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Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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Jonathan Davis has been the leader of the Badgers' youth movement so far this season.

Badgers square up against first ranked opponent this season in No. 23 Louisville

The Badgers (5-1) will remain at the Kohl Center Saturday afternoon to finally complete their leg of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge as they take on the Louisville Cardinals (4-0) at noon. The Cardinals come to Madison in the wake of the Badgers’ victory over Loyola-Chicago by a score of 77-63.

As usual in 2020, this story begins with arduous scheduling work. The original game between these two squads was postponed due to COVID-19 cases in Louisville’s program. The Badgers instead played against Rhode Island on the same date they would have played the Cardinals. The Badgers dealt with more scheduling woes as Northern Iowa canceled the rest of their games for the year, which opened the door for Loyola-Chicago to come to town. The Badgers potentially could have taken on the Villanova Wildcats in Madison Square Garden, but opted to reschedule the game against the Cardinals instead.

Louisville is undefeated in their limited action this year. Three of their non-conference wins were blowouts, including a 21-point victory over the sneaky-good Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Seton Hall and All-American candidate Sandro Mamukelashvili did give them trouble; the Cardinals were only able to put away the Pirates by one point. 

The Cardinals are led in minutes, points, and assists by graduate transfer Carlik Jones. Jones played most of his college ball at Radford. This past summer, the Cincinnati native was named the top graduate transfer of his class by ESPN and one of the top 25 players in the country, and he has lived up to that hype so far. Despite his slight stature at 6’1” and 185 lbs, he is averaging seven rebounds per game as well. Badger guards D’Mitrik Trice and Trevor Anderson will have their hands full guarding Jones and his versatile skillset.

The rest of Louisville’s lineup is what you would expect from a blue-blood program like the Cardinals: youth production with plenty of talent to go around. Freshman guard Dre Davis boasts the second most points per game, and underclassmen certainly dominate the Cardinals’ scoring charts. The next three scorers behind Davis are all second-year players (two sophomores and one redshirt freshman), and it wouldn’t be strange for the Cardinals to put out an all-underclassmen lineup. The Badgers, on the other hand, are led by upperclassmen and their entire starting lineup is made up of seniors or redshirt seniors. It’s about as “rookies vs. vets” as you can get in college basketball where all the players are within four years of each other.

The Badgers aren’t without their own freshman stars, though. Freshman guard Jonathan Davis has been electric the last few games, providing a spark off the bench right when the Badgers have needed it. Davis has not cracked the starting lineup, and likely will not this season, but he has been on the court when the Badgers have been closing out games. Davis’s stats don’t quite jump off the page — 8.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game — but his energy on the court is infectious for the Badgers.

This will be one of the last games played in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge depending on whether Michigan and North Carolina State choose to reschedule their postponed game. The Big Ten is currently 6-5, so this matchup will decide whether the Big Ten wins outright or ties.

The Badgers seniors designed their own jerseys for the rest of the season as well. The vintage-inspired jerseys feature a script font and the old “W” logo on the right side of their shorts. I think they look okay. Quite crisp.

The Badgers and Cardinals tip off at 11 a.m. Central Time to kick off an excellent day for Wisconsin sports fans. Badger football will take back the Axe (that’s a promise) starting at 3 p.m. and the Packers play the Carolina Panthers at 7:15 p.m.

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