Sioux Falls, SD (SportsNetwork.com) - The 20th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers battle the St. John's Red Storm in the 2013-14 season opener for both teams, the game taking place at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
St. John's had a disappointing season in 2012-13, going 17-16 overall and 8-10 in Big East Conference action. The Red Storm, who are coached by Steve Lavin, accepted a bid to play in the NIT, and they went 1-1 with a win over Saint Joseph's followed by a loss to Virginia. SJU still calls the Big East home, although the conference looks dramatically different after a tumultuous offseason in which several teams left, and new ones arrived.
Wisconsin is coming off another highly successful campaign, its 12th under Bo Ryan, as it went 23-12 overall and 12-6 in the Big Ten Conference. The Badgers bowed to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game, 50-43, and then lost their NCAA Tournament second-round matchup to Ole Miss, 57-46. UW has won its last 11 season openers, doing so by an average of 29.5 ppg.
Wisconsin has won all three previous matchups in the series with St. John's, with the last being an 80-70 decision during the 2002 NCAA Tournament.
The Red Storm led the nation in blocked shots (7.3 per game) last season, yet still finished in 11th place in the Big East. St. John's lost seven of eight games prior to picking up a win in the 2013 NIT, so getting off to a fast start is crucial for the team's psyche as this new season gets underway. For that to happen, guys like D'Angelo Harrison (17.8 ppg, third-best in the conference) and JaKarr Sampson (14.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2012-13 Big East Rookie of the Year) will need to lead by example. Also expected to elevate their respective games are Phil Greene (10.1 ppg) and Sir'Dominic Pointer (6.9 ppg), as both have proven capable of directing traffic on the floor after combining for 176 assists last season. Improving as a team from long range will also help, as the Red Storm ranked almost last in the country last season after making only 3.6 3-pointers per contest.
Wisconsin lacks identifiable star power, instead focusing on the collective effort of a slew of solid players. The Badgers didn't have a guy average more than Ben Brust's 11.1 ppg last season, but they played exceptional team defense in yielding only 55.9 ppg on less than 40 percent field goal efficiency and 30 percent from beyond the arc. The loss of Jared Berggren (11.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.1 bpg) and Ryan Evans (10.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg) leaves room in the middle, with the expectation that a guy like Sam Dekker (9.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg) could flourish, and that 7-foot junior Frank Kaminsky could really take off after putting up just 4.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game in limited duty last season. Brust highlights the backcourt, and should get help from Josh Gasser who missed last season with a knee injury. Also figuring in the mix will be Traevon Jackson (6.9 ppg, team-highs of 99 assists and 35 steals).