The Wisconsin men’s basketball team may be only three games into the regular season, but its upcoming schedule has made it feel like tournament time for the Badgers.
A 73-40 win over Cornell Sunday night kicked off a brutal stretch of four games in seven days for the Badgers, an opportunity they are seizing as preparation for the all-important, yet distant Big Ten tournament and NCAA tournament in March.
Next up is a matchup with Presbyterian, a team that has dropped each of the opening three games of the season by double figures, at the Kohl Center Tuesday night.
“[We] try and tell all the younger guys, this is great practice for tournament time,” senior forward Mike Bruesewitz said. “Big Ten tournament…you don’t even get a day, you get 18 hours until you play again.”
Despite the Blue Hose’s early season struggles — which have come against two ACC squads in Georgia Tech and Clemson along with No. 14 Creighton — Presbyterian boasts several dangerous scorers. Redshirt sophomore guard Jordan Downing, a transfer from Davidson who sat out the 2011-12 campaign, totaled 25 points against Creighton and leads the team with 12.7 points per game.
According to UW assistant coach Lamont Paris, Downing is capable of posting 30 points if he builds a rhythm shooting the ball early. But Presbyterian boasts two other proven scorers in 6-foot-8 junior forward Joshua Clyburn and senior guard Khalid Mutakabbir at 10 and 9.3 points per contest, respectively.
Clyburn, a player who does most of his damage with high-percentage looks around the hoop, led Presbyterian with 19 points against an athletic Clemson squad and will provide a challenging defensive matchup in the paint for Badger forwards Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans.
“They try to score off of screens,” Paris said. “They do a lot off of screens. … They run some staggers, pin downs. So when they got it going, they’re coming off of those screens and wrapping tight and getting some stuff to the basket.”
But Presbyterian’s most striking weakness comes in its depth, as only six players have seen any significant time on the floor this year. The six-man lineup forces the Big Hose to stick almost entirely to a zone defense, meaning just how effectively the Badgers move the ball around their home hardwood could play a major factor in how UW fares in its fourth game of the season.
As Wisconsin proved it had rediscovered its accuracy shooting the ball against the Big Red — finishing 40.3 percent from the floor — its most damaging miscue came with an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers. Ryan’s teams are well-known for always taking care of the ball and the Badgers averaged 8.9 turnovers per game in 2011-12.
“I think we just did things that we characteristically don’t do,” said junior guard Ben Brust, who recorded his second double-double of the season with 18 points and 12 rebounds against Cornell. “So it’s just maybe getting time and learning from it and going through the season and just eliminating them.”
After playing the Blue Hose, the Badgers head to Las Vegas Wednesday to take part in the Las Vegas Invitational, where they will take on Creighton, one of the top teams in the country not playing in a major conference. The cardinal and white then close out the tournament against either Arizona State or Arkansas Saturday.
Aside from the clear physical challenges of the packed schedule awaiting Wisconsin, the next week offers this team a chance to prove it will be able to compete in a historically strong Big Ten later this year.
“We just got do a better job of closing the game out better, stepping on team’s throats when we get the chance,” Bruesewitz said. “We can’t have those mental lapses for four or five minutes because we’re not talented enough to have those mental lapses and then push forward.”
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