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Badger expert speaks on upcoming game against Iowa

The #14 men’s Iowa basketball team is preparing to face the #22 Wisconsin Badgers Friday. We get an insider’s take on what Wisconsin brings to the game.

As we did during football season, we collaborated with the site experts at Badgerofhonor.com, FanSided’s Wisconsin Badger website, to bring you an insider’s perspective on what Friday night’s matchup against the Iowa basketball team means for the Badgers.

We were able to take it one step farther this time as we had the opportunity to continue this fantastic partnership with our Big Ten rival by releasing a podcast on the Locked on Hawkeyes Podcast here. If you have the chance, I highly recommend taking a look at the Q&A session below and then taking a listen to our additional analysis on the Iowa basketball team’s game vs Wisconsin.

Last year was the worst season for Wisconsin since 1994, what’s the mood in Badger land about the basketball team? Excitement? Reservation?

There’s quite a bit of buzz surrounding this year’s squad after the disaster that was last season. With how well the Badgers have played so far, I feel comfortable in saying that the program is officially back, and that last year was simply an aberration that was a result of a very young team dealing with a couple of key injuries.

Currently ranked No. 22 in the nation after picking up a handful of impressive wins early in the season, Badger Nation is very excited about the potential of this year’s team.

Is Greg Gard the answer? What went wrong last season?

Wisconsin fans have been pretty torn as of late regarding confidence in Gard, but I definitely find myself believing that he is still the right man for the job, even after the Badgers missed the Big Dance for the first time in almost 20 years.

As I touched on in my answer to your last question, I think that last season’s outcome was an anomaly for this program. The Badgers already had an uphill battle after having to replace four starters from the year before, and to make matters worse, Gard’s backcourt was devastated by injuries. D’Mitrik Trice was expected to be Wisconsin’s starting point guard and provide reliable three-point shooting and ball-handling ability, and Kobe King was emerging as a key scoring threat off the bench before he went down. Let’s also not forget that Brad Davison was forced to fill almost all of the minutes as the lead guard while essentially playing with one arm for most of the season.

All in all, I’m willing to give Gard a pass considering the cards he was dealt last year. That being said, this year’s team absolutely has the talent to get back to the NCAA Tournament if healthy, and if that fails to materialize, we will definitely have to revisit this question.

What would a win over the Iowa basketball team to start Big Ten play mean?

A win over the Hawkeyes would be a statement win for Wisconsin, signaling that the Badgers have unquestionably resumed their place as a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten. The Iowa basketball team is currently ranked No. 14 in the nation, and considering that this game will also be played at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, I would imagine that Wisconsin will be the underdogs going in. Going into Iowa City and stealing a victory over the Iowa basketball team would really get the momentum going for the Badgers as conference play gets underway.

What went wrong in the loss to Virginia?

Virginia and Wisconsin are incredibly similar in terms of style of play. Both teams always pride themselves on lockdown defense and clock-eating possessions on offense, which means that if one side can build up a somewhat comfortable lead early on, it can be very difficult for the other to come back.

That’s what happened in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game. The Cavaliers led 33-18 at halftime, and while the Badgers battled in the second half and cut down that deficit, it just was not enough to overcome this talented Virginia team in the end.

I was actually encouraged by Wisconsin’s performance. The Cavaliers are a legitimate national title contender once again this season, and the Badgers were in this game until the end. Virginia is one of the nation’s best defensive teams, so I was not expecting much from Wisconsin offensively. However, I was very impressed by the Badgers’ defensive effort and the grit they showed to get back in the game in the second half.

Are you surprised the Badgers are already in the top 25 after starting the season unranked? Were there any games that you expected them to lose outside of the Virginia game?

Personally, I’m not surprised that Wisconsin is ranked where they are right now. I was very high on the potential of this team before the season even started because of all of the weapons it has now that it’s healthy, with Ethan Happ obviously headlining that group. Well, Happ is playing at a Naismith Player of the Year kind of level so far, and his supporting cast, particularly D’Mitrik Trice, has also performed very well for this most part.

To answer your second question, of Wisconsin’s first six games, I felt confident that the Badgers would come out ahead in all but the Virginia game, though I certainly did not feel that the matchups with Xavier, Stanford, and Oklahoma were no-doubters by any stretch.

Where does Ethan Happ rank in terms of all-time Wisconsin players? Four-year starter, two-time All-Big Ten, etc.

When all is said and done, Happ will be right up there with the greatest players this program has ever produced, such as Alando Tucker, Michael Finley, and Frank Kaminsky. In fact, there’s a case to be made that he is the best all-around player Wisconsin fans have ever seen.

I have never watched a Badger that can stuff the box score like Happ. He’s a legitimate point-forward who can score, facilitate for his teammates, and crash the boards, not to mention he is excellent defensively as well. At the moment, he is leading the team in points, rebounds, and assists. Last year, he made history by leading the Badgers in those three categories, plus steals and blocks. By the end of the season, he will be at or near the top of pretty much every major statistical category in the Wisconsin record books.

Simply put, Happ is a very special talent, and right now, Badger fans are just enjoying his greatness while we still can.

Thoughts on the matchup between Happ and the Iowa basketball team’s top forward Tyler Cook?

Cook is the most talented big man who Wisconsin has faced so far this season. Assuming Happ draws the task of defending him, it will be fascinating to watch these two go at it all night.

Happ has been pretty much unstoppable through Wisconsin’s first few games, though he was frustrated a bit against Virginia over the weekend. Personally, I think it’s highly likely that Happ will get his against Cook and the Hawkeyes. That’s no knock on Cook, however, as the Wisconsin star has his way against pretty much everyone these days. I would imagine that the Iowa basketball team will be more focused on containing Happ’s supporting cast, such as D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison.

On the other hand, Cook is a difficult matchup in his own right with his strength and athleticism and is going to give Happ all he can handle.

What does Nate Reuvers bring to the table as somewhat of an inside out player who can shoot the three? How is his post defense and will he be able to matchup to Iowa’s inside out presence in Luke Garza?

When he’s on, Reuvers can be one of Wisconsin’s deadliest offensive weapons with his ability to drain outside shots, which is probably his best tool at the moment. He has also shown great improvement in the post as well now that he has put on weight in order to bang with Big Ten forwards and centers. That being said, this is a kid that still is not close to reaching his ceiling, and he has not yet emerged as a consistent threat offensively.

I have been pleasantly surprised by Reuvers’ play on defense this year. He may have put on some weight, but he is still relatively lanky, and I would have thought that he would still have his fair share of struggles defending the post. However, he has found a way to use his long arms to frustrate opponents and is currently leading the Badgers with 3 blocks per game.

That being said, if Reuvers is matched up with Garza as expected, that is concerning. Garza has been one of Iowa’s best players offensively so far this year, and, as with Cook, he could be the best big man the Badgers have faced to this point. Simply put, Garza is a better player than Reuvers right now, especially offensively, and it is going to be a very tall task for Wisconsin’s sophomore forward to shut him down.

I think the Hawkeyes have a clear advantage in this head to head matchup.

Who are the most surprising players this season?

The most surprising player for Wisconsin has without question been point guard D’Mitrik Trice.

After missing most of last season, Trice is currently second on the team in scoring behind Ethan Happ and has been unbelievable from beyond the arc. At this point, whenever he lets it go from three, I assume it is going in the basket. I knew he was a talented shooter based on how accurate he was as a freshman, but I never would have thought he would become this big of a scoring threat.

His emergence as the Robin to Happ’s Batman has been a sight to behold, and he’s playing like one of the Big Ten’s top floor generals right now.

How does returning seven of the top eight scorers from last season help this program?

Returning so much production from last year is immensely valuable for Wisconsin.

Greg Gard had the benefit of knowing what most of his rotation would look like before the season even began, and, as you would expect from a group that is almost completely the same from a year ago, these guys are very comfortable playing with each other by now. Wisconsin has established solid roles for most of its key players already, while many other teams across the nation that are breaking in new contributors will take weeks to do so.

That cohesiveness up and down the roster is largely responsible for the Badgers’ success so far this season.

What are your general expectations for this season?

First and foremost, I fully expect a return to the NCAA Tournament. I think it will be a talk task to win the Big Ten, but I do believe this team has the talent to do so. Ultimately, I have confidence in the Badgers to finish among the top four teams in the conference.

Wisconsin’s ceiling is high this year. The Badgers boast one of the nation’s best players in Ethan Happ and have surrounded him with a solid supporting cast, and many of those guys, such as Nate Reuvers, Kobe King, Aleem Ford, and Brevin Pritzl, have a ton of room for growth as the season progresses. This squad, already ranked No. 22 nationally, could be significantly more dangerous by the time March rolls around.

I do not think they are necessarily title contenders, but the Badgers have the pieces to make a very deep run.

Thank you to Sam Land and Tanner Nestle on the assistance in putting together these fantastic answers providing us insight on what to expect during the Iowa basketball team’s Friday night game, and make sure you check out Badgerofhonor.com for our Iowa basketball insider Q&A session that we provided to the great team over there.

 



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