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Panthers go to Madison as Badgers hit their stride

Wednesday night at the Kohl Center, the Milwaukee Panthers will face a Wisconsin Badger team with a much different look to it than the team the Panthers have faced over the past two seasons. Gone are the likes of Frank Kaminsky, Sam Decker, Trevon Jackson and Josh Gasser who each caused the Panthers many an issue during their career. In their place are a few recognizable names that are left over and several newcomers who are being asked to fill significant voids on the Wisconsin roster.

The recognizable names remaining on the roster are those of juniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. Both players understand they are on a young team with a lot of younger players. Therefore they are taking a lot on themselves as upperclassman. Hayes has the ability to work down on the blocks or hit mid-range shots. He is also second on the team in rebounding. Hayes is capable of hitting from long range but the Panthers need to defend his inside and midrange game as their first priority on him. Bronson Koenig has taken his game to another level this season. He has nearly doubled his scoring average over last season. Koenig is a very diverse player. He is shooting 43% on all field goals this season including 37% on three point attempts. The Panthers should look to take the three away from him and force him to take two points shots. He is also a very good free throw shooter, hitting at over a 90% clip. He has only missed two free throws so far this season.
There are also several Badgers who have seen significantly increased roles this season. Junior Guard Zak Showalter is the type of player that symbolizes what Bo Ryan has become known for in his program. A player may seem buried in the program but then minutes become available for them and that person makes a significant statistical leap in the span of one season. He served as a back-up guard last season and is starting now. He has already surpassed his season totals of last year in the first nine games this season in every statistical category. Showalter’s value to the Badgers runs far beyond stats however. He serves as their energizer bunny if you will. In a recent game against Temple, Showalter dove for a loose ball on three separate occasions in a single possession. The way he plays the game is not only infectious to his teammates but to the home crowd. Showalter thrives by hustling and outworking people. For the Panthers to have a shot to pull a big upset, they are going to have to out-hustle and outwork Showalter and the Badgers.
Another example of players evolving in Bo Ryan’s system is junior forward Vitto Brown. He was used sparingly last season, averaging only six minutes and under two points per game last season. This season, Brown like Showalter, has seen a significant jump in minutes and production. He is averaging over 25 minutes, 10 points and six rebounds this season. Brown had one of his bigger games of the season in the Badgers recent upset of Syracuse in the B1G/ACC challenge.
The Badgers are in a situation where they are forced to play young players. They play a seven man rotation and three of those seven players are freshman. The headliner of the freshman class is Ethan Happ. He redshirted last season, practicing against the likes of Decker and Kaminsky on a daily basis. Happ does not have the outside game of either Decker or Kaminsky but he does have a good inside game at this point in his career. He will be a challenge for the interior defense of the Panthers. Happ is the third leading scorer for the Badgers. He also is a factor on the glass as he is the team leader in rebounds.
The Badgers opened the year with several upsets but this Badgers team is steadily improving and gaining more confidence with each game. This game will be a challenge for the Panthers because winning in the Kohl Center is never an easy task. In order for the Panthers to have a shot in this game they need to beat the Badgers in the areas they do well. The Badgers do not commit many fouls or turnovers. So discipline on both offense and defense is important for the Panthers. Jordan Johnson will have his hands full dealing with Bronson Koenig and Happ and Hayes will be equally troublesome on the inside for the likes of Matt Tiby and JJ Panoske on the inside. With that being said, the Panthers stayed in the game almost all the way to the final horn against a Fighting Irish team a couple weeks ago and a similar effort may have a better effect on Wednesday night in Madison.

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