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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

Badgers basketball lands pair of 4-star players in 2021 class

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Witnessing a win over the Northwestern Wildcats must have done the trick, because two of Wisconsin’s biggest targets in the 2021 class both committed on Sunday.

First to commit was the more surprising name, as Top247 point guard Chucky Hepburn.

The No. 23 ranked point guard and No. 141 ranked player in the country per the 247Sports composite rankings chose the Badgers over offers from Minnesota, Nebraska, and Creighton. He also was beginning to see interest from some of the bigger names in college basketball, but chose to pick a team that had been on him for awhile.

“I called coach Gard 30 minutes ago and committed,” Hepburn told Badger247. “The education part was really great. I loved all the academic advisors are part of the basketball program and how they work with them.

“With the basketball side, I fit perfectly with the system they run. I feel like the assistant coaches will help me get where I want to be, because they all played professionally before.”

But, not long after that news broke, word of the biggest target on UW’s list committing would break as well.

Wisconsin would add 4-star forward Matthew Mors to the mix as well.

Mors comes to the Badgers ranked as the No. 115 player in the country and the No. 22 power forward in the nation as well.

The Badgers had been on Mors since his eighth grade year and the persistence paid off, despite other offers across the Big Ten and Big 12 coming to him.

Mors chose Wisconsin over names like Creighton, Iowa State, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, TCU, and more.

With these two pledges, the Badgers have solidified their 2021 recruiting class rather early and they hit on all their top priority prospects as well.

Hepburn and Mors join fellow 4-star player in 6-8 power forward Chris Hodges. With three 4-star players to their name, the Badgers currently own the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.

Yes, Wisconsin isn’t likely to own that No. 1 ranking by the end of the class, but there’s no doubt that the Badgers have done something special in the 2021 class.

It is a huge statement for head coach Greg Gard after the program missed out on some massive in-state names in the past few classes. Many had begun to wonder if the Badgers could ever hit on big targets with Gard as the head coach.

Those thoughts should be put to rest with this class and how the Badgers closed out the 2020 class prior to this.

It should also be noted that assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft was the lead recruiter on each of the last four overall commitments for the Badgers, including 2020 names Steven Crowl and Ben Carlson.

Of course, we won’t know for a while how these big recruiting numbers stack up once they get on the floor for some time. But, winning on the recruiting trail like this puts the Badgers in a much better spot to be competitive for a very long time than previously thought.

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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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