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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, January 21, 2022

Nigel Hayes and the Badgers have lost three of four, and desperately need to get back on track.

Badgers to play Tennessee Monday, might play No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 North Carolina

The Badgers have a long history of scheduling brutal matchups in the early-goings of their seasons, and 2016 is no exception as they have a potentially hellacious slew of opponents waiting in the wings out west at the Maui Invitational.

No. 9 Wisconsin’s (2-1) first matchup should be a relative cakewalk Monday against the Tennessee Volunteers (1-1), which is in just its second season under head coach Rick Barnes. The Vols lost to Chattanooga in their season opener before scraping by Appalachian State 103-94.

Tennessee has two players the Badgers need to look out for in freshman guards Jordan Bone and Lamonte Turner. The pair averages 27.5 points and seven assists per game, but has struggled mightily from behind the 3-point line this year, making just 2-of-14 shots thus far.

Bone is the real on-court leader, and at 6-foot-1 has a surprising presence among the veteran Vols. His assist rate of 40.8 ranks No. 39 in the nation, and he has made a remarkable 71.4 percent of his 2-point attempts in his first year in Knoxville.

Bone will likely matchup with redshirt senior guard Zak Showalter, the Badgers’ best and most reliable perimeter defender. Showalter will have his hands full all night with the crafty freshman, but should manage to keep his effectiveness to a minimum.

Where UW should find success is on the offensive boards, where it has been the fourth-best team in the country this season, rebounding 46.5 percent of its misses. Tennessee has been one of the worst defensive rebounding teams this year, allowing opponents to rebound 38.7 percent of their misses, 33rd-worst in the nation. Sophomore forward Ethan Happ and senior forward Nigel Hayes should have a field day down low against the smaller opponent.

Should the Badgers take care of business and slip into the semifinal round of the tournament, their most-likely opponent is No. 4 Oregon. The Ducks are somewhat of an anomaly this year; they were held to a paltry 49 points by unranked Baylor, but followed that loss up with a masterful 76-54 demolition of Valparaiso.

The superstar for Oregon is senior Chris Boucher. The 6-foot-10 forward has scored 17 points and grabbed 6.3 rebounds per game, all while posting an effective field-goal percentage of 71.7 percent. The Badger big men will struggle to contain him, and he alone might be enough to tip the scale in favor of the Ducks.

If the Badgers can escape, however, they’ll almost certainly find last year’s runner-up No. 5 North Carolina in the final. It should go without saying that the Tar Heels have been phenomenal this season, but it’s hard to overstate just how good this offense is.

Five UNC players are averaging double-digit points this season, and all but one have a wealth of experience against top-tier opponents. Kennedy Meeks has been his typical dominant self on the glass, grabbing 10.3 rebounds—five offensive—per game, but has yet to unleash his offensive skillset.

Meeks had a quiet game against the Badgers in the NCAA Tournament two years ago, but that was back when Frank Kaminsky was the rock for UW down low. With Kaminsky gone and Happ struggling defensively, sophomore forward Charles Thomas might see extended minutes if the Badgers find their way to the final round.

The quarterfinal game tips off against Tennessee Monday at 1:30 p.m., with a potential semifinal match the next day at 7 p.m. and the final getting underway Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.

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