Wisconsin at Duke
Wisconsin (5-0) has not left the Kohl Center yet this season, but it will be much different environment in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday. It could be different outcome as well, considering the Badgers are undefeated after five home games. They pounded three puffcakes then destroyed Colorado by 26 and rolled past Georgia by 19. It will be interesting to see how these Badgers respond to what will be their first road test and first tough game of the season.
Wisconsin is coming off a remarkable 2006-2007 campaign in which it went 30-6 overall and 13-3 in the Big 10. A late-season injury to center Brian Butch, however, crippled the Badgers down the stretch and marred the otherwise flawless season. Butch dislocated his elbow in a 49-48 loss to Ohio State and he missed both the Big 10 Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. As a result, the Badgers lost again to Ohio State by 17 in the Big 10 Championship and then were upset by UNLV in the second round of the NCAA Tournament after struggling in the opener with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
The good news is that Butch is healthy and back for his senior season in Madison, but the bad news is Alando Tucker, one of the best players in college basketball last year, is graduated. Sophomore Trevon Hughes will have to emerge at point guard in order for the Badgers to achieve similar success this season, and to say he has already done just that would be a huge understatement. Though five games Hughes is averaging 19.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists. Butch, meanwhile, is pouring in 14.4 points and grabbing 10.2 rebounds per game. Forwards Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft, both forwards, have plenty of experience will also be crucial to Wisconsin’s 2007-2008 fortunes.
It’s been all fun and games so far for the Badgers, but they have yet to make a statement and a road win over Duke would more than do the job. Continued outstanding play out of Hughes against an always-tenacious Duke defense will be key to Wisconsin’s upset bid.
Duke (6-0), like Wisconsin, is undefeated early in the season but unlike the Badgers, the Blue Devils made a major statement by winning the Maui Invitation in impressive fashion. Coach Mike Krzyzewski and company obliterated Princeton 83-61 in the opener, then wore out Illinois in the second half to prevail 79-66, and finally won a thriller over Marquette 77-73 to take the title.
Heralded freshman forward Kyle Singler, who took home MVP honors from Maui, is averaging 14.3 points and 6.3 rebounds through six games to lead the team in both categories. Fellow freshmen Nolan Smith and Taylor King have also looked good in the early going. Their presences are already helping a Duke team that was not as highly-regarded as usual coming into the season exceed expectations.
The veteran leadership of guards Greg Paulus and DeMarcus Nelson is also nothing short of critical to the Blue Devils’ success this season. Paulus has made more than is fare share of mistakes in recent years, but he knows how to run the offense and distribute the basketball to more capable scorers around him. Nelson, as everyone knows by now, is a gifted athlete who can score from anywhere on the court, plays great defense, and rebounds like he is a big man (tied with Singler for the team lead in boards). Sophomore Gerald Henderson is an even more outrageous athlete than Nelson and his pure basketball skills are starting to show this season, as well. Henderson is averaging 13.0 points this season and he is shooting 50-percent from the floor. Shooting guard John Scheyer, lethal from long range, is a perfect compliment to the rest of Duke’s personnel as he can stretch defenses just as J.J. Redick did as a result of his shooting prowess. One of the keys for Duke will be getting inside production from Jason Zoubek and Lance Thomas. Thomas has already looked much-improved so far this season, and continued good play out of him will make the Devils much, much better than everyone expected.
Wisconsin is untested and could be flustered early going up against the best defense it has seen so far this season and by far the most hostile environment. If Hughes stays poised and does anything close to what he’s been doing through five games, the Badgers can keep this one close throughout. Duke just has too many players and will wear down Wisconsin in the second half regardless of how the game plays out in the first 20 minutes. Singler, meanwhile, will be the best player on the court.
The pick: Duke by 11.