Following a pair of convincing victories last weekend, No. 3 Wisconsin will get its toughest test of the young season when it welcomes in intrastate rival Green Bay and its star player, senior point guard Keifer Sykes.
The Badgers (2-0) and the Phoenix (1-0) will face off Wednesday night at 8 p.m. at the Kohl Center in what will be the 21st meeting between the two programs. Though Wisconsin has dominated the all-time series, Green Bay has been more competitive in the last five years.
The Phoenix stunned the Badgers in 2009 with an overtime win, and nearly upset UW again when the two teams met last season. Wisconsin erased a seven-point deficit in the second half, overcoming a 32-point performance by Sykes to defeat Green Bay 69-66.
Sykes, the reigning Horizon League Player of the Year, was an AP All-American honorable mention selection last year, averaging 20.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game during his junior campaign. Sykes was also one of 50 players named to the Wooden Award preseason watch list this season.
“(Sykes) is kind of their guy. He’s involved in every single play offensively,” redshirt senior guard Josh Gasser said. “Pretty much everything they do offensively runs through him. That’s what makes him even better.
Though the Phoenix lost standout center Alec Brown to graduation, head coach Brian Wardle still has four of his team’s top five leading scorers from last year. Green Bay is the odds-on favorite to finish on top of the Horizon League standings and reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996.
Meanwhile, the Badgers have gotten off to a solid start, handily defeating Northern Kentucky and Chattanooga in their first two contests of the season. Four starters (Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson and Nigel Hayes) have double-digit scoring averages, but the Badgers have been getting contributions off the bench as well.
Sophomore forward Vitto Brown, who played just 44 minutes total as a freshman, has scored 13 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in 34 minutes so far this season.
However, Brown could see a little competition for minutes in the forward rotation with the return of redshirt senior forward Duje Dukan.
Dukan missed UW’s first two regular-season games, along with a scrimmage and exhibition game, as a result of an NCAA penalty that stemmed from the his decision to redshirt two years ago.
Dukan opted to sit out the 2012-13 season as a redshirt after deciding that he hadn’t fully recovered from a bout of mononucleosis that he contracted over the summer. However, since Dukan had played in two exhibition games, the NCAA determined that he needed to miss time this season to regain his fourth year of eligibility since his illness didn’t qualify him for a medical redshirt.
“It was tough. Obviously very frustrating having to sit those two games out,” Dukan said. “I can’t even put into words how excited I am to put the jersey back on and get ready to get out with the guys on Wednesday.”