Kevin Zimmerman: So, Wisconsin comes off what I'd imagine is a feel-good win against Baylor. The Badgers' offense thrived against a zone defense, but what do you expect to see against Arizona's man-to-man that has a lot of length that matches up well with the Wisconsin shooters? How will the Badgers attack?
Phil Mitten: It's funny you say "feel-good" because the win over Baylor was fantastic, yet anti-climactic. I see videos from Arizona and Dayton fans celebrating their intense wins, but Wisconsin's joy was much more subdued because the game was over pretty early. Against Arizona, fans know that shots won't come nearly as easy against the nation's top defensive unit. Even so, I think you will see Wisconsin go to Frank Kaminsky early to try to establish something inside and hope that once again it opens up some kick outs for threes. Ben Brust is hot right now (18-for-35, 51% on 3-pointers over the last five games), so he will be the key outside shooter is he stays on.
Bo Ryan doesn't deviate too much in his approach. He has been successful countering with halftime adjustments during this run, so it's going to be another classic in my opinion.
KZ: Wisconsin runs a similar defense to Arizona. What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses against the Wildcats, who aren't a great shooting team but can knock shots down occasionally and can also throw it into the post.
PM: Josh Gasser is Wisconsin's defensive stopper on the perimeter, so it will be interesting to see him chase Nick Johnson (presumably). If Johnson or one of the other guys is able to break down the defense off the dribble and get into the lane, the Badgers are very vulnerable. For one, they sag off of ball screens a little too much, so there are mid-range opportunities against UW. Forcing the defense to collapse also puts Kaminsky at risk for more foul trouble since he'll have to rotate over to help out inside.
On the positive side, Wisconsin guards have been incredible all year rebounding the basketball, so Arizona might find offensive rebounds harder to come by against the Badgers. Against Baylor, the three starting guards pulled down 18 boards compared to 22 for the Bears as a team. On the season, the Badgers surrender second chances on only 27% of opponents' possessions.
KZ: The Badgers have a lot of scorers in the starting lineup. Between shooter Ben Brust, inside-out big man Frank Kaminsky and forward Sam Dekker, who do you think presents the biggest problem for Arizona match-up-wise?
PM: Each time Kaminsky goes out and has a great game, to some degree people are still in awe of how good of a player he has become. So until someone completely stops him, you've got to consider him a tough match up for anyone. He is very versatile. Kaminsky has the patience to execute double and triple moves in the post, plus the ability to put the ball on the floor from about 15 feet out if someone gives his steady outside shot too much respect.
I don't think any of the other players necessarily provide a big match-up problem on their own. Traevon Jackson is a very strong 6'2" point guard who can be tough to check when he plays smart, but T.J. McConnell is a really good defender so I'm not sure either team has an advantage there. Sam Dekker is pretty athletic and can do some great things in the open floor, but tends to float around too much in the halfcourt offense. Nigel Hayes could be another key off the bench if he can draw some fouls on the Arizona bigs. The real advantage Wisconsin has is having capable 3-point shooters at every spot in the starting five, which makes doubling Kaminsky tough.
KZ: Do you think Bo Ryan will have any tricks up his sleeve? Steve Fisher said he had one before SDSU lost to Arizona, and that trick -- a 1-3-1 zone in the final minutes -- seemed to backfire. Specifically, I'm wondering if Ryan might hack-a-Gordon at some point. I wouldn't blame him.
PM: More than any coach I know of, Ryan doesn't resort to gimmicks. He'd rather die than play a zone defense. Wisconsin is also very averse to fouling at any point, so you won't see Hack-a-Gordon. If the Badgers do foul Gordon intentionally, it just means they are behind and making the smart play to extend the game.
As mentioned, giving up too many points in the paint has been a problem for Wisconsin at times this season. And even though Arizona plays at about the same pace as Wisconsin, letting the Wildcats get easy transition buckets would be a really bad sign.
KZ: What is the biggest worry for Wisconsin?
PM: Biggest worry? That this was all a cruel joke and Wisconsin suddenly won't be able to buy a bucket from outside. The numbers say that shouldn't happen because this team is simply a bunch of great shooters ... the Badgers haven't shot worse than 33% from long distance since a dreadful outing agaisnt Ohio State on Feb. 1.
KZ: What's Wisconsin's biggest advantage against Arizona?
PM: Frankly, it could be UW's patience. This year's team has garnered a reputation as a new, faster brand of Wisconsin offense, but traditionally the Badgers have a "grind-it-out" reputation. So those principles are still ingrained. The reason Wisconsin's approach was so demoralizing to Baylor is that even when they did play a good zone for 30+ seconds, the Badgers never panicked, waited for their best look, and then hit those shots cold-blooded. The team did not get rattled after its poor first-half against Oregon either. They will need that same discipline when they get frustrated against the Wildcat defense.