Big East Coast Bias: Obviously, Wisconsin has seen a tremendous run of success this decade. This is quite a different looking Wisconsin team, though, as Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, and Zac Showalter are all gone. Ethan Happ is still there, but those are a lot of quality contributors to make up for. How have the Badgers attempted to do it so far?
Jake Kocorowski: Through two games, the Badgers have been unafraid of passing the ball around with four players in double figures. Maybe most surprising is the shooting of junior forward Andy Van Vliet, who is second on the team behind Happ in points (15.5) on 10 of 20 shooting (that includes making 60 percent of his three pointers) and rebounds (5.5). Sophomore point guard D'Mitrik Trice is averaging 13.5 points and 3.5 assists per contest as well, with redshirt sophomore guard Brevin Prtizl showing he can score well after not contributing as much last year.
There's also junior forward Khalil Iverson, who scored a career-high 17 points in Sunday's win versus Yale and can be spark in his thunderous dunks and play inside.
Wisconsin will probably need its two true freshmen guards in Kobe King and Brad Davison, both very talented recruits, to become key role players off the bench. If UW can receive any help from third-year forwards Alex Illikainen and Charles Thomas, that could go a long way in securing depth.
BECB: Back to Happ. He's had no shortage of preseason honors and accolades, what's the best game plan for Xavier to try to stop him?
JK: Double teaming Happ will probably be a key factor in containing the redshirt junior, who's already put up two double doubles and is leading the team in points (16) and rebounds (11) per game. That, make him try to take shots away from the basket, and well, foul him. In Wisconsin's two wins, he's only converted on eight of 17 free throws (47.1 percent). Get a couple solid players on him and make Wisconsin's relatively unproven players beat you. If he still gets through, attempt to put him at the line and roll the dice.
BECB: Trevon Bluiett is one of the nation's most prolific scorers, and can get hot in a hurry. What will the Badgers do to attempt to keep him off the board?
JK: You've seen how he can score, coming into the game at over 25 points per contest, and for full disclosure, I am not a basketball coach (and I won't make that stupid Holiday Inn joke here). I think it's a combination of good defense and attempting to draw charges when he attempts to drive in for a basket (which Wisconsin has been known for). That sounds cliche, I know, but you also have to keep close and not allow him to get free space to get off a shot. Obviously, easier said than done, and it's going to be a challenge to contain anything the senior will bring to the Kohl Center on Thursday.
BECB: Who could be an X-Factor for the Badgers in this game?
JK: I think it goes back to Van Vliet or Pritzl. If one or both can become a consistent scoring threat to complement Happ and Iverson (and also Trice), he could greatly optimize an offense needing to replace noted key scorers from last year like Hayes and Koenig. His scoring ability has been a pleasant surprise against some not-so-difficult competition, but if they can become a threat to take the heat off Happ on Thursday and this season, the Badgers could become more dynamic.
I'll also point to King and Davison. Two highly-touted commits who were expected to contribute early and often, and have combined for 13 points per game early on. If they continue to progress, it should make for an interesting match-up.
BECB: Who wins and why?
JK: With the relatively unproven bunch, Wisconsin is obviously the underdog against a stacked Xavier squad. It is the third game of the year for both squads, and the first for each against top-tier opponents. Maybe the Badgers can surprise the Musketeers with their hot shooting (53.8 percent entering Thursday's game), but they will need to shoot better from three-point range (about 37.8 percent) and up their game against a Top-15 opponent.
In the end, I feel like it's too much Xavier with the likes Bluiett, Macura and Co. Because it's at the Kohl Center, it's closer, but Musketeers by around 10-15 points.