Wisconsin Basketball heads to Cincinnati for a matchup with Xavier as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games.
There has definitely been some bad blood between these two programs over the last few years, beginning with Bronson Koenig’s buzzer-beater that snatched victory from the hands of Xavier in the 2016 NCAA Tournament and sent the Badgers to the Sweet 16.
The Musketeers got their payback last season, however.
Last year’s Gavitt Tipoff Games showdown at the Kohl Center between Wisconsin and Xavier did not go as the Badgers fans had hoped, with the Musketeers pulling out an 80-70 win behind a late second-half scoring barrage by star guard Trevon Blueitt, after which his partner in crime, forward J.P. Macura, added insult to injury by taunting the Wisconsin fans.
Xavier went on to have a tremendous regular season in the Big East and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, though its postseason run was stymied sooner than expected with a loss to Florida State in the Round of 32.
The Musketeers look quite a bit different this year, as head coach Chris Mack left his alma mater to take over at Louisville and Blueitt and Macura both have exhausted their eligibility. New head man Travis Steele has his team off to a solid start to the season, picking up victories over IUPUI and Evansville in their first two games.
Wisconsin did not look too shabby itself in its blowout win over Coppin State last week to begin the 2018-19 campaign, unleashing an explosive offensive barrage on the shoulders of Ethan Happ’s triple-double performance, just the second of its kind in program history.
That being said, this is the first real test of the season for both squads, and tomorrow’s outcome will tell us a great deal about Wisconsin’s potential this season. Will the Badgers get revenge against the Musketeers on their home court at the Cintas Center and make a statement that they are for real this season?
G – D’Mitrik Trice (21 ppg)
G – Brad Davison (9 ppg)
F – Khalil Iverson (7 ppg)
F – Nathan Reuvers (8 ppg)
C – Ethan Happ (10 ppg)
G – Paul Scruggs (14.5 ppg)
G – Kyle Castlin (7.5 ppg)
F – Naji Marshall (9.5 ppg)
F – Tyrique Jones (18 ppg)
F – Ryan Welage (14.5 ppg)
Keys to the game and prediction
I have a feeling that this contest is going to be decided in the post.
The Musketeers have an excellent rotation down low with Tyrique Jones (6’9) and graduate transfers Ryan Welage (6’10) and Zach Hankins (6’11). All three players are averaging double figures through Xavier’s first two games. Jones, in particular, has been a monster so far and could be Xavier’s best player. In addition to his 18 points per game, he has been dominant on the boards (13 rebounds per game) and on defense (2.5 steals per game, 2 blocks per game).
This is not ideal for the Badgers, as Greg Gard has a very thin rotation in the post. Beyond Reuvers and Happ, the only other big body likely to see meaningful playing time is Charlie Thomas, and even he only saw 9 minutes of action in Wisconsin’s victory over Coppin State. Look for Xavier to feed the big boys down low and try to get Happ and Reuvers in foul trouble. If either player, especially Happ, is forced to ride the pine for long periods of time, Wisconsin will be in a world of hurt.
Junior point guard Quentin Goodin will be an x-factor for the Musketeers as well. Xavier’s top returning scorer this season, he came off the bench against Evansville after missing a month of practice with a shoulder injury and scored 14 points, a total that would be even higher if he had not been ejected for a flagrant foul early in the second half. How successful Wisconsin’s guards are at holding him in check will go a long way in determining the outcome of this one.
Like Coppin State (and every other opponent Wisconsin will face this season), Xavier is going to make taking Happ out of the game offensively a top priority, and considering the talent and size Steele has down low to bang with him, they very well may succeed at limiting his scoring output. That being said, while the Eagles deserve credit for holding Happ to just 10 points, he still found a way to dominate by crashing the boards and finding open teammates on the perimeter when he was double-teamed, and D’Mitrik Trice, Brevin Pritzl and company promptly knocked down a ton of shots.
I think we could see a similar situation unfold against Xavier, as it is already evident that this is not last season’s Wisconsin team. This year’s version looks to be much more potent offensively and will make teams pay for paying too much attention to Happ.
This one will go down to the wire, but I think the Badgers have enough firepower to outlast the Musketeers and come home with a 78-75 win.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com