It's another busy Q&A Friday here at TDG.
Thanks to the loss at Northwestern and a quick turnaround before facing the Badgers, the normal level of HATE seems to be missing. I'll admit, this isn't the way I wanted to go into the weekend either. So here's a little something to get you all back into the proper BETTER DEAD THAN RED mood:
HATE levels back to normal? Good. Then it's time to welcome Phil Mitten (@hoopsmarinara) from fellow SB Nation blog Bucky's 5th Quarter to talk about everyone's favorite popcorn skunk representing team.
The Daily Gopher: Do you think Bo Ryan regrets sending his guys to the Dwight Howard Free Throw Academy? Seriously though, explain this to me. Because the Badgers' free throw shooting prowess is looking as real as Manti's girlfriend (oh yes, I'm still making these jokes) and it's weirding me out a bit. Also, Ryan Evans is just trolling Bo at this point right?
Phil Mitten: The real phenomenon in need of explanation is how did Evans shoot 73% from the line as a junior and sophomore?! That's nearly double his percentage as a senior. Evans has always had one of the ugliest-looking shots on the team, so his struggles aren't a surprise, just the extent of them. Since Evans is also UW's best at getting to the line, he drags the whole team down. Wisconsin's overall deficiency directly cost it the MSU game, and played a huge role in the Marquette loss as well. This presents an obvious dilemma because of Evans' excellent rebounding and defense. Needless to say, the team would be looking much better even if they shot just 66% from the line.
TDG: Now that you've completed your seemingly predestined loss to Iowa (seriously, no Badger fan I know felt good going into that game) and lost another close one to MSU (the clocks were working this time right?) what are you expecting from the Badgers tomorrow?
PM: Yes, I had a horrible feeling about both of those games too. That is also why I am optimistic about Saturday. I don't don't have the same sense of dread about Minnesota (but this could be because the last two games have numbed me). I expect another grinder of course, but I believe the Badgers have nowhere to go but up shooting-wise. Ben Brust is really due for a big game, so if the Gophers aren't disciplined on defense, he could have a big game behind the arc.
TDG: What about the Gophers concerns you the most?
PM: In my best NBA Draft analyst voice: "Length." Minnesota could have a field day tipping passes and poking balls loose with pressure. Traevon Jackson (and even Sam Dekker) have been guilty of some pretty lazy turnovers at times. The thing is, Minnesota shouldn't have any problem containing the Badger guards because Brust and Jackson aren't really quick enough to blow by anyone. Length inside isn't as big a concern because of the relatively smaller starting five Tubby Smith is going with, but a freak specimen like Trevor Mbakwe could also give Berggren and Evans trouble on defense and rebounds.
TDG: Rodney Williams is clearly the captain of the All-B1G dunking team and Jared Berggren seems like a good selection for the center slot. Who wins in a dunk contest between the two?
PM: Rodney is a gifted dunk artist. He'll win the contest, but Berggren's ability to finish at the rim on fellas' heads has been super impressive this season. Williams takes off like a jet on an aircraft carrier with his speed and fast-twitch muscles. Berggren's dunks have a lot more power, like a shuttle launch. His best dunks are surprises, whereas a breakaway from Williams is not.
TDG: If the Gophers are able to bring the tempo of the game up (no easy task, I'll grant you) and don't hurl bricks all night, do you think the Badgers will be able to hang with them? If the Badgers can't keep Minnesota off the glass what will they need to do to compensate?
PM: You just threw two huge "ifs" out there. Obviously if Minnesota does everything they want, they'll win in a landslide. And vice versa, really. But for the Badgers to overcome a lackluster effort on the boards, the only equalizer would be turnovers. The Gophers are a bit turnover-prone and traditionally Wisconsin can stack the margin in that category to come out on top.
TDG: Sam Dekker...tell me why he'll be the real deal.
PM: Here are a few reasons: 1) He already has the alpha dog mentality that is sorely lacking on Wisconsin's roster. Once Evans stops taking shots away from him, I think he'll flourish. 2) He's a very good passer. And we know great players find a way to hurt you in other ways (ie: making opponents pay for guarding him too aggressively). 3) Basketball IQ. He has struggled with turnovers as a freshman, but that stuff (like is defense) is correctable. Dekker sees angles and plays to make that others do not. 4) Inherent physical gifts. The kid has the athleticism and size to pose matchup problems. It's going to be a fun couple years for Badger fans.
TDG: Many people wrote off the Badgers after their early struggles despite the fact that the signs (aka: KenPom's statistical obsession with Bo) were pointing to the Badgers being better than their record. The Indiana win validated that. That said, the Badgers are clearly still inconsistent. So what are your expectations for the rest of the season?
PM: Or was Indiana an anomaly? It is such a dogfight in the Big Ten, so you're going to have off nights where a good opponent drills ya -- home or away. So really I expect more of the same. Since the Badgers are no longer invincible at the Kohl Center, they might drop a couple more there. But there are winnable games on the road and the team showed at Indiana that it can put together a memorable performance. I'm clinging to faith in the law of averages so that the free throw shooting improves, enabling Wisconsin to finish in the top 5 of the Big Ten and grab a 5- or 6-seed in the tournament.
TDG: Prediction for tomorrow afternoon?
PM: Against my better judgement I've been picking the Badgers the past two games, and I had a Gopher 60-56 win/jinx typed out here. But that would go against everything I said in my second answer above, so I erased it. Make it Wisconsin 60, Minnesota 56 for me.
Thanks to Phil! If you'd like to see my answers to his questions you can find them here. And of course, be sure to come back tomorrow to comment in the BETTER DEAD THAN READ Open Thread.