The Wisconsin Badgers take on Jim Boeheim's Syracuse Orange team tonight as part of the ACC/B1G Ten Challenge at 7:15 p.m. Gone are Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Duje Dukan from a season ago. The Badgers have struggled so far this year, losing games to Western Illinois, Georgetown and Oklahoma. There's no shame in losing to Oklahoma or Georgetown -- okay, maybe a little shame in losing to Georgetown -- but the loss to Western Illinois in Wisconsin's home opener is a cause for concern.
Although an underwhelming start to the season, don't be fooled -- Wisconsin will come in ready to play. Bo Ryan has two solid leaders in Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who lead the team in scoring. Both of the aforementioned juniors have played important roles on Wisconsin's last two Final Four teams. Koenig, a backup point guard for Jackson in his first season and a half, was thrusted into the starting point guard position when Jackson went down with a foot injury. Hayes, who went to Wisconsin without any sort of perimeter game, has expanded his game and is deadly inside. The two of them have gone from role players to now the focal point of the team.
Keys to the Game
Make Someone Not Named Koenig or Hayes Beat You
Koenig and Hayes account for over 43 percent of Wisconsin's scoring. Syracuse will have to make someone else on the floor beat them. Vitto Brown and freshman Ethan Happ can also score, while Zak Showalter is an excellent cutter and solid three point shooter. Syracuse must make those three guys and the rest of Wisconsin's bench beat them.
Wisconsin allows 67.7 points per game while Syracuse is only allowing 63.5. This game will be a battle on the defensive end. Wisconsin will need to slow Syracuse's offense, which averaged just under 79 points per game in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Wisconsin only averages 10 turnovers per game while Syracuse is at a lofty 15. Historically, Koenig doesn't turn that ball over but as he has taken on more responsibility, his turnovers have increased two-fold this season. Syracuse currently ranks 44th (#BRAND) in steals, averaging 8.33 steals per game. Both Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije are among the top 100 players in college basketball in that category. Keep an eye on whether or not Syracuse is able to force Wisconsin to turn the ball over and whether or not Syracuse can limit turnovers of its own.
This game will be the first time these two teams have met since the 2012 Sweet 16 in Boston. Syracuse won that game 64-63, surviving Wisconsin's three-point barrage as the Badgers knocked down 14 shots from long range.
Fun Fact: Brown isn't just a basketball player -- he can also sing. Now that's a scouting report.