For the second-straight year, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team will take on Virginia in the 15th annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge, but this year they will leave the friendly confines of the Kohl Center and will travel to John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA.
No. 8 Wisconsin (8-0) is coming off a 70-63 win over West Virginia in the Cancun Challenge Championship last Wednesday. The Badgers’ eight-straight wins to open the season mark the best start in program history since the 1993-1994 season when Wisconsin went on to win its first 11.
Virginia (7-1) is fresh off an 83-63 win over Missouri State in the championship of the Corpus Christi Challenge. Cavaliers’ senior shooting guard Joe Harris was named MVP of the challenge.
Virginia comes into the matchup against Wisconsin with only one blemish on its record that came to then 14th-ranked Virginia Commonwealth University in a three-point loss at home. Still, the Cavaliers are gaining national recognition, receiving the second-most votes among non-ranked teams in the AP poll and the most votes among non-ranked teams in the coach’s poll.
Virginia holds a 2-1 advantage in the three previous meetings between the Cavaliers and the Badgers including a 60-54 win over Wisconsin last season in the Kohl Center, which was one of only three home losses and the Badgers’ only non-conference home loss in Madison last season.
Harris led all scorers with 22 points in the matchup with Wisconsin while Akil Mitchell picked up a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Both Harris and Mitchell are seniors this season. Ben Brust had a team-high 15 points for the Badgers.
Wisconsin’s only win over Virginia came in 1999 in Fairbanks, Ala.
It’s not hard to see Virginia head coach Tony Bennett is a disciple of Bo Ryan’s. The Cavaliers play a brand of basketball Badger fans are very familiar with ranking 327th in pace of play in Division I.
Virginia will dictate the pace of the game, settling into its half-court offense and whittling away at the shot clock until an open shot presents itself, which accounts for the team’s 48.9 shooting percentage.
Wednesday will be a test of Wisconsin’s newfound, high-scoring offense that takes open shots no matter how early in the shot clock. It will be interesting to see if the Badgers fall back into their old ways with the Cavaliers’ slow pace or if Ryan’s team will continue to light up the scoreboard.
A Game of Matchups
Much like Wisconsin, Virginia rolls with a three-guard lineup. The only difference is three of the four guards that average more than 20 minutes a game are 6-foot-5 or taller. At 6-foot-3, Josh Gasser is Wisconsin’s tallest guard that will see the floor Wednesday.
It will be a true challenge for Wisconsin’s thin front court, which hasn’t been tested since the first two games of the season against St. John’s and Florida. Junior forward Frank Kaminsky will be able to spread the floor with his long-range shooting ability, but will be tested in the paint on defense. Freshman forward Nigel Hayes will see plenty of time to help neutralize Virginia’s forwards Anthony Gill and Akil Mitchell, who are both listed as 6-foot-8.
Another interesting matchup will be between Virginia’s leading scorer Joe Harris, who averages more than 12 points-per-game, and Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker, who averages nearly 15 points-per-game. Both have a similar build and will likely be guarding each other Wednesday night. Since Wisconsin has a number of players that can carry the team in the points column, it will be most important for Dekker to concentrate on keeping Harris in check.
Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan is looking to go 9-0 for the first time with the Badgers. A win over Virginia Wednesday would give Ryan his 300th win as Wisconsin’s head man and would make him only the 9th coach ever to pick up 300 wins at a Big Ten school.
Virginia head coach Tony Bennett is the son of former Wisconsin head coach Dick Bennett, who led the Badgers to the Final Four in 2000. Tony Bennett played basketball at UW-Green Bay before becoming an assistant coach for his dad at Wisconsin. Along with being on the staff for Wisconsin’s regional championship in 2000, Bennett was an assistant under Ryan for two years, including 2003 when the Badgers went to the Sweet-16.