Wisconsin mailbag: Biggest challenge vs. Ohio State, inexact science of hoops recruiting, and the Andy Van Vliet experiment

Have Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Wednesday for the  Land of 10 Wisconsin mailbag to talk all things Badgers. This week, we discuss Wisconsin’s biggest challenge against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, the Badgers’ basketball recruiting decisions, who could play in place of tailback Bradrick Shaw and whether the Andy Van Vliet experience is over.

Question 1

Answer: One of the most significant challenges in my mind will be whether Wisconsin’s defense can stop Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett. At this point, all indications are that Barrett will play after he injured his right knee last week against Michigan. Running back J.K. Dobbins has been special as a freshman, but Barrett is the engine that makes the Buckeyes go. He is 36-6 as a starter and has thrown 33 touchdowns with 7 interceptions this season.

During Ohio State’s 30-23 overtime victory against Wisconsin last season, Barrett hurt the Badgers will his ability to escape the pocket and run. He got loose in the second half and scored 2 touchdowns on runs of 1 and 8 yards. For the game, he carried 21 times for 92 yards.

Badgers outside linebacker Garret Dooley was asked this week about the difficulty in playing against Barrett.

“He’s been a playmaker for as long as he’s been starting,” Dooley said. “I know when he’s going, their offense is going. He’s definitely one of the guys who can make nothing into something and make it very explosive. So we have to make sure that we can try to contain him in the pocket, and you have to account for him in the run game.

“As a defense, you have to make sure you win your 1-on-1 tackles because sometimes it’s going to be hard to get two or three guys there because you have the quarterback in the run.”

As for a weakness Wisconsin can exploit, Ohio State is pretty strong in most areas. The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in scoring offense, total offense and rushing offense and rank No. 2 in pass offense. Ohio State is sixth in the league in scoring defense, third in total defense, fourth in run defense and fourth in pass defense. As long as Wisconsin doesn’t turn the ball over and give Ohio State a short field, the Badgers will have a chance.

Question 2

Answer: The reason people likely are comparing 2015 Iowa with 2017 Wisconsin is because both teams finished the regular season 12-0 and didn’t seem to garner the appropriate level of national respect given their records. That Iowa team beat two teams ranked in the AP Top 25 at the time of the game in Wisconsin and Northwestern. This Wisconsin team has beaten two teams ranked in the AP Top 25 at the time of the game in Iowa and Michigan.

Iowa did everything in its power to beat Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game. But the Spartans won that game more than the Hawkeyes lost it by putting together a crazy 22-play drive, capped by tailback L.J. Scott’s touchdown plunge with 27 seconds remaining to give Michigan State a 16-13 victory.

Even though Wisconsin and Ohio State each have stout defenses, I anticipate both teams needing a few more points to pull out a victory Saturday. One thing Iowa did wrong against Michigan State was commit 3 turnovers on 2 fumbles and 1 interception. That can’t happen to Wisconsin if the Badgers hope to win and reach the College Football Playoff.

Question 3

Answer: I hate to burst your bubble, but there’s no way an undefeated Wisconsin team will be left out of the College Football Playoff. No unbeaten Power 5 conference team has missed the playoffs yet. And yes, I realize your question is sarcastic. At least, I hope it is.

Question 4

Answer: I’ve received many questions in recent weeks along these same lines. A lot of people want to place blame on Wisconsin coaches for the way in which they have recruited. But it’s easy to forget that sometimes recruiting is a bit of a crapshoot because we don’t always know how players will develop.

Frank Kaminsky was a 3-star prospect and the No. 15 player in Illinois for his class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. He had six scholarship offers, and the others were from Northwestern, Bradley, DePaul, Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois. Not exactly basketball bluebloods. No one could have predicted that Kaminsky would go on to earn national player of the year honors and become a first-round NBA draft pick. On the other hand, everybody had a sense that Sam Dekker would be a star and an eventual first-round NBA draft pick. Sometimes things work out exactly as planned.

Most people who ask about Wisconsin’s recruiting will point to the Badgers’ five-man 2015 class: shooting guard Brevin Pritzl, small forward Khalil Iverson and forwards Charlie Thomas, Alex Illikainen and Andy Van Vliet. During Wisconsin’s 49-37 loss at Virginia on Monday night, none of those players scored a point. Pritzl and Iverson are still important pieces in the rotation but have been inconsistent. Illikianen was rated as the No. 1 player in Minnesota, and Pritzl was No. 3 in Wisconsin.

It’s easy to say Wisconsin should have recruited other players. But examining whom the Badgers offered scholarships to in that class shows how much of a toss-up it can be in recruiting. For the purpose of this question, I’ll focus on the frontcourt because that’s where the majority of the Badgers’ issues have been this season.

Wisconsin offered scholarships to the top two players in Wisconsin: Diamond Stone and Henry Ellenson. But even if those players had wanted to play for the Badgers and been admitted, neither of them would still be in school. They left after one season to pursue pro careers.

Wisconsin offered forward Carlton Bragg, who committed to Kansas and has since transferred to Arizona State. He had 22 scholarship offers and was never a serious prospect for Wisconsin. Forward Brandon Hutton earned a Wisconsin offer but committed to Iowa and has since transferred to Northwestern State. He is averaging 3.8 points per game and shooting 22.7 percent from the field.

The two forwards who could have picked Wisconsin and didn’t were Esa Ahmad and Josh Sharma. Ahmad had Wisconsin in his top five but committed to West Virginia. He is averaging 11.3 points per game for the Mountaineers. Wisconsin led in the recruiting hunt for Sharma for several months before he picked Stanford. He is averaging 3.9 points in his junior season and playing 11.8 minutes per game.

Hindsight is 20-20, but the fact is you never know how things will pan out in recruiting. And there is still time for members of the Badgers’ 2015 class to make key contributions. Pritzl is still just a redshirt sophomore and the rest are juniors. We’ll see how it all plays out.

Question 5

Answer: You are not the first person to make this suggestion, but I think D’Mitrik Trice is an important piece in the starting lineup. He’s third on the team in scoring at 10.4 points per game, and he generally makes good decisions with the ball. Kobe King is shooting a little better from the field overall (44.8 percent) than Trice is right now (43.3 percent). But Trice is hitting 34.5 percent of his 3s, while King is hitting 27.3 percent. I know it’s a small sample size, particularly with King, who is averaging 15.3 minutes per game.

King provides some nice scoring punch off the bench, and you can’t underestimate the importance of having players like that in the second unit. Plus, King is not a point guard. Given that Brad Davison has been dealing with a shoulder injury, Trice’s role on the team becomes even more important. If Davison needs rest, Trice is the only rotation player capable of running the point.

Question 6

Answer: I’d be inclined to take Chris James over Garrett Groshek. Groshek is more of a downhill bruiser, and he’s done well since moving to running back in the spring. This season, he has rushed for 297 yards with 2 touchdowns and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

But a healthy James is quite versatile. He carried 7 times for 51 yards in the regular season finale against Minnesota, which represented his highest yardage output since he gained 101 yards rushing in Week 2 against Florida Atlantic. James missed four weeks with an injury but seems to be ready to contribute at the right time. He’s also averaging 5.6 yards per carry.

Additionally, James is the best pass catcher in the running back room and a strong pass protector on third downs. Even though James hasn’t recorded a catch in the last seven games, he’s still tied for the lead among running backs on the team with 5 receptions. That’s not a lot of opportunities, but he provides Wisconsin with more options.

Question 7

Answer: I don’t believe there is a cap on the number of unofficial visits a prospect can take. But under NCAA rules, a prospect can take only one official visit to a Division I school and is allowed five total official visits.

As for the rest of your question about expenses, I’m just going to take this answer directly from the NCAA recruiting website. Here is what it says:

“Any visit to a college campus by a college-bound student-athlete or his or her parents paid for by the college is an official visit. Visits paid for by college-bound student-athletes or their parents are unofficial visits.

“During an official visit the college can pay for transportation to and from the college for the prospect, lodging and three meals per day for both the prospect and the parent or guardian, as well as reasonable entertainment expenses including three tickets to a home sports event.

“The only expenses a college-bound student-athlete may receive from a college during an unofficial visit are three tickets to a home sports event.”

Question 8

Answer: It’s safe to say that Andy Van Vliet’s role will be different for the rest of the season. He looked so good in Wisconsin’s first two games against South Carolina State and Yale, when he averaged 15.5 points per game and ranked second on the team in scoring behind forward Ethan Happ. It really appeared as though he could be the frontcourt scoring complement Happ needed to make this team successful.

But when it came time for Van Vliet to play the type of tough-nosed, aggressive style Wisconsin needed against the better nonconference teams on its schedule, he was a shell of himself. Van Vliet missed both of his field goal attempts in 11 minutes against Xavier and went 0 for 1 from the field in 13 minutes against Baylor. That was about the last straw for Badgers coach Greg Gard, who played him 2 minutes against UCLA, 5 minutes against Milwaukee and zero minutes against Virginia.

Gard said that by pulling Nate Reuvers’ redshirt after five games, it means he is committed to playing him. That’s the only fair way to handle burning the redshirt. Playing Reuvers 3-5 minutes a game really wouldn’t serve a purpose. So far, Reuvers has averaged 14.5 minutes per game over two contests.

Although he hasn’t scored and is 0 for 10 from the field, Reuvers has shown he’s willing to stick his neck in there and battle with opponents. He recorded 6 rebounds in his debut against Milwaukee and took two charges against Virginia. The scoring will come for Reuvers, although he clearly needs to develop physically to be a consistent performer in the Big Ten.

As for Van Vliet, I still think there is a place for him on this team. He can stretch the floor and is 6 of 13 on 3-point attempts, including 4 for 5 in the season opener. But he must show the necessary toughness to earn playing time under Gard.

Have a question about Wisconsin football or basketball? Tweet us @Landof10Badgers and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Wisconsin mailbags  here .

The post Wisconsin mailbag: Biggest challenge vs. Ohio State, inexact science of hoops recruiting, and the Andy Van Vliet experiment appeared first on Land of 10.

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