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The Starting 5: Wisconsin vs. Rutgers basketball preview

Wisconsin makes a trip to a house of horrors in Piscataway. Can they come away victorious against Rutgers?

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What’s not to like about a five-game win streak and a trip to Rutgers? Oh, wait…that last part, that’s right.

For whatever reason, trips to Piscataway, NJ have not been fun for the Badgers. There have been big injuries and closer-than-they-should’ve-been games.

But, as with everything with this 2017-18 team perhaps it will be the unexpected that happens? Let’s take a look at how the Badgers (9-7, 2-1 B1G) and the Scarlet Knights (10-6, 0-3 B1G) match up on Friday night.

Here is tonight’s starting 5 for the game that tips at 6pm CT and will be seen on ESPN.

1. Can the Road Continue to be Kind to Badgers Under Gard?

Greg Gard has done what few coaches in the Big Ten have been able to do — figure out how to win on the road. The Big Ten is notoriously difficult on road teams, but Gard has done well in that regard so far in his career. Wisconsin is 10-8 in Big Ten road games under his leadership, which is the second-best mark of any team in the Big Ten over Gard’s span in the conference. Only Maryland’s 12-7 record is better on the road in conference play.

Wisconsin of 2017-18 on the road has been a bit different, but so is playing at the RAC, where the Badgers are 1-1 against Rutgers since they joined the Big Ten. Can Gard’s magic work on the road or will a different environment in New Jersey trip up the Badgers?

2. Happ Feasts on Rutgers

No team has been as willing to let Ethan Happ do his best work than Rutgers has over his career. All he’s done is average a whole 19.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game against the Scarlet Knights. That includes dropping 32 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists on Rutgers last season alone.

Combine that with the fact that Happ had his best all-around performance just this past Tuesday in a 10-point win against Indiana and this could be a fun night for the All-American. Wisconsin’s offense clearly revolves around Happ in some way, shape or form — whether it is him pounding the ball down low or drawing double teams and kicking the ball to open players or taking fellow big men off the dribble, Happ has finally taken the Badgers offense on his back and gotten positive results.

Can Happ continue the trend of big nights against the Scarlet Knights?

3. Got Your Six

While Happ has gotten off to a great start to 2018, the most important part is that the rest of his teammates are helping out a lot more than they were in the 2017 portion of the season. Happ doesn’t have to do it all on his own anymore, and ironically that is leading to him being able to dominate even more.

Aleem Ford has suddenly become a consistent double-digit scorer, Brad Davison does a bit of everything and even the walk-on players who are playing are finding a way to contribute in smaller ways. Since that Marquette loss, the rest of the team has begun to round in to form and get Happ’s back on both ends of the court.

Now, can Charlie Thomas please find some touch around the rim on offense to complete the rise of UW’s offense? Can the form of Ford and others continue on the road? If so, Wisconsin could find themselves comfortably ahead in this game.

4. Offensive Boards

If there is one area that could trouble the Badgers tonight, it is in the area of keeping Rutgers off the glass. While not much has been looking up for the Scarlet Knights during their current six-game losing streak, a potential advantage exists in this matchup thanks to a long and athletic front line.

It’s been an advantage all season long, with Rutgers owing 15.1 offensive rebounds per game alone. That number is third nationally, and runs counter to Wisconsin’s defensive strength — not allowing offensive rebounds. UW is allowing opponents just 6.3 offensive rebounds per game which is ninth in the country. Something is going to give tonight.

Wisconsin hasn’t played great defense all season long overall, so can they keep Rutgers from getting opportunities at second-chance points?

5. Please Don’t Bore Us

Along those lines of UW’s defensive effort, somehow, despite the perception, UW ranks inside the top 35 in scoring defense on the year. So do the Scarlet Knights.

For those of you who are a fan of high-scoring basketball, this may not be your game.

That means it could be a struggle to be entertained and a struggle to top 60 points from both of these teams. Let’s see if that’s to UW’s advantage or not.

Prediction:

Wisconsin 62, Rutgers 55

Something in me just doesn’t trust trips to New Jersey for the Badgers. However, this is going to be another grind-it-out victory for UW. Look for Happ to get going early and that lead to a big lead for the Wisconsin. The problem is that also means watch for Rutgers to make a nice second half run while UW’s defense relaxes a bit. It leads to a closer than expected win, but a sixth straight win for the Badgers nonetheless.

That sets up an interesting matchup with Nebraska on Tuesday night to say the least..if I’m right.

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Badgers Basketball

Carlson commits to Badgers 2020 basketball class

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It appears the 2020 Wisconsin Badgers basketball class has come to a close.

A day after forward Steven Crowl committed, we now have word that top target Ben Carlson, a fellow Minnesota native, has committed to the Badgers as well.

The four-star center chose the Badgers over a who’s who of basketball offers in the Midwest including Ohio State, Xavier, Stanford, Purdue, Creighton, Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa State, Kansas State, Wake Forest, and others.

Much like Crowl, Carlson took his official visit to Madison earlier this month for the Central Michigan football game.

Carlson comes to the Badgers as the No. 15 ranked forward in the entire country per the 247Sports composite rankings, the No. 82 ranked player overall and with a .967 grade from the composite.

He was high up the Badgers list for a long time, even as they targeted other highly rate options at forward like Jalen Johnson. However, as the board began to shake out, it was clear the Badgers wanted Carlson no matter what Johnson or anyone else was going to do in this class.

It appears that the relationship that Carlson formed with the current roster while on his visit is what put the Badgers over the top in this lengthly recruitment.

“A big focus was on getting to know the players, so I hung out with them a lot,” Carlson told Badger247. “They talked about how the coaching staff tells you straight-up how everything is going to be, they don’t sugarcoat anything. They told me about how much they liked it there.”

“I had a pretty good idea of how Wisconsin was going in,” he continued. “The biggest thing was getting to know the players and I really liked them. I know about the history and the campus, but getting to know the players was big for sure.”

Adding this type of nationally known name to an already big class is huge for the Badgers. In fact, UW has the No. 4 ranked class per the 247Sports composite team rankings.

It would be the highest the Badgers have ever finished in the rankings, with the 2006 class under Bo Ryan the next highest at No. 20 in the country.

Wisconsin is getting easily one of the most skilled big men in the class and an instant impact type of player. What has been a question mark up front could easily be a strength of this team quickly thanks to Carlson and Crowl’s commitments to the class.

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Badgers add 4-star center to 2020 basketball class

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What could be a historic recruiting class for the Wisconsin Badgers got another boost on Tuesday as 4-star center Steven Crowl verbally committed to the Badgers.

He went on his official visit this past weekend and apparently it was all he needed to see.

Crowl has since cancelled trips to other contenders like Colorado, Iowa, and Northern Iowa. He also had an offer from the in-state Gophers and was thinking about a visit there.

However, his official visit for the Central Michigan football game weekend was all he needed to pull the trigger on a commitment to Gard and the Badgers.

Crowl joins an already loaded Badgers 2020 class that includes in-state star Johnny Davis and his twin brother Jordan Davis, as well as the No. 25 ranked point guard in the country according to the 247Sports composite rankings, Lorne Bowman.

This class also already has preferred walk-on Carter Gilmore, who chose that offer over other mid-major D1 offers and saw his recruitment pick up considerably in the July evaluation period.

While his name wasn’t a hot one on the recruiting trail, he was a late riser and currently sits as the No. 102 ranked player in the class overall and the No. 17 center in the nation per the 247Sports composite rankings.

The St. Paul, Minn. native is also continuing the pipeline of players coming from the cross-border rival Gopher state. He comes from the same AAU program — Minnesota D1 — that produced both Tyler Wahl and Nate Reuvers.

With Crowl in the fold, Wisconsin has added 12 players from the state of Minnesota in the 247Sports composite era, according to Badger247.

When you take a look at Crowl’s film, what you see is someone that has begun to both physically and mentally mature. He’s got the skill set that UW likes out of their bigs as well, with a nice looking shot from the outside.

However, what you also see on tape is someone that may need to take a year to adjust to the college game and that may be perfectly fine with the coaching staff as they still will have Nate Reuvers and Tyler Wahl to work with up front as starters.

It will be interesting to see how Crowl digests the speed of the college game early on. If he can adjust to that and the physicality, he may indeed find himself in the rotation quickly though.

He is certainly in the mold of what has become the classic Wisconsin big man.

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Former Badger Jon Leur traded to Milwaukee Bucks

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They say you can always go home, and for one former Wisconsin Badger he’s coming back to a state he called home for four years.

Former Badgers forward Jon Leuer was traded early on Thursday morning from the Detroit Pistons to the Milwaukee Bucks. In exchange for Leuer, the Bucks gave up the 30th overall pick in tonight’s NBA Draft and traded away Tony Snell.

Last season, Leuer played in 41 games for the Pistons and made just one start. He averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in his ninth season in the NBA.

Leuer is a very similar player to Snell, but comes at a much more team-friendly salary.

In trading away Snell, the Bucks free up an additional $4 million in salary this year and another $12 million next year.

This could be seen as a way for the Bucks to pony up the big money that Khris Middleton wants from the team in order to stay in Milwaukee.

As for Leuer, he is 17th on the all-time Badgers scoring list with 1,376 points to his name. He also finished his career with 551 rebounds.

Leuer’s final season in Madison was his best statistically, as he helped lead the 2010-11 Badgers team to the Sweet 16. He averaged 18.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game that year.

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Badgers basketball land Davis twins

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After missing out on the Hauser brothers late last month, the Wisconsin Badgers added a different pair of siblings on Saturday night.

Following an offer to the brother of 4-star shooting guard Johnny Davis and an appearance at a team camp this weekend, the Davis brothers announced their pledge to the Badgers according to Badger247.

It took less than a week after head coach Greg Gard gave the O.K. to offer Jordan for the pair to commit to Wisconsin.

Johnny held offers from Marquette, West Virginia, Iowa, Minnesota, DePaul, UNLV and others.

Jordan had offers from UW-Milwaukee and Green Bay, while also becoming a sought after recruit on the football field as well. Once he became serious about wanting to play basketball first, it seemed like a matter of time before Wisconsin offered.

That time came after seeing Jordan play in a camp last weekend.

It also came because it was time to figure out if Johnny was serious about the Badgers or not.

With the July evaluation period coming up, Wisconsin’s coaching staff put the final chips in the middle with this recruitment and it appeared to pay off.

Johnny joins as the No. 141 ranked player in the country and the No. 14 ranked combo guard in the nation according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

The twins will join Detroit, Mich. native Lorne Bowman in the 2020 class.

Wisconsin still has one scholarship available in the class as well, which is likely being held for 5-star and Wisconsin native Jalen Johnson.

After missing out on talented in-state players over and over again, this was a major win for Gard and his coaching staff considering how hard schools like West Virginia and Marquette were after Johnny’s commitment.

As for Jordan, it appears the coaching staff believes he is improving enough to get a scholarship and continue his improvement with this program.

Offers don’t come out just because it may win over a different recruit at Wisconsin. That wasn’t Bo Ryan’s style and it also isn’t Greg Gard’s style.

The trio of players put the Badgers at No. 8 in the country and No. 3 in the Big Ten in the 2020 class as of today.

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