Game Day for Baylor's Sweet Sixteen matchup with the Wisconsin Badgers has now arrived, and there's not much more to be said about the game. We've previewed the stats, exchanged Q&As with the opposing blog, Bucky's 5th Quarter, and are now all just basically wasting time before we find out this evening if Scott Drew will make his third Elite Eight in 5 years. I have to be honest: I want this for him more than I've ever wanted anything for any of our individual coaches before, not because I think he needs it but because I can't wait to nail the haters with it should it happen.
As our last real look at the game before tonight's Game Thread, which will go up at 6:00 Central (the game tips at 6:47), Ted conducted a Q&A with B5Q's Phil Mitten about Wisconsin and what the Bears can expect.
Ted: 1) In the latter half of January, it seemed that at times Wisconsin could not even buy a bucket. After losing 5/6 (including a game at home against Northwestern where the Badgers did not even break the 60 point mark), what changed?
Bucky's 5th Quarter (Phil): The Northwestern game you mentioned is probably the only time this year where Wisconsin's offense completely left them for an entire game and it bit them (the only other time was against Virginia, but the Badgers won). Really, the bigger question mark from game-to-game this season has been the defense -- not something Badger fans are accustomed to. According to Ken Pomeroy's archives, this is the least efficient defensive team at Wisconsin in the Bo Ryan era.
As for specific reasons why the defense struggled during that 5-of-6 stretch, I think the Badgers let off the gas a little bit after blasting Illinois to go 16-0. Indiana straight up hit them in the mouth in mid-January and exploited a weakness in their ball screen defense. Wisconsin was a bit soft in the middle, and also I think a little tired since the exhibition season started much earlier than normal (August) for them. The losing streak forced them to dig deeper though. Part of the equation is simply effort. The team was shaken for a few games and had to tighten up a few things that took some time. But Wisconsin is better for it and now the guys know the next time they have to dig deeper, there's more there. You saw that play out in the incredible second halves UW has had in the tournament, especially last weekend when it completely shut down Oregon's transition game after halftime.
2) The big fear circulating amongst Baylor fans going into this game is that we play zone, and Wisconsin has guys who can hit from outside at all five spots. Is this really going to be the difference in the game? Or will it more likely be the outcome of Isaiah Austin vs. Frank Kaminsky inside?
Bucky's 5th Quarter (Phil): While the Kaminsky-Austin battle inside will be an interested subplot (especially if one gets in foul trouble), ultimately two post-games storyline fit the narrative underway. The next morning we'll see headlines about either about Baylor suffocating another opponent with it's zone or about Wisconsin continuing to defy its reputation as a plodding team with an explosive offensive performance.
So, I'd bet it comes down to the 3-point shooting. And to that end, smart, accurate passing is going to be important for the Badgers. They've got to finding the open man as that amoeba-like zone collapses and expands. Plus UW has to maintain it usual edge in the turnover battle, which is easier said than done against a less familiar defense that features the kind of length Baylor has.
3) Baylor just came off of a game against Creighton where all five starters scored in double figures. The only other NCAA tournament team to do that in the round of 32? The Wisconsin Badgers. What do you make of that as it relates to Wisconsin's style of play offensively?
Bucky's 5th Quarter (Phil): This just reinforces point number two about Wisconsin being well-equipped to handle a zone. Really the best thing that has resulted from that offensive balance from a neutral observer's standpoint is it allows Wisconsin to play more freely -- a little looser, a little faster. Yet the Badgers still know how to milk the clock with the best of them. The development of Frank Kaminsky into a legitimate post player has opened up the entire offense.
4) Bo Ryan said that his wife made a comment about "packing lightly" for this weekend trip to Anaheim. What would you say is the general feeling in Wisconsin about the team's chances?
Bucky's 5th Quarter (Phil): Cautious optimism. I was literally frightened at first, after seeing the Creighton whooping and taking my first look at their roster. However, the optimism springs the overall body of work the Badgers have put together and the way they came together against Oregon. Sure, Wisconsin is playing far away from "home" now, but the Bears play at the same pace UW is comfortable playing. Plus, I think there is a bit of an confident underdog edge to the Badgers right now, believe it or not. A lot of people remember Wisconsin for several unceremonious exits at the hands of plucky, hot-shooting lower seeds from 2007-10, but a few years later, Wisconsin is that team. Well, except for that lower-seeded thing. It's hard to believe that with all the media aboard the Baylor bandwagon, Wisconsin is still the No. 2 and still favored slightly by Vegas.
I know I'm biased, but this has to be one of the best games to watch this weekend.
5) For Baylor fans unfamiliar with the Badgers, who are the guys getting minutes and what are their roles? (you can keep this brief if you'd like)
Bucky's 5th Quarter (Phil): Bo Ryan's rotation is a pretty strict eight players. Traevon Jackson is the point guard who could very well end Baylor's night with a game-winner. He's been great in the tournament so far, but has an enigmatic reputation. Guards Josh Gasser and Ben Brust are the heart and soul of the team. Gasser is the gritty, perimeter lock-down defender who also happens to shoot over 45% on threes. Brust is no Brady Heslip, but he is UW's version of the conscience-free gunner, making 39% from deep.
Up front, sophomore Sam Dekker has the highest ceiling of anyone on the team, but he's actually at his best running the floor and fitting into spaces to get second second-chance points. Nigel Hayes was the Big Ten's Sixth Man of the Year and a true revelation as a freshman. His emergence as a reliable backup (and compliment) to Frank Kaminsky cannot be understated. I think scouting reports have caught up to Hayes a bit, but his mid-range jumper and uncanny knack for drawing fouls will come in handy against Baylor. Then there is Kaminsky, Wisconsin's best player. His combination of outside shooting and patient counter moves in the post makes him one of the most efficient offensive weapons in all of college basketball.
Freshman Bronson Koenig and junior Duje Dukan are the other two off the bench. Koenig might be the best passer and ball handler on the team -- helpful against a press or spelling Jackson. Dukan doesn't look nearly 6'9 but has proven to be a decent sub on the wing and is playing a few more minutes lately.
6) Wisconsin wins if? Baylor wins if? Actual prediction?
Bucky's 5th Quarter (Phil): Wisconsin wins if "Good Trae" shows up again -- limiting stupid mistakes and controlling the pace wisely; if Dekker continues to attack the boards and seams in the defense offensively as he did against Oregon; if at least two guys are hitting 3-pointers.
Baylor wins if Wisconsin misses too many free throws; if the Bears can hit mid-range jumpers or get to the rim off ball screens consistently; if Austin, Jefferson and company overwhelm Kaminsky inside.
My mind says Baylor, but my heart -- and more importantly my bracket -- says Wisconsin. I guess we'll find out how smart I am.
7) Would you rather fight a Frank Kaminsky sized duck or one hundred duck-sized Frank Kaminsky's in a battle to the death?
Bucky's 5th Quarter (Phil): Are you calling Frank a horse now? See, this one was always an easy one for me: I'd take the 100 duck-sized anythings. I want no part of a 7-foot, Tankified duck no matter how good of a shooter those darn little Kaminskys are.