UAB-Wisconsin Preview

Wisconsin returned four starters from last season’s Final Four squad, leading to the highest expectations the program has ever faced in 2014-15.

The second-ranked Badgers have been impressive so far, but their toughest test could come in a loaded field at this week’s Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

Wisconsin looks to avoid a first-round upset when it faces UAB on Wednesday night in the Bahamas.

Preseason player of the year Frank Kaminsky has been as advertised for the Badgers (4-0), averaging 19.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks. The senior hit 11 of 13 from the field – including 4 of 5 from 3-point range – and finished with 26 points in Saturday’s 78-54 win over Boise State.

”It’s awfully nice to have a big who can pass, who can make good decisions, who can help defend,” coach Bo Ryan said. ”His all-around game just keeps getting better.”

Ryan has gotten contributions from a number of others, too. Nigel Hayes replaced the graduated Ben Brust in the starting lineup and has averaged 15.3 points and 9.8 boards. Returning starters Sam Dekker (14.0) and Traevon Jackson (10.0) also are averaging in double figures.

With three seniors, a junior and a sophomore in an experienced staring group, Ryan knows his squad can compete with other schools that rely on recruiting classes featuring players who often leave early for the NBA.

"It takes dedicated people. It takes people who are very giving, people who want to get better, and people who want to learn," Ryan said. "I don’t have the problems that I hear other people talk about with players that are immature. Those guys work so hard every day in practice."

If Wisconsin can get past UAB (2-2), it will face either No. 18 Florida or Georgetown in the semifinals. Fifth-ranked North Carolina, No. 22 UCLA and Oklahoma, which fell out of the rankings this week, are on the other side of the bracket and could face the Badgers in a potential championship showdown.

Kaminsky could pose a major problem for the Blazers, who have allowed their three Division I opponents to shoot 46.2 percent and have a minus-9.7 rebound differential in those games. He’s one of the best inside-outside players in the nation, helping the Badgers shoot 52.6 percent from the floor and contributing to a plus-15.0 differential on the boards that ranks among the best in the nation.

”It just goes with my versatility to my game,” Kaminsky said. ”It’s just something I try to do. I try to build if A’s not open, go to B. If B’s not open, go to C.’

Wisconsin is holding opponents to 34.1 percent shooting, which doesn’t bode well for UAB. After hitting 35.8 percent from the field in a 73-71 overtime loss to South Florida on Thursday, the Blazers shot 35.3 percent in Sunday’s 58-50 win over Jackson State.

"This game is going to pay dividends for us as time goes on to be able to adjust through a game," coach Jerod Haase said. "It was extremely frustrating."

UAB stayed in those games by forcing turnovers, as South Florida committed 24 before Jackson State had 27 – the most the Blazers have forced since pressuring Tulsa into 39 on Jan. 11, 2006.

Wisconsin, though, is one of the best teams in the nation at protecting the ball, committing just 7.5 turnovers per game.