As part of the Las Vegas Invitational, the No. 12 Creighton Bluejays will take on the No. 24 University of Wisconsin Badgers on Friday night. To preview the match-up, Phil Mitten, a blogger for Bucky’s 5th Quarter (the Wisconsin blog on the SB Nation network) and I exchanged questions and answers. My responses to Phil’s questions can be found here, and below are his answers for me.
1) Losing your starting PG before the season even really starts would be pretty difficult for any team to handle. How important was Gasser to the team and how has his replacement fared in the early going?
With Jordan Taylor graduating, Josh Gasser was arguably the most indispensable Badger, given the depth and experience in the front court. He and center Jared Berggren were definitely 1-2 in importance. Gasser’s presence leaves the biggest hole on the defensive end, as we’ve already seen by how Florida shredded the Badgers.
Gasser was already a two-year starter coming into his junior year, leaving a group of inexperienced guards. Bo Ryan has tried to replace Gasser almost by committee, with redshirt freshman George Marshall getting the starting nod over sophomore Traevon Jackson. Marshall’s outside shot looks good, but in some games he has just been invisible. He hasn’t figured out how to use his quickness to probe the defense yet. Jackson’s midrange jumper is very much improved also, but he tends to pick up untimely fouls for getting too physical on defense. The defense hasn’t quite been up to Wisconsin standards from any of the guys, including shooter Ben Brust.
2) This game should be an interesting contrast of styles. Creighton likes to push the pace as much as they can, and Doug McDermott is one of the best in the country at running the floor and getting early post position. Wisconsin has the reputation of more of a defensive-minded team who likes to slow things down defensively and force teams to execute in the halfcourt. What makes Wisconsin’s defense so good, and how will they attempt to slow down Creighton?
As I mentioned, the Badger defense looked far from suffocating during its only true test this season. Ryan plays strictly man-to-man, but will switch on screens. A player’s footwork, help defense rotations and adherence to general defensive principles are his ticket to playing time under Ryan. Typically, Ryan’s philosophy is to ignore the offensive boards and hustle back on defense. For example, last year’s team ranked 225th (slightly below Creighton) by rebounding 30.6 percent of its misses, which is not unusual for Wisconsin. If the Badgers are paying attention, Creighton won’t get many fastbreak points. By nature, this slows the game down. Another factor is turnovers, since the Badgers don’t commit many and also don’t force many. This too, slows the game down. And finally, the deliberate offense. Wisconsin has the personnel to play a tad faster this season — the 72-possession game against Cornell was its most uptempo since 2009 — but it may not be noticeable to Creighton fans used to shootouts.
I normally would worry more about McDermott on the perimeter, trusting Berggren and Ryan Evans’ defense inside, but after seeing what Erik Murphy did to the Badgers, I don’t really know what to expect.
3) Ben Brust and Jared Berrgren look to be your top 2 players. What makes those guys so effective? And how is Brust getting so many rebounds?
Berggren doesn’t look the part, but he’s sneaky athletic. This natural ability allows him to block a lot of shots defensively, but he can also take big guys off the dribble on offense. I think the matchup with Echenique will be fun to watch and I wouldn’t be surprised if it produces a highlight reel play or two. Plus Berggren is comfortable and accurate from long distance (45-for-121 last season).
Ben Brust’s run of three double-doubles in four games (and leading the Big Ten in rebounding at 9.3 per game) is about as crazy as the Big Ten adding Rutgers … it definitely happened, but I don’t know exactly how or why. Brust, a 6-foot-1 junior, is a decent athlete, but some switch has gone off. He is literally jumping on top of guys to get rebounds. From an offensive standpoint, the guy can flat out bomb treys. Do not leave him open or he may cash in five, six, seven 3-pointers due to his lack of conscience. He appears to have put a lot of work into his dribble penetration skills during the offseason, but he still pukes up a few ill-advised shots every game. Overall, he’s very much still a work in progress.
I should mention that freshman Sam Dekker might be the most talented player on the team, and it’s starting to show. His basketball IQ and playmaking ability are impressive.
4) The Badgers really struggled against Florida. What did the Gators do that gave them so many problems?
Well, obviously Florida didn’t miss any shots (the Gators shot 75 percent in the first half) and that hurt right out of the gate. It was a case of Wisconsin’s young backcourt playing in a hostile environment, and getting behind early was a death sentence. Creighton could use a hot start to this same advantage in my opinion. I noticed pretty poor perimeter defense in the Florida game. It was painfully obvious that day why Gasser had won the starting point guard job. Also, they were a few head-scratching lapses getting back in transition — which has since cleared up (we think).
5) What is your prediction for the game?
I’m usually the pessimist picking against the Badgers in a big game like this, but I really like how Dekker is coming along. Ryan has brought him along slowly and still brings him off the bench. But I’ll just be a homer and pick a 70-65 upset.
Thanks to Phil for taking the time to answer my questions.