The ACC/Big Ten Challenge has long been the ACC’s to lose. Last year, the Big Ten came close, putting up a good fight but ultimately succumbing to a 6-5 defeat. This year may provide the best shot the Big Ten has ever had in winning their first Challenge. A victory may hinge on the outcome of the result of #5 Duke’s (6-0) journey to the Kohl Center to do battle with Wisconsin (5-1). Coach K’s Blue Devils looked both convincing yet shaky in a win over UConn, never being in danger of losing the contest despite shooting a paltry 30% from the floor. A road win over Wisconsin is no easy feat, as the Badgers have posted a 122-10 record there during Bo Ryan’s tenure. If Duke is to leave Madison with a win, they will have to do better from the field than they did against the Huskies.
Although Kyle Singler was heralded as The Man for the Dookies entering the year, it has been Jon Scheyer who has risen to the challenge thus far. Through his first six games, the senior combo guard has been nearly flawless with the basketball, turning it over just three times. There was much speculation as to how he would perform against UConn, a team that features stout defender Jerome Dyson in its backcourt. He passed the test, netting 19 points while doling out five assists despite a bad shooting night. Perhaps the biggest stat was the two turnovers he recorded. He has delivered six solid outings in six chances. His backcourt mate is Nolan Smith. Looking eager after being benched to current Memphis point guard Elliot Williams, Smith was knocking down three pointers at a blistering rate through his first two games. He went a combined 1-10 against Arizona State and UConn, and had a 1-3 assist/turnover ratio in those games. If his performance continues to sag, look for Kryzewski to turn to freshman guard Andre Dawkins for relief. Dawkins has been the most reliable option off the bench, and is the only guard off the bench who can be expected to do much damage. He’s found 17 minutes of playing time in each of Duke’s two big games; expect him to replicate that number against the Badgers. In the frontcourt, Kyle Singler is definitely the player to watch. Lauded as one of the most versatile players in the country, Singler has gotten off to a decent start. He had a porous night shooting the ball against the Huskies, but he was able to chip in with 8 boards and 4 dimes. Alleviating his burden this year has been Mason Plumlee, like Dawkins, just a freshman. Plumlee has been good for 7 points and 8 rebounds per contest, although he struggled in the Blue Devil’s matchup with UConn. Senior Lance Thomas rounds out the starting five, a strong hustle player whose contributions aren’t always obvious. Coming off the bench is Brian Zoubek, the big seven footer. Zoubek will be the tallest guy in action on Wednesday night. He does not possess extreme athleticism, but if he can eat up space, Wisconsin will be forced to look elsewhere for points. Ryan Kelly, Jordan Davidson and Olek Czyz will be inserted sparingly.
The key for Duke is to keep up their defensive intensity. They are only allowing opponents to connect on just over 35% of their shots. Wisconsin shot very poorly against Arizona and Gonzaga at Maui, so it’s critical that Duke maintain their impressive defense and not allow Wisconsin to get open looks. The Badgers missed a lot of good opportunities against the Zags, but looked much better against Maryland, and now they have a home court advantage, the first true road test for Coach K’s boys all year.
Despite the graduation of starters Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft, Wisconsin took third in Maui. Much of the credit can be attributed to senior point guard Trevon Hughes, who has elevated his game at the offensive level, leading the team in scoring at nearly 15 points per contest. Hughes was the lone semblance of consistency in the Islands, dropping 14+ in every outing and harassing high profile opponents Nic Wise, Matt Bouldin and Greivis Vasquez on the other end. Hughes is the catalyst for this team. He needs to neutralize Scheyer while maintaining his offensive production. His backcourt partner, Jason Bohannon, is not particularly strong in any area except shooting. When Bohannon couldn’t hit his threes against the Bulldogs of Gonzaga, Wisconsin lost. He recovered against Maryland, and the Badgers rolled. His job is simple; make the three pointers that Duke has all but eliminated in the early portion of their season. Providing relief for Hughes and Bohannon is Jordan Taylor, who has been spectacular as the sixth man. He pours in around 7 points a game, but the most impressive part has been his ability to play with or without Hughes on the floor and run the offense with little to no drop off. He is averaging around 3 dimes a game, tops on the team. The Badgers frontcourt is much deeper than just a year before. Jon Leuer has been unstoppable in the low post, connecting on over 65% of his shots inside the arc. It is absolutely imperative that he continue to get the ball, and continue to convert. On the rare Leuer miss, Keaton Nankivil has picked up the pieces, becoming a garbage man under the hoop. Nankivil gets around 2 offensive rebounds a game, and nearly always makes them count. If the Blue Devils continue to play defense at a high level, Nankivil will need to assert himself against a taller front line and get second chances. Tim Jarmusz is the swingman, and he won’t do anything eye-popping, but just plays consistent basketball. Bo Ryan knows what he’s getting from Jarmusz, a solid five points, four rebounds, a steal here, an assist there…Jarmusz is an unheralded player that quietly goes about his business. Two freshman relievers will find themselves on the floor early and often. Ryan Evans may be the most athletic player the Badgers have had in years. He has a quick first step, and will be called upon for his rebounding ability. Mike Bruesewitz is a hard-nosed player who rebounds incredibly well for someone his size (6-7). He should be able to hold his own against the tall but shallow Duke forwards.
Trevon Hughes has gained a reputation as an ACC killer, for his last second heroics against Virginia Tech in last year’s Challenge, and his clutch play in Wisconsin’s opening round NCAA Tournament date with the Seminoles of Florida State. He may need to be called upon again in what should be a close game.
If the Badgers are to win this game, it will be because Leuer establishes himself early, freeing up the Badger marksmen for open threes. They had a lot of them in Maui, but in only one game were they able to make the most of those chances. If they aren’t able to capitalize at home, things could get ugly.
Duke should win this one, but it won’t be as easy as their lofty ranking suggests. Based on home records vs. away records in the last ten years, Wisconsin has a bigger home court advantage than any other school. That can’t be discounted. Last time these teams met, Duke easily disposed of the Badgers. That was at Cameron Indoor. This time around, Wisconsin gets a shot at the Kohl Center. However, that won’t be enough, as the Blue Devils pull away late to the tune of 71-64.
PREDICTION: Duke MARGIN: 7
Best of the Rest: Here are my selections for games that look like they could have lasting impressions in the college basketball season, but don’t quite match up to the marquee event of the night.
Old Dominion 65 at Richmond 71
Siena 68 at Georgia Tech 78
Illinois 61 at Clemson 70
Oklahoma State 74 at Tulsa 61
California 61 at New Mexico 59
UNLV 81 at Arizona 69
Missouri 71 at Vanderbilt 74
BYU 76 at Utah State 67
Washington State 57 at Gonzaga 72
Florida State 60 at Ohio State 73