Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard knows his team is young and learning. And after an extensive preseason slate, the Badgers’ early non-conference schedule presents no shortage of tests, a schedule he said is meant to put the newcomers through a trial by fire.
“It's a challenging schedule,” he said. “I don't know if we've done the research looking if we’ve had more of a gauntlet in the non-conference, but I'll tell you what, by the time we get to 2018 ... we'll have a pretty good idea of where we are.”
First up in a slew of ranked opponents is No. 15 Xavier (2-0), which will come to Madison Thursday to take on the newly retooled Badgers team (2-0).
The Musketeers feature a litany of scoring threats, though the bulk of the damage is done by two-time First-Team All-Big East senior guard Trevon Bluiett. Bluiett finished second in the Big East in scoring last season and has been torching defenses so far this year.
He sits comfortably atop the conference in 2017 at 25.5 points per game and has hit more 3-pointers than all but nine players nationwide.
But despite Bluiett’s remarkable efficiency, sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice said it wouldn’t be the first time UW shut down an offensive juggernaut, and that each member of the Badgers is willing to forgo stuffing the stat sheet to tame him.
“I think we have a lot of guys that are willing to stop and focus in on him. That might mean giving up some of their offensive ability to focus in on that one guy,” Trice said. “It's definitely going to be a team effort.”
While Bluiett stands in the spotlight and is the unquestioned leader for Xavier, XU has a variety of weapons capable of putting the ball in the basket.
Three of Bluiett’s teammates have scored at least 13 points per game this season: J.P. Macura, Tyrique Jones and Kaiser Gates. The quartet has combined to score nearly 70 points per contest and are the backbone of a fast-paced, high-powered Musketeer attack.
Freshman guard Brad Davison emphasized that UW needs to stick to the defense that it knows and not turn the ball over or let XU speed them up.
“The biggest thing is just sticking to our system and playing defensively as a unit. It's not going to be one person, it's gonna be a team defense to stop them,” he said. “Transition defense is huge, taking care of the ball on offense is huge.”
The Badgers have been excellent defensively two games into the season, but their matchup with the Musketeers will be the first time they’ve faced a team with a fully healthy starting lineup.
Tipoff from the Kohl Center is set for Thursday at 7:30 p.m.