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The Starting 5: Wisconsin vs. Western Kentucky basketball preview

Wisconsin hopes a few more practices with its altered lineup produced better results against Western Kentucky.

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It has been a pile of bad news for the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball program as December has rolled around. But, UW hopes to turn things around after a few practices with a roster they know will be around this week.

Waiting in the wings for the Badgers following their worst loss to Marquette at home since the Kohl Center opened will be the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. But, lest you believe this will be a reprieve from the most difficult start to a season in recent memory, the Hilltoppers come in plenty prepared to take on the Badgers.

Can UW’s depleted backcourt finally show up, or will the struggles from beyond the arc lead to more trouble for UW?

We’ll discuss that and more in our look at the five things to watch heading in to tonight’s matchup against WKU. Tip is scheduled for 7pm on FS1.

Does Practice Make Perfect?

Wisconsin didn’t make the public aware of the injury status for either Kobe King or D’Mitrick Trice until right before the Marquette game. But, the team had to know what was coming down the pipeline. Head coach Greg Gard seemed caught off-guard about what to do with his backcourt rotation with no practice under their belts.

That won’t be an excuse or the case on Wednesday night though, so the buck stops with the performance of the players and the decision-making of the coaching staff on rotation, minutes and the like.

Saturday we saw Brad Davison, who is struggling through a separated shoulder injury of his own, play nearly ever second of the game against Marquette. He was exhausted and nothing left in the tank over the final 3 minutes of the game.

Everyone also saw T.J. Schlundt thrust in to a prominent role, and he delivered some quality minutes on the court. But, the Badgers need more than minutes, they need actual production in terms of points from the backcourt. To that end, Wisconsin has hinted at using another walk-on, this one named Walt McGrory. He’s a 6-3 freshman from Minneapolis.

That’s just how desperate UW is for bodies, let alone production.

With a few practices under their belts, can Schlundt, McGrory and most importantly, the starters of Davison and Brevin Pritzl finally deliver for the Badgers? The good news is that Pritzl finally went in to double digits against Marquette, but that has been few and far between for the season.

Can Happ Carry the Badgers if Backcourt Can’t Help?

The answer to this question was an easy no against Marquette, but the former Hilltoppers, Warriors (or whatever their nickname is today). Happ scored 17 points, but was hounded by the pressure to put the team on his back. He was just 8-15 shooting from the field and while he put up 9 rebounds and 4 assists, he also turned the ball over 5 times.

Mistakes like that, and in the quantity that happened on Saturday won’t cut it going forward. Happ has to find a way to play mistake-free basketball and shoot a higher percentage around the rim than he has over the past few games. This is not the time for Happ to go in to a funk, so let’s see if he can be the one to carry this team early on and be a true leader on the court.

WKU Won’t Be Intimidated

A Conference-USA opponent coming in to the Kohl Center? No problemo, right?

Tell that to Purdue, who suffered a loss at the hands of the Hilltoppers already this season.  Now, that win didn’t come at Mackey Arena or anything, as the two met at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas earlier in the season. But, the point is, this Badgers team is nowhere near the level of Purdue in terms of production.

If WKU can get a win over a quality team like that on a neutral court, what could it do on a good day against a down Badgers program on the road?

This is also one of the most balanced teams the Badgers have seen all season long. WKU has just seven scholarship players, but six of them are averaging double figures.

Thompson vs. Davison Will be Fascinating

Point guard battles are usually good indications of how a game is going to go. Such will be the case on Wednesday night with two pretty good ones going at it.

Western Kentucky’s Darius Thompson is one of the better protectors of the ball and a great facilitator. That’s especially been the case as of late, as he has 19 assists and just three turnovers in the last three games. In his last six games, he has 30 combined assists and just six turnovers.

Davison comes in to this game having put up 18 assist to 13 turnovers, nearly the exact opposite of the effectiveness of Thompson.

Can Davison bother Thompson and keep from turning the ball over on his own? More importantly, can he be a facilitator for the Badgers offense? It is something that has really been lacking as of late. We’ll see if the adjustment can be made by Davison, but he’s going to have his hands full with Thompson.

Watch the Perimeter

If there’s one area that has killed Wisconsin this season, it has been a lack of perimeter defense (or offense for that matter). The Badgers are No. 200 in the nation in opponent three-point shooting percentage. That’s not good news when you are facing a team as good as shooting on the perimeter as the Hilltoppers are.

WKU ranks 38th in the country in 3-point percentage at 40.1 percent, and that’s a major area of concern for the Badgers in this game. It’s especially the case after Wisconsin saw Marquette go nuts to the tune of 63.6 percent from beyond the arc in Saturday’s blowout of the Badgers. Marquette was 14 of 22 from beyond the arc, and you can bet emphasis was made on never allowing that to happen again.

The problem is, Wisconsin has allowed teams to go gangbusters on them from three-point land plenty this season, so clearly an earlier message never got through to this group.

With Schlundt, Aaron Moesch and others getting in on the action, could some of that change heading forward? It will need to be much better on Wednesday night or Wisconsin is in serious trouble.

Prediction

Wisconsin 62, Western Kentucky 60

It’s hard to see this as an easy win for the Badgers, especially given the recent trend downward. While it is tempting to pick against UW because there’s a lot to like about the Hilltoppers game against Wisconsin’s weaknesses, there’s a big strength that will pull this game out.

His name is Ethan Happ, and its the one area that WKU doesn’t have an answer for. If the Badgers can get him going early, often and efficiently, look for everything else to open up. I expect that to happen, and therefore UW wins…ever so narrowly.

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Badgers Basketball

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

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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Former Badgers get No. 2 seed in The Basketball Tournament Columbus regional

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Who doesn’t want $2 million? That’s the prize at stake for winning The Basketball Tournament and a group of former Wisconsin Badgers want in.

On Tuesday it was officially announced that the Kohl Blooded team — spearheaded by former Badgers point guard Kam Taylor — will be the No. 2 seed in the Columbus regional.

They will take on No. 7 seed Mid-American Unity, which is making its second appearance in the TBT after a year off. That group represents teams from across the Mid-American conference.

As for the Badgers, the roster will be made up of some very strong names from the past. The headline names include members of the back-to-back Final Four teams in Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown. Also joining will be Jordan Taylor, Ryan Evans, Trevon Hughes and recent grad Charles Thomas. You can see the full roster here.

The regionals will take place July 19-21 in Columbus with the winner of this regional meeting seven other winners in Chicago for championship week.

All games will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks, so you should be able to find them either streaming or on cable television.

Kohl Blooded vs. Mid-American Unity will tip at 1pm ET on Friday, July 19.

The winner will take on the winner of Red Scare (Dayton alumni) and The Region (players from Northwest Indiana) in the regional semi-final the next day.

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Badgers Basketball

Badgers play final card in attempt to land 2020 G Johnny Davis

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A week after losing out on Joey and Sam Hauser, the Wisconsin Badgers basketball program needs some positive momentum on the player acquisition front.

With three scholarships available in the 2020 class and two top in-state players in their sites, the Badgers coaching staff has been about as patient as possible.

On Wednesday, Badger247 reports that UW has offered Jordan Davis, the twin brother of top target Johnny Davis. It’s not a walk-on or grayshirt, but a full scholarship offer.

After two years of waiting for that offer to come, it finally did.

Jordan is an unranked player in basketball at this time, but I expect that to change once the scouting services catch wind of this offer. Johnny Davis is the No. 131 ranked player in the country, a 4-star rated prospect and the No. 3 ranked player in the state of Wisconsin in the 2020 class.

With the brothers set to make a weekend visit for team camp in two weeks, this is a move that undoubtably puts the pressure squarely on Johnny Davis at this point.

Simply put, the Badgers need to know if Davis is going to commit or if they need to move on.

Offering Jordan a full ride is about the only thing left in the Badgers quiver at this point. If getting the dream of playing basketball together at the same school and in-state no less doesn’t tip the scales, at least the Badgers know they can move on.

Is it a desperate move? In some ways one could see it as such. Clearly the Badgers want Johnny in a major way and they see offering Jordan as a critical move that could separate themselves from the competition.

However, this also isn’t a coaching staff willing to just throw away a scholarship in an effort to get a coveted player to play for them. That’s simply not Greg Gard’s style.

Jordan is also a player they see as a contributor, or he wasn’t getting an offer. Plain and simple.

There’s no doubt that this move ups the pressure, like I mentioned before. But, that’s not a bad thing, as UW needs to know where they stand heading in to July’s evaluation period.

If the Davis brothers can’t commit or at least internally give the coaching staff the information that will make them feel comfortable, they need to start getting offers out to other big time players whom they’ve been waiting to offer.

Consider UW is an underdog to land in-state five-star prospect Jalen Johnson, and you have to consider this move a smart one for the long term prospects of the 2020 class.

Will the Davis twins jump at the offer to play together at Wisconsin?

Some in the recruiting world believe this was the situation that was holding Wisconsin back all along. So, don’t be surprised to see this affect the recruitment of both players in a big way.

As for Jordan, his game has also caught the attention of Iowa and Minnesota and he did have scholarship offers from both Green Bay and Milwaukee prior to this one.

What may have really held the Badgers coaching staff and others back was the fact that Jordan is also a good player on the football side and wasn’t sure which sport he wanted to pick.

It seems like UW has gotten the clue that Jordan may be more receptive to a basketball future and pulled the trigger on the offer.

We’ll see how much longer the two stay uncommitted, but don’t be surprised to see something happen following July’s AAU season.

Letting that play out and getting all the offers out there on the table is just a smart move for the twins. From there, it’s up to them and clearly the Badgers have left no stone unturned in this situation.

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