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Minnesota Basketball: Gophers vs. Wisconsin - Border Battle Q&A With Bucky's 5th Quarter

Phil Mitten from B5Q stops by to answer my questions about Wednesday night's rivalry showdown.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

I'll be honest, I expected Wisconsin to roll into this game with a single loss to Michigan at the worst. Instead, the Badgers are on a 2 game skid and appear at least somewhat vulnerable. To better understand a UW team that scores points (SERIOUSLY...WAT), I turned to Phil Mitten (@hoopsmarinara) from the wonderful Wisconsin blog Bucky's 5th Quarter (@B5Q). I was interested in seeing if his answers would make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside prior to tonight's game and I was pleased by most of what I read. If you'd like to see my responses to his questions, you can find them over on B5Q.


The Daily Gopher: Let me start by asking the question you know fans around the B1G and country have been asking ever since the moment the Badgers become a consensus Top 5 team in the country in the Week 9 polls...Is this Wisconsin team the real deal (defined as conference title worthy team capable of a Final Four run)? What do you think a reasonable ceiling for this team is come the end of the season? Is this how you anticipated the things playing out thus far?

Phil Mitten: After these last two losses, I'm questioning everything. Will the Badgers turn into Ohio State and never win a game again??? Realistically, if Wisconsin can right the ship and get a couple breaks from Michigan State, the Badgers can certainly be a player in the conference race given their schedule. It's that whole righting the ship thing that's tricky though, isn't it...

Earlier this year I settled on this being an Elite 8 team, but I was never convinced that Wisconsin looked like a Final Four team. The recent defensive issues and consistency problems from its star player, Sam Dekker, have solidified that second thought and thrown major doubt into the first one. Minnesota is catching UW at a vulnerable time.
TDG: Were Indiana and Michigan simply speed bumps on the way to a Big Ten title? Or did you see any patterns or problems in those losses that have you concerned? What did the Badgers need to do better to win those games?

PM: Stepping back, losing to Indiana and Michigan are not terrible losses. But the manner in which UW has lost has been concerning. The past two games were the two worst defensive performances of the season by efficiency standards. In both losses, the defense was glaringly absent in both execution and effort. Even slightly better Badger defense would have changed the result in both cases. The transition defense was exposed a bit by Indiana and may still rear its head at some point, but I expect that to be a minor blip. The real concern is the dribble penetration into the paint. First, Yogi Ferrell went nuts getting to the rim, allowing the Hoosiers to score 52 points in the paint. Then bigger guys like Derrick Walton, Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert from Michigan were able to do the same, drilling a ton of pull up jumpers in the process. The help rotations have been slow, incorrect or simply non-existent -- something Badger fans are not accustomed to seeing.

With that said, if another shot here or there would have dropped for the Badgers, they'd still be undefeated. Another problem is, the team looks a little unsure of who should take the shot when they absolutely need a hoop. The Badgers need to get that sorted out, but its a secondary concern to the defense.
TDG: The Badgers have won games scoring as few as 48 points and as many as 103 points. For outsiders, that latter number creates confusion as the Badgers everyone knows prefer to play a brand of basketball best suited to help insomniacs fall asleep from boredom. Are the higher point totals a product of improved Badger offensive efficiency? Or did Barry finally talk Bo into giving the season ticket holders a better points to $$ ratio from time to time? In other words, do you expect the higher scoring Badgers to stick around the rest of the season and what has contributed the most to the improvements in scoring thus far?

PM: Wisconsin does have a dynamic offensive attack this season, though Bo Ryan actually has had an offense even better than this one in 2010-11. But this group is right there, scoring over 1.19 points per possession -- nearly matching the slower offense of that Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer squad. The difference now is that every player on the court is a threat to score, including all but Nigel Hayes from 3-point land. They have the pieces in Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust, etc. to push the tempo a bit more and succeed at it. Though Wisconsin still must face OSU and MSU, I'm expecting their offensive efficiency to hover somewhere around that aforementioned mark throughout the season.
TDG: So Sam Dekker is going to jump to the NBA after this season right? Because he's not a guy I want to see in Madison for 1 (or 2) more years. Would you say he's the key player on this year's team? Or are other Badgers comfortable stepping up when he's having a bad night/being well defended?

PM: Hate to break it to you, but there's a very good chance that Dekker returns for at least one more year. Though his rebounding has really improved this season, Dekker has struggled with the ability (and desire) to take over a game at the right time. He has yet to display the ability to take a lot of guys off the dribble. Dekker was largely M.I.A. against Indiana and then once again disappeared in the second half versus Michigan after starting strong -- basically confirming that he is the key to the team's ultimate success. The Badgers have had other guys step up at times, but against the good teams, when a guy like Jackson or Gasser has to pick up their scoring, it takes them out of the complimentary role they are best in.

Then again, the NBA Draft is all about potential. Many mock drafts still have Dekker as a mid first-rounder and who knows what goes through the heads of NBA GMs. As of now, most Wisconsin fans I talk to are pretty secure in Dekker's return. He's very good in space, but needs to become more physical.
TDG: What element of Minnesota's game under Pitino's system concerns you the most? Where do you think the Badgers match up the best against the Gophers?

PM: I do expect one of the keys to the game being what amount of full court pressure Minnesota applies. For as many ballhandlers as the Badgers seem to have this year, they have looked lost at times breaking the press. Even one or two turnovers in such a situation can be the difference between winning and losing on the road. The other concern, as we've discussed, is the ability of UW's perimeter defenders to keep opposing guys -- in this case Andre Hollins -- from breaking the defense in the lane.

The big guys (Frank Kaminsky vs. Elliott Eliason) could be a wash inside, but fun to watch. Wisconsin is still the better outside shooting team and has adapted its approach to take advantage of this. The Badgers shoot a large number of shots from long distance, while also limiting how many outside looks the opposition gets. In addition, those looking for a bounce back from Dekker may like the lack of options Minnesota has for defending him. Austin Hollins has great length, but just gives up too much size in my opinion. I'm not sure Oto Osenieks can stay with Dekker if he draws the assignment.
TDG: Which happens first, Bo delivering one of his patented Angry Grinch look/potty mouth combos or Pitino tossing his jacket in disgust? Other predictions more relevant to the actual game?

PM: Bo seems to have mellowed a bit, honestly. The media even latched onto this phenomenon and made a connection with Ryan losing both of his parents in the past 12 months. But yeah, a dirty look is a given ... it's Big Ten officiating. I'm not yet familiar with Little Richard's moves, but I'm looking forward to them. Is Pitino interested in getting tossed?

My predictions were totally off last week, so I'm going to abstain from embarrassing myself further. Let's just say I don't have a good feeling about this one unless the real Sam Dekker shows up.

Thanks again to Phil for taking the time to talk hooptyball. Be sure to give him a follow on Twitter and stay caught up on Bo's latest tirades charades escapades.