Eastern to play tough Wisconsin team

Tom O'Connor, Men's Basketball Reporter

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The Panthers might just have to wait. It is not getting any easier. After losing by 25 points to a team thought to be among the top 25 in Division I basketball, according to the preseason polls, Eastern can expect a similar dilemma, if only to a lesser degree, when they head to Madison to play Wisconsin on Friday.

The Badgers will be especially keen on putting away the Panthers in the wake of a two point, overtime loss to St. Mary’s on Tuesday.

Of course, these games do not necessarily matter, for either team, come time for playoff seeding anyway, since eligibility is weighted in favor of conference wins rather than overall record.

The Badgers will be poised for another trip to the tournament, and they do not even need to be among the top three to five top teams in the conference, just look at the sheer number of teams- eight to be exact- that the committee deemed to be eligible last year.

Indeed, this is not the quite the same Wisconsin team that Oregon upset in the Round of 64. Ranked towards the middle of most preseason Big Ten rankings, the Badgers will make a tournament push without the services of Ethan Happ.

After setting the program record for rebounds, Happ played on the Chicago Bulls Summer League team before signing with Vanoli Cremona of the Lega Basket Serie A, the men’s professional basketball league in Italy.

But, who knows, they may have enough grit to be in the upper crust of Big 10 basketball.

Many mock predictions last season forecasted that the Badgers would slide into the bottom half of the conference.

The Badgers seemed eager to discredit the basketball prognosticators who were not particularly optimistic, possibly out of concern for their inability to bring in a single four or five-star recruit ahead of the season as they were one of just two teams in the conference without a top shelf high school prospect.

Now they must look to Nate Reuvers to be the post presence the Badgers so desperately need him to be in Happ’s absence. His ability to protect the interior cannot be overlooked.

Reuvers’ performance in the opener against St. Mary’s all but confirmed his physical gifts as a rim protecting big man, torching the Gaels for four blocks and 22 points in the first Wisconsin loss on opening night since 2015.

As someone who can stretch the floor and secure second chance opportunities, his skillset is conducive to creating scoring chances for teammates like redshirt juniors D’Mitrik Trice and Aleem Ford, both offensive marvels in their own right.

He also has the skills to penalize defenses with an effective hook shot from about 10 feet out.

Reuvers’ ability to rebound, however, could be jeopardized by the presence of Eastern junior George Dixon opposite him on Friday.

Dixon collected 10 rebounds in the opener, dominant as he was over Texas Tech sophomore Kyler Edwards, who came down with seven, for what was a battle between guards.

With the cache of three-point shooters at the disposal of Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard, there is no telling as to what extent the Badgers will be able to exploit the Eastern defense.

The Panthers allowed the Red Raiders to shoot 55 percent from beyond the three-point line, characteristic of the problems that seem to have carried over from the previous season. Much of the credit for that success rate, though, should be ascribed to the talents of junior Davide Moretti and freshman Jahmi’us Ramsey as pure shooters.

Struggling to find their stroke, the Badgers only shot 26 percent on threes against St. Mary’s, analogous to the rate at which the knocked down threes last season, but they have the personnel to steadily improve.

 

Tom O’Connor can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]