If you were waiting for this young Badgers team to have a chance to validate themselves, you didn’t have to wait long. #15 Xavier comes to Madison on Thursday night for a non-conference date with Wisconsin, and it will be a battle of two preseason All-Americans as Ethan Happ and Trevon Bluiett face off against each other.
Wisconsin and Xavier beat up on inferior competition in their first two games. Xavier scored 101 points in both of their games against Rider and Morehead State. Bluiett has led the high octane offense, averaging 25.5 through the first two games shooting tremendously from three-point range (10/18).
Khalil Iverson had a breakout offensive performance against Yale on Sunday with 17 points and will be needed on the defensive end of the floor Thursday as he will be the one tasked with trying to contain Bluiett.
While Bluiett has lived up to the hype so far this year, he isn’t alone. Xavier has three other guys averaging at least 13 PPG. J.P. Macura, Xavier’s senior guard, is another knockdown shooter from beyond the arc, averaging 16 PPG and five assists. Bluiett and Macura were both members of the NCAA All-West Regional Team from last year’s NCAA Tournament.
Xavier’s offense, which had 25 assists on their 31 field goals their last time out against Rider, presents one of the most difficult tasks Greg Gard and the Badgers will face until Big Ten season.
Xavier has the edge on skill and speed, Wisconsin will have to use their advantage in this matchup: size. Xavier’s two starting big men, Kaiser Gates and Tyrique Jones, are both listed at 6’9”. Happ has dominated the paint and the boards early on as expected, but he will need power forward Andy Van Vliet to continue his improved play from his two first strong outings.
Former UW-Green Bay big man Kerem Kanter transferred to Xavier for his final season and comes off the bench. Kanter averaged 11.3 PPG for the Phoenix last year, scoring 18 points in UWGB’s loss to the Badgers last year. Kanter is the little brother of New York Knicks center Enes Kanter.
The last time these two teams faced was in 2016 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, when the #7 seed Badgers knocked out #2 seed Musketeers on a Bronson Koenig buzzer beater. Of course, Koenig has departed and the marquee stars of Thursday’s matchup were younger, Happ was only a freshman and Bluiett a sophomore. In that matchup, Happ totaled 18 points and seven rebounds, while Bluiett struggled from the field notching seven points.