PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- Five observations from the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis:
1. Wisconsin has two more options that aren't being discussed as much
Traevon Jackson was in trouble with four foul and limited to less than 20 minutes, and fellow senior guard Josh Gasser had four fouls as well and made just one field goal. That was a blessing in disguise for the Badgers. Sophomore Bronson Koenig played a solid floor game with 14 points, a pair of 3s, four assists and only one turnover in 27 minutes. He was much more of the aggressor and helped will the Badgers back into the game after trailing Georgetown for 26 minutes. Koenig is a viable option for Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan going forward and may be called upon more than projected. Ryan did go back to Jackson for the final possession and despite sitting for long stretches, the senior point guard did drive to the bucket and set up a put-back by Nigel Hayes that ended up being the difference for the Badgers.
"I just tried to come in and control the game the best I could," said Koenig, who is clearly going to be the lead guard next season if he doesn't wrestle it from Jackson at some point this season. "Coach always tells the guys on the bench to come in and be productive and that's what Duje [Dukan] and I did a good job of."
Dukan made two 3s that helped propel the Badgers at key points in the game, especially when Wisconsin was having some lulls.
"Coach made a good decision and called two good plays for me, and I ended up getting two wide-open 3s, knocked them down and then Bronson [Koenig] obviously had clutch moments as well," said Dukan. "There's going to be different points that are going to trigger our responses and we knew that when the moment came we had to step up."
2. The Badgers will need to be ready for a fight
Wisconsin is going to get every team's best shot. And at times there will literally be a shot to the face to knock them back a bit. Kaminsky got a slap to the face from Georgetown's Mikael Hopkins. The Badgers had a rough time getting around Georgetown's Joshua Smith, too, something that most teams will have a hard time dealing with this season. But the Badgers didn't wilt. They responded as Dekker made multiple plays by diving for loose balls, as did Gasser.
"I think this game was really good for our team, playing against a good opponent and being in a battle," said Dekker. "We have a team that's been in close games and they have a team that's been in those situations as well. It was two good teams going at it and we're not going to win every game by 15-20 points. We have to show that we have the guys and the characters who are going to step up and make plays."
Wisconsin will face plenty of physical teams, including Friday's final against Oklahoma. If Wisconsin thought the Hoyas, who play with an edge they haven't had in a few years, were tough then wait until they have to deal with keeping the Sooners' Ryan Spangler off the glass.
3. Georgetown will challenge Villanova and Providence for the Big East title
The Hoyas are playing with a physicality and purpose that they didn't have recently. And a lot of that has to do with D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera. He is a legit Big East player of the year candidate and an All-American potentially. Smith-Rivera knows where he wants to go on the floor. He has purpose with each possession. The Badgers couldn't contain him. He scored 29 points, making 11 of 18 shots as well as converting five 3s.
Ryan said Smith-Rivera "felt comfortable and we tried to run him off his spots. He is a guard that can control a game -- can score and control a game."
Georgetown coach John Thompson III emphatically said Smith-Rivera is one of the best guards in the country, "because there's not much he can't do on the court. He goes out with an X on his back and he's still able to get his points and at the time share the game with his teammates. At the defensive end, I think his defense is under appreciated. On a lot of nights, he is going to guard the opposition's best player and he's done a pretty good job so far."
The Hoyas have a stable of rugged bigs who are productive, even if it's not on the stat sheet in Hopkins, Jabril Trawick and Aaron Bowen, by making the play before the score or a stop or deflection. The freshmen are hidden gems nationally in L.J. Peak and Paul White, who are only going to get better and more productive. Peak made a critical 3-pointer in the late-night overtime win over Florida. But the rebuilding job of Joshua Smith by the Georgetown staff may be the most impressive development, so far. Smith is an immovable, place holder in the post and his effectiveness grew in the past two days. Once he learns to turn without committing an offensive foul (if officials give him that space) he'll be even more productive.
4. Oklahoma has more possibilities on offense than Buddy Hield
OU coach Lon Kruger challenged the Sooners by taking them to Creighton (where they fell 65-63) when few other teams would take on such a road game. Kruger said he wasn't sure how the Sooners would handle the challenges and expectations. Well, they have here in the Bahamas and in large part that's a product of the unselfishness. Hield is a volume scorer/shooter. He was off against Butler with only five points, going 2-of-10 from the floor. So, the Sooners had to find other ways to score against a Butler team that doesn't give up much space. Isaiah Cousins got inside and finished with 13 points, and the combination of Jordan Woodard on the wing and TaShawn Thomas (Houston transfer) inside with a little help from Spangler was enough to beat the Bulldogs. The Sooners had to show well against Butler with Hield off. And they were able to do so in the 59-46 win.
"This group is very genuine in their interest in making plays for each other and doing things together," Kruger said. "We've got a lot of different guys who can score. Offensively, interestingly enough, we haven't had the flow and rhythm that we want."
The Sooners had to defend to beat Butler and get on the glass. They shut down Alex Barlow (1-of-7) and made Kelan Martin suddenly look like a freshman again (1-of-8) after he was one of the best first-year players on the floor against the Tar Heels. Butler was just 4-of-23 from 3 and was outrebounded 41-32 after dominating the category against the Tar Heels the previous day.
5. The Big East is incredibly deep if Butler can back this up
Butler was not mentioned as a contender with Villanova, Providence and Georgetown in the preseason. Creighton (which beat Oklahoma at home last week) and Xavier may end up in that group as well. The jury is still out on St. John's and Seton Hall. Marquette and DePaul are rebuilding, with the latter in a perpetual state of trying to retool. But Butler was the unknown. The Bulldogs that beat the Tar Heels with rebounding, defense and the scoring from Barlow, Roosevelt Jones and Martin will be an interesting case to follow. One thing is certain -- the Butler way is alive and well. This team won't stop competing.