routinely play at one of the slower tempos in the country.
Even then, Wisconsin's tempo has started to speed up the past two seasons, to where the difference in pace is only about two fewer possessions per game than the Division 1 average. Traditionally, the way UW keeps the pace down is by taking extremely good care of the ball, so most fans are fine with the trade-off of getting a bad rap on the pace perception in exchange for basketball that isn't sloppy.
5. What is your prediction for this game?
It will be hard for the Broncos to match up with the Badger forwards, which go 7'0, 6'9, 6'8, with 6'10 and 6'8 fellas off the bench. There could be another parade to the free throw line as we saw in the team's last game, since Boise State appears to be fouling a good amount these days. Boise can certainly keep things close, but I anticipate the Badgers pulling away in the second half for a 10-point win ... maybe 71-61?