Wisconsin basketball: Xavier poses a strong early test for Greg Gard's defense
After the scouting report on Yale had been delivered last Saturday, word began to spread around the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team that the player Khalil Iverson would be guarding was pretty good.
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"One college player who has stood out to NBA guys at the Nike Camp has been Yale sophomore Miye Oni," ESPN's Jeff Goodman tweeted in mid-August about the 6-foot-7 guard. "Guys love his ability to score."
Iverson, a man of a few words, needed just three when his teammates finished talking about Oni.
"OK," Iverson said. "We'll see."
A day later, Oni never got on track during the Bulldogs' 89-61 loss to the Badgers at the Kohl Center, finishing with nine points on 3 of 10 shooting. Two of those baskets came while Oni was being guarded by UW freshman Kobe King, while two free throws were the result of a foul in transition. Oni's only other points came on a 3-pointer in the first half when Iverson got screened, leading to a miscommunication between Iverson and teammate Ethan Happ that left Oni with an open look.
Iverson's improved offensive skills were on display against the Bulldogs -- he scored a career-high 17 points on 8 of 9 shooting -- but the game was also a sign that he can be a defensive stopper on the perimeter.
"I think that's definitely something we need him to do," Happ said. "Every team, they've got a good '2' or '3' guard that we really need to stop and shut down, so I'm glad that he's been embracing that role."
Next up for Iverson is another difficult assignment: Xavier senior guard Trevon Bluiett, who will lead the No. 15 Musketeers (2-0) into a Gavitt Tipoff Games matchup tonight against the Badgers (2-0) at the Kohl Center.
Bluiett, who scored 1,585 points in his first three seasons at Xavier, flirted with leaving for the NBA before deciding to return for his final season with designs on leading the Musketeers to the Final Four.
Through two games, he's scored 51 points in 50 minutes.
"Quick release, definitely has deep range. You better find him in transition or he'll stick it," UW assistant coach Howard Moore said of Bluiett, who is 10 of 18 from 3-point range, has made seven of his eight attempts inside the arc and is 7-for-7 from the line. "He can put it on the floor. Great pull-up game. Can get to the rim at 6-6 and finish strong against contact. He's a complete player. He can post you up, he can iso. He's a handful."
What makes Bluiett even more difficult to defend is that his supporting cast includes plenty of weapons. Xavier, which has scored 101 points in each of its first two games, has two other proven perimeter threats in senior guard J.P. Macura and junior forward Kaiser Gates and an inside presence in sophomore forward Tyrique Jones. It has a solid floor leader in sophomore point guard Quentin Goodin and plenty of size and athleticism coming off its bench.
The Musketeers also have a reputation, according to Happ.
"They've always been a tough team," Happ said. "Just physically, they're a tough team and they don't back down from anyone. That's going to be a key for us, is to not back down. They're going to throw a punch, we're going to throw one right back. I think that's the biggest thing."
Two seasons ago, Bluiett was held to seven points in Xavier's 66-63 loss to UW in a round of 32 game of the 2016 NCAA tournament. That game will be remembered for Bronson Koenig's heroics -- he made two 3-pointers in the final 11.7 seconds, including a game-winner at the buzzer -- but the Badgers' work on the defensive end helped pave the way for an upset win.
Xavier's top two scorers that season, Bluiett and Edmond Sumner, finished with a combined 18 points on 7-for-24 shooting. Nigel Hayes was the primary defender on Bluiett, while Zak Showalter was assigned to Sumner.
Iverson, who played 12 minutes in that game, spent time guarding both Bluiett and Sumner. Now that Hayes and Showalter are gone from a team that ranked No. 9 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency last season, Iverson is one of the players who have to help pick up the slack on that end of the court.
Iverson said Hayes offered some parting words of wisdom on the mentality to have as a defensive player.
"Just literally to take stuff personal," Iverson said of the advice he received from Hayes. "If you have that role and are guarding the best player, coach (Greg) Gard tells you to go get him, to shut him down, not really let him score. If he does score, take it personal."
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Moore said one of the keys to being a defensive stopper is to have some swagger. He's starting to see that quality more and more in Iverson.
"There are going to be some tough matchups, like Thursday, and he's got to get locked in and understand what he's got to do," Moore said. "He's got to be really confident, but at the same time he's got to be disciplined in guarding guys like that."
This article is written by Jim Polzin from The Wisconsin State Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.