Wisconsin guard T.J. Schlundt’s pregame preparation has not changed since his days of playing high school basketball. He undergoes mindfulness and meditation exercises and listens to classical music to calm himself down and hip-hop right before warmups to pump himself up.
Patience and discipline have also been key for the redshirt junior guard who is expected to play in his third consecutive game Wednesday evening when UW (1-1 Big Ten, 4-7 overall) faces off against Western Kentucky (6-3). While his preparation has remained consistent throughout his career, the recent flood of injuries to the Badgers’ backcourt means that Schlundt’s role is vastly different than what it was expected to be heading into the 2017-’18 season. If and when Schlundt does check into the contest Wednesday night, it will be the first time in his Badger career that he would have appeared in three consecutive games.
Injuries to sophomore point guard D’Mitrik Trice and freshman guard Kobe King have decimated Wisconsin’s backcourt. Trice underwent successful foot surgery Monday and is expected to miss at least a month. King underwent surgery on his left knee Monday and will miss the remainder of the season.
The result is more minutes for Schlundt as well as potentially for Walt McGrory, a 6’3’’ walk-on, who has yet to see the floor this season.
“We just gotta learn fast,” assistant coach Dean Oliver said of his team’s backcourt’s inexperience. “I think the younger guys are learning fast and they gotta accept the challenge.”
The challenge for Schlundt occurs mostly on the defensive end. His teammates openly acknowledge that he can be a very dangerous player on UW’s scout team, as the quick trigger on his 3-point shot can make him difficult to defend. But his defense, specifically defending ball-screens, has at times held him back.
Just this past weekend against Marquette, Schlundt was thrown directly into the fire, as he was tasked with guarding Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey, both of whom scored more than 20 points and lit the Badgers up from behind the arc. Miscommunication on defending screens was a problem throughout the night for UW, an issue that both redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ and head coach Greg Gard said could be attributed to reserve guards playing in new situations.
Schlundt, though, feels prepared for what he is set to face in upcoming weeks.
“I’ve stayed patient and now the opportunities here,” he said. “Now I’m gonna take advantage of it.”
All five of the Hilltoppers’ starters average double-figure points, and while WKU lost its most recent game to Ohio University, 89-84, its roster is full of experienced and dangerous talent. Western Kentucky has graduate transfers from the University of Kansas in Dwight Coleby and the University of Virginia in Darius Thompson. Milwaukee native redshirt junior guard Lamonte Bearden is another transfer player and will be a similar problem for the Badgers to deal with.
The Hilltoppers also come to the Kohl Center having already defeating their lone other Big Ten opponent this season, Purdue, in the Battle for Atlantis. And WKU lost by only eight points to No. 1 Villanova.
If freshman guard Brad Davison or redshirt sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl get into early foul trouble, Wisconsin might have to get creative with its currently under-manned backcourt. According to Oliver, don’t be surprised if Happ or junior forward Khalil Iverson does more of the ball-handling for the Badgers. In all likelihood however, Davison will likely continue to see an uptick in minutes and be UW’s lead guard. He too is battling a left shoulder injury, but he played all but two minutes in Wisconsin’s loss to the Golden Eagles this past weekend.
Schlundt and McGrory, as well as forwards Nate Reuvers and Andy Van Vliet, will all likely all see an increase in playing time Wednesday night. Wisconsin’s rotation is in flux, but there are crucial holes that need to be filled.
“You don’t know when your time is coming,” Oliver said. “But you gotta be prepared.”
Tipoff for Western Kentucky-Wisconsin is set for 7 p.m. at the Kohl Center.