After running into a superior team in Saturday’s Big Ten semifinal contest against Michigan State, the Wisconsin Badgers will play in their own backyard when they face off against upstart Patriot League tournament champion American in Milwaukee on Thursday. Tip-off is scheduled for 11:40 a.m. CT.
What to Expect
While Wisconsin has traditionally been a strong defensive team under the direction of head coach Bo Ryan, this year brought a lot of surprises for the red and white, most notably in terms of its rebounding effort. The Badgers ranked 117th in opponents’ defensive rebounds per game, allowing 21.4 per game. American does not sit at the top of any rebounding categories, but they are led by its force in the middle on both ends of the court, Tony Wroblicky. The 6-foot-10, 230-pound center averages a modest 12.2 points per game, but is an aggressor on the boards, averaging 7.3 rebounds per game to go along with nearly two blocks and three assists.
The biggest matchup come Thursday will be Wisconsin’s offense versus American’s defense. The Badgers spread their scoring out among their five starters with Frank Kaminsky leading the charge at 13.6 points per game and Josh Gasser rounding out the starting five with 9.5. Collectively, the team’s 1.13 points per possession is good for 10th in the country. The Eagles’ numbers defensively aren’t too shabby, either, when you look at both the statistics and schemes. First-year head coach Mike Brennan‘s squad puts its foot down on defense, allowing 58.3 points per game, which is good for seventh in the nation. American is the only non-power conference team within those first six slots in scoring defense.
Wisconsin has lived by the three and died by the three throughout the 2013-14 season, and American’s defense may force the Badgers to do the latter Thursday. Its stifling 1-3-1 zone has put teams into offensive funks, as opponents average only 14.2 points per game from three pointers (17th in the country). Most recently, it held Boston University to 1-of-17 shooting from beyond the arc in the conference championship game.
An individual matchup to also keep an eye out for is between Gasser and American’s Jesse Reed. Ryan has spoken glowingly about Gasser’s value on the court, especially as the squad’s top defender. He has held a number of scorers in check, whether it was Virginia‘s Joe Harris or Michigan State’s Gary Harris, and the challenge with Reed will be no different. After being a key reserve during his freshman campaign, Reed has been a huge contributor for the Eagles’ offense and is largely the centerpiece with a team-leading 13.9 points per game. He also shoots the basketball for a high percentage, including 51 percent from the field and 47 percent from beyond the arc.
With a huge home-court advantage, Wisconsin should not have a problem disposing American. Don’t be surprised to see a grind-it-out game in the first half, but the Badgers depth from top to bottom will be too much for the Eagles.