ACC – Big Ten Challenge Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

DukeDuke (6-0) takes on the Wisconsin Badgers (4-1) in the 11th annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge on December 2nd, in their first true road game of the young season. The two teams last faced each other two years ago with the Blue Devils pounding the Badgers 82 – 58. In last year’s event, Duke defeated Purdue 76 – 60, while Wisconsin beat Virginia Tech 74 – 72. Duke has a perfect 10 – 0 record in the challenge, while Wisconsin is 4 – 6.

Wisconsin is coming off a 20 – 13 season where they advanced to the NCAA tournament before falling to Xavier 60 – 49 in the second round.

Coach Bo Ryan will rely upon a pair of senior guards to lead his team, Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon. Both players started all 33 games last season and averaged 12.1 and 10.3 points per game respectively. Across the front line, Wisconsin is big and athletic. Junior Jon Leuer (6-10, 225) started 12 games and averaged 8.8 points and 3.8 rebounds as a sophomore. Junior Keaton Nankivil (6-8, 240) started 20 games and averaged 4.5 points and 2.5 rebounds last season. Several players will compete to be the fifth starter: redshirt freshman Ryan Evans (6-6, 195), sophomore Rob Wilson (6-4, 175), and junior Tim Jarmusz (6-6, 210).

The reports coming out of Madison indicate this year’s team will look to push the ball up the floor in order to force a more up tempo game pace. Wisconsin has traditionally played a grind it out style with emphasis on defense. During pick-up games over the summer, Wisconsin players were practicing with a 25 second shot clock to discourage the tendency to walk the ball up the court.

Through the season’s first five games, the Badgers are averaging 67.4 points per game while holding their opponents to 58.2 points so the early season games do not provide any evidence the Badgers have actually changed their style. Wisconsin’s one loss was to Gonzaga, 74 – 61, in the semi-finals of the Maui Invitational. The Badgers rebounded by defeating Maryland, 78 – 69, in the 3rd Place game.

The media has predicted Wisconsin will finish 9th in the Big Ten this season, but no Bo Ryan coached Wisconsin team has ever finished worse than 4th. This will surely be bulletin board material for the Badgers and there would be no better way to silence the media doubters than an early season defeat of Duke so the Badgers will be motivated when the Blue Devils arrive at the Kohl Center.

For the Blue Devils, this will be their first true road game of the season. With a hostile crowd cheering on the Badgers, Duke’s players must keep their emotions in check and execute Coach Krzyzewski’s game plan. Playing in big games is old hat for Duke so the experienced Blue Devils should have no problem coping with the atmosphere in Madison.

The keys to the game will be:

1. Duke must contain speedy point guard Trevon Hughes. Duke cannot allow Hughes to dictate the game so it is imperative Nolan Smith plays solid defense and avoids foul trouble. The Smith – Hughes match-up will be critical to the outcome of this contest. Hughes is averaging 14.2 points per game this season.

2. Duke’s inside players must equal Wisconsin’s physicality. Duke has more depth on the interior so Miles Plumlee, Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas, and Ryan Kelly must take advantage by attacking the basket and drawing fouls. This game represents a second straight litmus test for Duke’s assertion they are a bigger team this season. Duke’s big men must play big against the Badgers, like they did in the win over the UConn Huskies, and out rebound the Badgers.

3. The team that takes better care of the basketball will gain an advantage. In games with slower tempo, it is imperative to not lose scoring opportunities. Duke has 99 assists against 66 turnovers through six games with guard Jon Scheyer leading the way with an 8:1 assists/turnover ratio. The Badgers have 61 assists against 60 turnovers in five games.

4. Exploiting Kyle Singler’s versatility and capitalizing on mismatches. Singler is an All America quality player who had subpar offensive performances during Duke’s two recent games at Madison Square Garden. If Singler is on track against Wisconsin, it will help open up good looks at the basket for Duke’s other players.

Wisconsin will be a solid early season road test for Duke such as Purdue and Michigan were last season. This will be Duke’s only true road game prior to playing at Georgia Tech in January. The game has the makings to be a competitive challenge for the Blue Devils.