By any measure, the University at Buffalo faces a giant challenge Sunday when it visits the University of Wisconsin, ranked No. 6 in the nation.
Wisconsin returns four starters from last year’s team, which went 30-8 and made the Final Four. The Badgers rank fourth in the nation in scoring defense, holding foes to 52.1 points a game. They’re outscoring opponents by 21.9 a game, ninth best in the country. They stand 23rd in the nation on the backboards, outrebounding foes by 8.3 a game. They have committed the second fewest turnovers a game (8.7). They have made the fourth fewest fouls (13.8 a game).
“They’re a Final Four team that has most of those guys returning, so it’s a big challenge ahead of us,” UB coach Bobby Hurley said. “They really don’t hurt themselves. They really take care of the ball. They don’t foul. They do all the things that good teams do well. So it’s going to be a test. They post up their guards. Their big guys shoot very well. There aren’t a lot of weaknesses.”
Wisconsin is 11-1. The game is at 8 p.m. at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.
UB (7-2) is off to a fast start and already has played a good schedule. The Bulls stand 24th in the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index (which factors results and strength of schedule), thanks largely to their game against No. 1-ranked Kentucky.
UB played Kentucky virtually even for 30 minutes before falling, 71-52.
It will take another supreme effort for the Bulls to hang with Wisconsin, which has a starting frontcourt that rivals that of Kentucky.
Wisconsin is led by 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky, named to the Associated Press preseason All-America team. He’s averaging 15.8 points and 7.7 rebounds a game.
Junior forward Sam Dekker, a 6-9, 230-pounder, was first-team preseason All-Big 10. He’s averaging 12 points and 4.2 rebounds. Sophomore forward Nigel Hayes, a 6-8, 235-pounder, is averaging 12.2 points and 8.1 rebounds.
That’s a huge front line for a UB team that starts three guards, with 6-7 Justin Moss and 6-8 Will Regan in the front court.
“They’re very fundamentally sound on defense, but they don’t pressure you hard, and they generally don’t take away passing lanes,” Hurley said. “We have to take the best available shot on a possession and not pass up a good shot, thinking that we’re going to do better. Because they’re very good around the basket protecting the rim. So we’re going to have to make some jump shots in the game and prove that we can make shots from the perimeter.”
Moss leads UB, averaging 17.3 points and 10.2 rebounds a game. Next on the UB scoring list are guards Shannon Evans (14.8), Jarryn Skeete (10.9) and Lamonte Bearden (9.0).
Wisconsin’s only loss was a 78-70 decision to No. 2-ranked Duke. The Badgers have made the NCAA tournament 16 straight years. They have a record of 86-2 at home against teams outside the top six conferences, and that includes a streak of 59 straight wins.
Niagara hosts Dartmouth
The Niagara women return to action after an eight-day holiday break, hosting Dartmouth at 4 p.m. in the Gallagher Center.
The Purple Eagles are 5-4 overall after losing to St. Bonaventure on Dec. 20.
Dartmouth is 6-5 overall and won its last game, an overtime decision over Loyola-Chicago, also on Dec. 20.