As the college basketball season tips off on Tuesday, there are intriguing matchups all around the country. No. 20 Saint Mary’s playing Wisconsin on a neutral site certainly qualifies as such. While the game is technically a neutral-site game, it would be safe to assume that there will be a heavy pro-Wisconsin presence in the crowd. The Gaels are four-point favorites in what should be similar to a home environment for the Badgers.
Living Up To The Ranking
Saint Marys comes into the 2019-20 season ranked 20th in the nation in both the AP and coaches polls. This is the first time the Gaels have been ranked since the 2017-18 season. They are coming off a 2018-19 season in which they went 22-12 and made the NCAA Tournament as an 11th seed, then lost in the first round to Villanova. The Gaels welcome back one of the most prolific scorers in the nation in guard Jordan Ford, who averaged over 21 points per game last season.
In seasons past, Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett has taken some heat for his non-conference schedules. This season, the Gaels beefed up their non-conference slate by scheduling Wisconsin, Utah State, Arizona State, and Dayton, all teams that could vie for NCAA Tournament berths this season.
It’s always difficult to lose quality players, but when you lose a legend, that can change the entire trajectory of your program. Ethan Happ was one of the most decorated players in Wisconsin basketball history. Last season, the 6-10 power forward averaged 17.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. I am not sure how you replace that production, but the Badgers have historically succeeded with a “next man up” policy. That should work just fine, as junior big man Nate Reuvers looks primed for a breakout season.
If you’re looking for a proven player on the Badgers’ side, look at D’Mitrick Trice. Last season, he was their second-leading scorer at 11.6 points per game and shot 39 percent from behind the arc. He came out of the gates blazing hot in Wisconsin’s non-conference schedule last season, averaging 15.5 points and shooting it at a blazing 51 percent clip from behind the arc.
What To Expect
This game opened at Saint Marys -1 and quickly grew to -4, which reflects my feeling as well. The Badgers have nice pieces in Reuvers, Brad Davison and Trice, but none of them has ever been “the man” or sustained a level of ability over a long period of time despite Trice’s unconscious shooting in last season’s non-conference schedule.
The Gaels, on the other hand, will more than likely boast the two best players in this game with Ford and junior Malik Fitts. The dynamic duo combined to averaged north of 36 points per game last season, and both shot better than 40 percent from deep.
The Badgers may end up being a good team once again this season, but there will be early bumps in the road as they try to discover their identity without their All-American big man. Greg Gard is a quality coach at Wisconsin, but Randy Bennett is no slouch. Give me the experienced team with quick guards and good scoring options in an early-season matchup of what could be two tournament teams. Take Saint Mary’s.