M College BB
Scores/Schedules
Rankings
Standings
Statistics
Transactions
Injuries
Weekly lineup
Teams
Recruiting
 Tuesday, March 14
Wisconsin vs. Wake Forest
 
By Jay Bilas
Special to ESPN.com

 This is a great matchup of two quality teams that have strong similarities. Both teams play great man-to-man defense, but neither team has the ability to overpower other quality teams. A 10-point deficit against Wisconsin is like trailing another team by 20, and likewise with Wake Forest. Both teams are very well-coached, and like all teams with good coaching, they run their stuff until they get what they want. Neither team has incredibly athletic personnel, but each team has some very good athletes.

Two things are very important in this game: rebounding and being strong with the ball. Wake Forest has size up front, and Wisconsin can match that. Neither team shoots an eye-popping percentage from the perimeter, although the Deacons have the better corps of shooters. With the Badgers' defensive ability, it is crucial for Wake Forest to take good care of the ball and make good decisions in the halfcourt. If they do not, it could be one and out, and Wake will put a tremendous amount of pressure on its defense to make stops.

When Wake Forest has the ball
Wake will be tested by the Badgers' defense. Wisconsin is a very physical defensive team that does a great job at taking things away from opposing offenses. The Badgers are very good in transition defense, sprinting back after a make or a miss, and communicating on matchups and picking up open shooters. Dick Bennett does a great job of teaching his players the art of staying in front of ball-handlers and containing the dribble. The Badgers to not put great pressure on the ball until you pick up the dribble, but do a great job of denying the wing entry pass. They will sometimes double-team the post with another big man, and they get excellent rotations.

Players to watch
Wisconsin's Mike Kelley and Wake Forest's Nikki Arinze are two of the better defenders you will see this season. Kelley has superior hands, plays great position defense, and understands the game as well as any defender in the nation. He gets almost two steals per game, and plays as hard as any player in the Big Ten.

Robert O'Kelley is Wake's best scorer, but Arinze may be Wake's most indispensable player. He sat out last season with an injury, but returns to give Dave Odom a defender who can guard any position on the floor.

Wake Forest is a ball-control team that does not turn it over much. The Deacons look to get the ball into the hands of Robert O'Kelley in positions where he can get an open shot or put the ball on the floor and create something for himself or others. Wake will run some flex cuts, look for snap-ins on the low block, and mix in some ball screens with backside action.

A key for Wake Forest on offense is balance. Dave Odom, the most underrated coach in the ACC, has good lineup flexibility with this group, and can go 10 deep. When O'Kelley has to do it alone, the Deacons become very one-dimensional and easy to defend. Wake Forest has a number of weapons, including sophomore Darius Songaila, a very skilled forward with an aggressive mentality. Songaila has very good post moves and can get to the hole with good instincts -- his problems have come primarily from foul trouble, where he has found himself on many occasions. If he can avoid the cheap fouls and frustration whistles, Songaila has the potential to be an all-league performer.

The inside combo of Raphael Vidauretta, Josh Shoemaker, Antwan Scott and Tate Decker provides Odom with experience and depth to combat Wisconsin's physical presence. O'Kelley and Craig Dawson are Wake's primary perimeter shooting threats. Watch for Josh Howard, a freshman wing guard, to be an explosive performer with the ability to get a tip dunk or make a big play off the dribble, and look for Nikki Arinze to be a defensive stopper capable of defending both post and perimeter players.

When Wisconsin has the ball
Wake Forest is a man-to-man team, although the Deacons played a lot of zone last season following the loss to Arkansas early in the season. The Razorbacks exposed a weakness in the Deacons' defense when they repeatedly beat Wake off the dribble. In an effort to contain penetration, Odom went to more zone last season, showing some 2-3 zone and some 3-2 zone in the halfcourt. Wake also likes to press occasionally with a 1-2-1-1 zone fullcourt press. Wake's halfcourt man defense is excellent, with solid weakside help. Wake does not get out and pressure the ball or contest passes beyond the three-point line, but the Deacons make it tough to get a clean look at the basket inside of 19 feet.

The Badgers run a unique offense that has been called "runners and blockers," which is a triangle type of offense. The runners are usually perimeter players who receive down screens, back picks (with slip screens) and flair screens after which the runners look to make cuts to the basket. The blockers set the screens and post up, after which they crash the offensive glass. There is a lot of screen and re-screen action, so once a defender survives a screen, another one is often coming that will spring a player. Every Badger moves without the ball, and Wisconsin runs this motion for the majority of the game. They make great reads, and therefore call set plays very sparingly. This is a tough team to scout, and a difficult team to prepare for.

The leaders of this team are likely to be Mike Kelley, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and Mark Vershaw. Vershaw is the best inside player the Badgers have, and has the potential to be a top-flight scorer. He is tough, strong and skilled. Jon Bryant and Andy Kowske are both returnees who provide experience and quality decision-making on the floor, and Maurice Linton and Charlie Wills can guard people inside or outside. Wisconsin can defend anybody, anytime, anywhere. The question is, without Sean Mason's ability to get big baskets all by himself, will Wisconsin he able to score enough points?


 


ALSO SEE
Bilas' breakdown: Duke vs. Illinois

Bilas' breakdown: Iowa vs. Maryland

Bilas' breakdown: Virginia vs. Minnesota

Bilas' breakdown: Michigan State vs. North Carolina

Bilas' breakdown: N.C. State vs. Purdue

Bilas' breakdown: Michigan vs. Georgia Tech

Bilas' breakdown: Clemson vs. Penn State

Bilas' breakdown: Florida State vs. Northwestern