For the first time since Wisconsin failed to come all the way back against Butler in the Sweet 16 the Wisconsin Badgers will play a meaningful basketball game. Wisconsin will open up its regular season against the Kennesaw State Owls Saturday at noon at the Kohl Center. It is the beginning of a big day for Badgers fans, as Wisconsin plays Minnesota for Paul Bunyan’s axe at 2:30 and then will take on No. 1 Minnesota in men’s hockey at the Kohl Center at 7:30.
Out are forwards Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz and in are talented freshmen Traevon Jackson, Jarrod Uthoff and George Marshall. One of the questions being asked is how the Badgers will replace Leuer’s scoring and Nankivil’s sweet stroke from behind the 3-point line.
Ryan Evans, a junior from Phoenix, did his best to help ease the transition, scoring 16 points on 7-10 shooting, including making his only 3-point shot attempt in the exhibition win over Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Fellow junior Jared Berggren did his best to try to help replace Leuer, scoring 12 points and adding five rebounds in the exhibition win
Kennesaw State is coming off a disappointing 2010-11 campaign in which they finished with a record of 8-23, including a 6-14 record in the Atlantic Sun. The Owls also narrowly escaped in its exhibition game, beating West Georgia by just two points.
The Owls do return its top three scorers from last year, though, including 6-7 junior guard Markeith Cummings, who averaged 18.3 points and five rebounds per game. He is also very good at getting to the foul line, as he attempted 235 free throws a season ago. Wisconsin will need to keep him off the free throw line to be successful and keep him on the perimeter, as he shot just 21 percent from behind the 3-point line last season.
Senior guard Spencer Dixon and junior forward LaDaris Green are also ones to watch this game. Dixon averaged 13.1 points and 3.4 assists per game. Much like Cummings, though, he did struggle from behind the arc, shooting just 28 percent. Green averaged 9.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game last year to go along with his 1.8 blocks per game.
Kennesaw State is very thin on the front line, going only four deep and if the starters for the Owls get into early foul trouble, it will be a long night for them. Wisconsin will once again have a significant height advantage as Green and sophomore Andrew Osemhen are the Owls’ tallest player at 6-9. The other forwards are the 6-7 Aaron Anderson and the 6-6 Brandon Dawson.
Berggren should have a nice night in his starting debut and Uthoff should see plenty of action late in the game and will likely have a big game against the undersized Owls. Taylor, coming off a game against Stevens Point in which he had eight points and seven assists, will be the key to Wisconsin’s offense again and will get other players involved and have a nice game in an easy Wisconsin victory.
Look for how the freshmen play in their first meaningful game at the Kohl Center. All the freshmen who will not redshirt will play significant minutes, so it will be interesting to see how they play. Ben Brust, who has excelled the past two times on the court against Stevens Point and in the Red/White scrimmage, will look to carry that momentum into games more meaningful. Wisconsin should have this game in the bag by halftime, so be prepared to see a lot of the young guys playing significant minutes.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 87, Kennesaw State 48