As expected, Wisconsin’s matchup at Syracuse in The Big Ten/ACC Challenge will pit one prominent program that’s rebuilding against another reloading.
Only the roles have been reversed.
The No. 14 Orange enter Wednesday night’s showdown with the struggling Badgers as one of the nation’s early surprises.
Picked ninth in the ACC preseason poll and still saddled by heavy NCAA sanctions, Syracuse has reclaimed a spot in the national rankings with an impressive 6-0 start highlighted by signature wins over then-ranked Connecticut and No. 18 Texas A&M in the talent-heavy Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
For 2015 national runner-up Wisconsin (4-3), the departures of national player of the year Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker to the NBA have proven more difficult to overcome than anticipated. The Badgers were shocked at home by Western Illinois in the opener and were no match for No. 6 Oklahoma on the road on Sunday, dropping a 65-48 decision to move one shy of matching their entire loss total of last season.
Inconsistent shooting and a lack of interior size has plagued Wisconsin, and both weaknesses were exposed by the Sooners. The Badgers were outscored 34-10 in the paint and shot 23.5 percent, their lowest mark since January 2006.
Wisconsin finished 7 of 33 from 3-point range and is shooting 26.0 percent from beyond the arc in its defeats, compared to a 35.5 percent rate in the wins.
"My old coach said one time when we weren’t shooting the ball real well, said that he could dropkick and make more baskets than we could," coach Bo Ryan said Sunday. "He actually dropkicked the ball in practice, and made it. I don’t think I will try that, but I may tomorrow."
Leading scorer Bronson Koenig followed sharp-shooting efforts in victories over VCU and Prairie View A&M with a 3-of-18 performance against Oklahoma. Sophomore Vitto Brown, expected to fill the void left by Dekker’s exit, was 3 for 15.
Those perimeter problems could continue against Syracuse’s trademark 2-3 zone that has limited opponents to 28.6 percent on 3s. In contrast, the Orange have been on fire from past the 3-point line, converting 41.1 percent of their attempts.
Syracuse shot 46.6 percent from 3 in its three games in the Bahamas, including an 11-for-25 rate in Friday’s 74-67 win over Texas A&M in the championship. Tournament MVP Michael Gbinije was 12 of 20 on 3-pointers for the event, Tyler Lydon was 7 of 10 and fellow freshman Malachi Richardson 8 of 17.
”This was a great tournament for us," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. "I don’t think we’ve ever gone through a tournament where we’ve been the underdog for two straight games. So this might be one of our better wins.”
Gbinije, who averaged 21.0 points for the tournament, has made 51.3 percent of his 3-point tries in leading the Orange in scoring (19.7 ppg). Richardson and Lydon have made immediate contributions, with both rookies averaging over 11 points per game.
Syracuse, winners in 62 of its last 63 nonconference games at the Carrier Dome, faces the Badgers for the first time since a 64-63 triumph in the 2012 NCAA regional semifinals. The Orange have won two of three meetings with Wisconsin, including a 68-49 home victory on Nov. 13, 1999.