Ben Thorson (@benjthorson): On December 23rd, 2015, interim head coach Greg Gard stepped onto the Kohl Center floor to an ovation he will never forget. Since then, Gard has led his Badgers to a 24-10 record including a trip to the sweet 16.
A year later, Gard leads his 14th-ranked Badgers into their 23rd meeting with in-state rival, Green Bay. It is a series that has been dominated by the Badgers, as they have won 21 of the 22 meetings; Green Bay’s lone win came in 1999.
Last season’s contest against the Phoenix was the first game as head coach of the Badgers for Gard. He watched his team almost blow a 30-point lead, in a game in which they turned the ball over 26 times before surviving with a score of 84-79.
A lot of Badgers players remember this poor performance, but they formed an unflappable identity under Coach Gard ever since.
The Phoenix enter tonights contest with a 4-5 record, losing 107-97 in their most recent contest against Central Michigan. Green Bay is a team the loves to run in transition and they will look to force mistakes from the Badgers and speed up the pace of the game, much like they did in the second half of last years meeting.
The Phoenix are led by senior guard, Charles Cooper, who leads the team with 13.6 points per game. Green Bay is also getting a strong contribution from freshman, Trevor Anderson, who played high school basketball at Stevens Point. Anderson is second on the team with 12.1 ppg and leads the Phoenix with 2.7 assists per game.
Another player to watch on the Green Bay roster is Kerem Kanter, younger brother of Oklahoma City forward Enes Kanter. The junior is averaging 20 points over his past two games, after only averaging 3.8ppg in the Phoenix’ first six games of the season. Kanter is coming off of a career-high 23 points in his last game, as the 6’10”, 240- pound forward went 6-for-10 from the floor and 11-for-12 from the charity stripe.
The Badgers are coming off of a strong second half performance on the road against Marquette as they improved to 9-2 on the season with a 93-84 victory. This upcoming contest against the Phoenix is the second to last non-conference game on the Wisconsin schedule before starting Big Ten play against Rutgers on December 27th.
Wisconsin will enter tonight’s game as 23-point favorites, but the Badgers can’t take anything for granted in an in-state tussle with the Phoenix. Sophomore Ethan Happ must stay out of foul trouble, and the Badgers must once again win the battle of the boards. Along with these two factors, UW must also take pride in protecting the basketball as they look for their 10th win of the season and continue to build before Big Ten play.
My Prediction: BADGERS 85 UW-Green Bay 63 (Thorson’s predictions are 10-1 on the season)