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Louisville-Wisconsin preview: Cards and Badgers finally square off in ACC-Big 10 Challenge

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Ten days after it was originally scheduled to be played, we’re finally getting a top 25 showdown in Madison.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 14 Maryland at Wisconsin Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Louisville Cardinals (4-0) At Wisconsin Badgers (5-1)

ACC-Big 10 Challenge

Game Time: Noon

Location: Kohl Center: Madison, Wisc.

Television: ESPN2

Announcers: Dan Shulman (play-by-play) and Jay Bilas (analyst)

Favorite: Wisconsin by 4

Series: Louisville leads 1-0

Only Meeting: Louisville won 70-53 on Dec. 28, 1978 in Freedom Hall (Louisville Holiday Classic)

Possible Starting Lineups:

Statistics:

Wisconsin’s Season to Date:

Relevant Videos:

About Wisconsin:

After an unplanned 18-day layoff, the Louisville basketball team will face its toughest test of the young season on the road against a Wisconsin squad that began the year at No. 7 in the AP top 25 poll and currently sits at No. 12.

If you’ve followed Wisconsin basketball for any period of time, then the 2020-21 Badgers are going to look familiar. They defend incredibly well (currently No. 7 in adjusted defensive efficiency) and have shooters at nearly every position on the floor, including center. The Badgers had six different players with at least one made three in their most recent outing (a lopsided win over Loyola of Chicago) and are shooting just under 40 percent from three as a team.

While UW boasts a balanced scoring attack that features four players averaging double figures and six putting up at least 8.0 ppg, I’d argue their most important player — at least at the moment — is 6’11 senior forward Nate Reuvers. Reuvers is a versatile scorer who’s currently shooting a scorching 53.3 percent from beyond the arc, but his real impact comes on the defensive end. He became Wisconsin’s all-time leading shot-blocker before the end of his junior season, and has swatted 13 shots in six games so far this season. Foul trouble has been something of an issue for him this season. While he hasn’t fouled out of a game yet, he has been hit with four fouls in four different games.

Reuvers’ frontcourt accent is fellow 6’11 senior forward Micah Potter, who currently leads the team in both scoring (12.8 ppg) and rebounding (6.7 rpg). Like Reuvers, Potter can do damage both around the rim and the perimeter, making him a matchup nightmare for opposing centers or power forwards. His emergence off the bench towards the end of last season is the main reason UW went from a bubble team to one which won its final eight contests. His outside shooting stroke (46.7 percent) has picked up right where it left off a year ago, and he’s added the dimension of being more of an offensive facilitator, dishing out 1.7 assists per game.

The Wisconsin player that everyone loves to hate is perpetually flopping and occasionally dick punching senior guard Brad Davison. After getting off to a slow start offensively, Davison has been lights out the last two games, scoring a combined 40 points in the wins over Rhode Island and Loyola. He went 5-of-9 from beyond the arc in those two games and was 19-of-21 from the free-throw line, a place where he has historically killed opposing teams.

D’Mitrik Trice is yet another senior who, like Davison, has excelled in Greg Gard’s offense, which is more pick-and-roll heavy than his predecessor and mentor Bo Ryan’s was. Trice is the engine of the Wisconsin offense, but if there’s one area where he struggles, it’s creating his own shot. If Louisville can get Wisconsin into end of shot clock situations and keep the ball in Trice’s hands, they should see success.

The most naturally talented player on Wisconsin’s roster might be 6’5 freshman guard Jonathan Davis. The athletic Wisconsin native has really come into his own in recent weeks and has seen his playing time increase as a result. Facing a team and a backcourt as athletic as Louisville’s, Davis might play an even larger role than usual on Saturday afternoon. This is a guy who can make all the shots and who will be an All-Big Ten performer before his college career is over.

What Wisconsin does well: Defend as a team, block shots, force turnovers, take care of the ball, shoot the three, shoot free-throws, get to the free-throw line.

What Wisconsin does not do well: Rebound, keep athletic guards out of the lane, play from behind.

Notable:

—This game was originally scheduled to be played on Dec. 9, but was pushed back because of Covid-19 issues within the Louisville team. This will be the Cardinals’ first game since beating Western Kentucky on Dec. 1.

—Louisville has won its first four games of the season for the 11th time in the last 12 years. The Cardinals have started 5-0 in eight of the last 11 years.

—Wisconsin has won 20 consecutive non-conference home games.

—The Badgers have won 13 consecutive home games overall, the longest home winning streak of any team in the Big Ten.

—Louisville’s 18-day stretch between games is its longest in-season gap in 54 years.

—Carlik Jones is the only player in the ACC to rank among the top 15 in each of scoring (7th in the ACC, 17.3 ppg), rebounding (15th, 7.0 rpg) and assists (4th, 5.3 apg). Last season at Radford, the graduate transfer was the only player in the nation to average at least 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, and was one of just 16 players in Division I men’s basketball to do so since the 1996-97 season.

—Wisconsin leads the country averaging just 7.8 turnovers per game. Dating back to last season, UW has committed 11 or fewer turnovers in 24 consecutive games.

—Louisville is 4-2 all-time in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge, with all four of its wins coming at home and both its losses coming on the road.

—Wisconsin is 10-11 all-time in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge.

—The Big Ten currently leads the Challenge by a count of 6-5. A Wisconsin win would lock up the 2020 championship for the Big Ten.

—Louisville has held three of its first four opponents below 40 percent shooting from the field (Evansville .298, Seton Hall .333, Prairie View .393). In early NCAA statistics, Louisville is 29th in the nation in field goal percentage defense (.365) and 26th in scoring defense (58.0).

—Wisconsin ranks second in the Big Ten allowing just 59.8 ppg this season and leads the Big Ten in blocks per game (6.0). UW ranks 7th in the country in Ken Pomeroy’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.

—Louisville is 60-47 all-time against current members of the Big Ten. It has played at least one game against each of the league’s 14 teams.

—Wisconsin is 45-46 all-time against members of the ACC.

—Wisconsin has won three consecutive home games against ranked opponents.

—Under Chris Mack, Louisville has three road victories over top 25 opponents.

—Wisconsin has won 85.9% (317-52) of its games at the Kohl Center all-time. That ranks as the 9th-best win percentage for any Division I team in its current home venue.

—With its debut in the Top 25 on Dec. 7, Louisville is one of only five schools to be ranked in the AP Top 25 poll at least once during each of the last 18 seasons, excluding preseason polls (others: Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, & North Carolina).

—Chris Mack has a 1-1 record against Wisconsin. His Xavier teams lost to the Badgers 66-63 in the 2016 NCAA Second Round in St. Louis, Mo. (3-20-16); and prevailed 80-70 in Madison, Wis. in a Gavitt Tipoff game (11-16-17) during the 2017-18 season.

—Louisville has an all-time 11-9 record against teams ranked No. 12 in the AP poll, winning its last such matchup (83-62 at North Carolina, Jan. 12, 2019).

—Louisville has a 16-10 all-time record in games played on Dec. 19, winning its last four straight and 12 of its last 13 on that date. 

—Since 2004, Louisville is 124-0 when leading by more than 10 points at halftime.

—Louisville was 18-0 last season when scoring at least 71 points, and just 6-7 when failing to hit that mark. The Cards have hit the 71-point mark in each of their first four games this season.

—Louisville has won 162 consecutive games when holding an opponent under 50 points.

—Louisville has won 155 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.

—Louisville is one of just four schools which have won 20 or more games on the court in each of the last 18 seasons. Gonzaga, Duke and Kansas are the others.

Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Wisconsin 68, Louisville 64