The road has proven unfriendly to the Badgers this year, who have begun the season going a disappointing 1-4.
Fortunately for head coach Bo Ryan’s troop, this Saturday the Badgers face UW-Green Bay at a venue they haven’t seen much of lately, the Kohl Center.
The Badgers enter Saturday’s game on a three-game losing streak and coming off of a disappointing loss to Georgia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge Wednesday night. In that game, UW gave up a 20-point lead in the second half to lose after a desperation shot by Kirk Penney went off the rim at the buzzer.
The Badgers’ opponent, UW-Green Bay, will attempt to get its second victory of the season after it got its first victory Tuesday night against Chicago State.
The Phoenix, who are 1-3, are led by senior guard DeVante Blanks. Badger point guard Travon Davis gets the task of guarding the speedy 5-foot-10 Blanks, who leads the team in scoring with 13.5 points per game in the absence of last year’s leading scorer, junior forward Mike King.
King, who suffers from chronic back pain, was redshirted earlier this week after not being able to play in any of his team’s first four games this season. Coaches hope that he will be able to rehab his back to a point where he can be a more efficient player next season.
“Last year we tried to have him play games and skip practices and workouts to manage the pain, but that course of action adversely affected his play on the court and did little to help relieve his discomfort,” said UW-GB head coach Mike Heideman.
In the Phoenix’s lone victory of the season they relied on red-hot shooting from the outside, going 7-11 behind the three-point arch in the first half.
Ryan Mueller, a key player for Green Bay, returned from injury last game and contributed immediately by shooting a perfect 3-3 from three-point range in limited action.
While the Badgers have struggled in their transition from Dick Bennett’s methodic slow tempo style to a more up-tempo style under new head coach Bo Ryan, fans will likely recognize the style of basketball that UW-Green Bay plays.
Dick Bennett coached the Phoenix before beginning his tenure at UW, and evidence of his influence still remains. UW-Green Bay head coach Mike Heidemen was an assistant coach with the Phoenix under Bennett, and since he took over the job as head coach, his teams have exhibited the stingy defense and strong fundamentals that Bennett-coached teams were known for.
Although it is Bo Ryan’s first year coaching at Wisconsin, he is not without experience against UW-Green Bay. While coaching at in-state rival UW-Milwaukee for two years, Bo Ryan had a 3-2 mark against the Phoenix, including a 22-point victory in February of last year.
Despite the proximity of Madison and Green Bay, the schools have only met seven times, with the Badgers winning all seven of the meetings.
Most recently the Badgers won 61-53 last season in Green Bay. The Badgers hope to continue their dominance of the series this weekend. If they do, they will get their first win of the season against a Division I opponent.
So far this season the Badgers have shown their youth at critical times and have not been able to get wins in close games.
At this point, the Badgers’ four losses have come by an average of just 3.25 points per game. The Badgers have been competitive and in position to win each of their games this season, only to eventually lose by a small margin.
The Phoenix bring more experience to the table than the Badgers. However, Wisconsin is more athletic and also holds a rare size advantage over a small UWGB team.
The young Badgers should be energized in front of the Wisconsin faithful at the Kohl Center for their regular-season game at home.
If they can eliminate the turnovers that plagued them in the second half against Georgia Tech and keep their composure down the stretch, they should get a much-needed victory against their in-state rival.