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Wisconsin Basketball: Previewing matchup with Stanford

Wisconsin Basketball faces Stanford in its opening game at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. What must the Badgers do to come out on top?

Things turned out pretty well for Wisconsin the last time it was at Paradise Island in the Bahamas.

Back at the beginning of what turned out to be a magnificent 2014-2015 season capped by an appearance in the National Championship Game, the Badgers brought home the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament championship. That team, led by Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, and company, was obviously historically good, and I’m not sure we will see another Wisconsin squad that talented again.

That being said, I have very high hopes for this year’s team, and I believe the Badgers have enough firepower this season to once again run through the bracket and win this tournament. That will certainly be no easy undertaking considering the caliber of the rest of the field, which includes No. 4 Virginia and two teams just on the outside of the AP Top 25 rankings in Florida and Butler.

Wisconsin will first have to get by the Stanford Cardinal on Wednesday afternoon, however.

It appears as though this could be a bit of a rebuilding year for head coach Jerod Haase. The Cardinal are replacing three of their top four scorers from last season, including star forward Reid Travis, who opted to transfer to Kentucky to close out his college career. With those losses, Stanford, coming off a 90-72 blowout at the hands of North Carolina, fields a very young rotation this season, with only one upperclassman in its starting lineup.

They may be a little green, but the Cardinal’s young core is talented and athletic enough for this team to remain competitive in the Pac 12 this year, and I would expect them to give Wisconsin a fight in this one.

Projected starters

No. 25 WISCONSIN (3-0)

G – D’Mitrik Trice – SO (18.3 ppg)

G – Brad Davison- SO (11.7 ppg)

F – Khalil Iverson – SR (5.7 ppg)

F – Nathan Reuvers – SO (7.7 ppg)

C – Ethan Happ – SR (18.3 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 7.7 apg)

STANFORD (2-1)

G – Cormac Ryan – FR (14.7 ppg)

G – Daejon Davis – SO (10.7 ppg)

F – KZ Okpala – SO (22.7 ppg)

F – Oscar da Silva – SO (7.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg)

C – Josh Sharma – SR (5.7 ppg)

Keys to the game and prediction

As is usually the case, Ethan Happ is going to get his in this one.

The All-American candidate has been essentially unstoppable through Wisconsin’s first three games, and I anticipate that this trend will continue against the Cardinal. While he will likely be guarded by an imposing presence in Stanford’s 7-foot senior center Josh Sharma, Happ still clearly has the edge there. Xavier threw a tough, energetic  7-footer in Zach Hankins at him for much of the Musketeers’ matchup with the Badgers, but it made little difference: Happ racked up 30 points, pulled down 13 boards, and led Wisconsin to victory.

Nonetheless, Haase’s highest priority defensively will be attempting to shut Happ down. The bad news for Stanford is that the senior center has been unbelievably successful so far this season in finding open looks to his teammates on the perimeter when defenses collapse on him down low, and D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, and company have absolutely scorched the nets to this point. If the Badgers stay this hot from outside, Stanford simply has no chance. It should be noted that the Cardinal have not exactly been a stalwart defensively either, ranking 199th nationally in opponent field goal percentage.

That being said, at some point Wisconsin is going to cool down from outside, and that could happen against the Cardinal. If so, role players outside Greg Gard’s so-called “Big Three”- Trice, Davison, and Happ-are going to need to step up and provide a boost. The Badgers’ main supporting cast of Brevin Pritzl, Khalil Iverson, Nate Reuvers, and Kobe King did that as a whole last Saturday against Houston Baptist, but can they do so against a quality opponent like Stanford? Let’s not forget, against Xavier, only 6 of Wisconsin’s 77 points came from outside the “Big Three”.  That kind of performance is just not sustainable.

I think the Badgers will ultimately prove to be too potent offensively for the Cardinal to contain, but Stanford has the talent to stay competitive throughout, especially if star forward KZ Okpala gets the best of Khalil Iverson, who will likely draw the assignment of defending him, and lights up the scoreboard.

In the end, however, I feel comfortable in predicting an 80-68 Wisconsin win.

Next: Wisconsin’s all-time starting five

All stats not otherwise linked courtesy of ESPN.com

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