Virginia has surprisingly cruised to six straight victories to open the season and the 25th-ranked Cavaliers face their toughest test yet when they host Wisconsin on Monday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Cavaliers, who were not ranked in the preseason, are up to their old tricks while holding opponents to 52.3 points per game and showing the depth needed to be a factor in the ACC race.
“We can compete,” senior transfer Nigel Johnson told the Daily Progress. “We’ve got a lot of people that can score the ball. We have the next-man-up mentality. If one person’s not making shots, it’s up to the next person.” Virginia has won all of its games by nine or more points but will likely have to go down to the wire against the battle-tested Badgers, who take on their fourth ranked team of the campaign. Wisconsin has lost all three of the previous contests against ranked teams - Baylor, UCLA and Xavier - but had a chance to win each of them and followed that gauntlet up with a 71-49 victory over Milwaukee on Friday. “We had to go through that growing process and figure some things out,” Badgers coach Greg Gard told the Wisconsin State Journal. “Most of the time, your best growth is happening from adversity and things not going your way and having to figure out a better way to do things and improve.”
TV: 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2
ABOUT WISCONSIN (3-3): All-American candidate junior forward Ethan Happ leads the team in scoring (18.2), rebounding (9.3) and assists (3.7), but the Badgers are beginning to turn over the lineup with four freshmen making impacts. Guard Brad Davison (11.8 points, 14-of-29 from 3-point range) has made the biggest difference among the first-year players, although freshmen Aleem Ford, Kobe King and Nate Reuvers are slowly earning bigger roles. Sophomore guards D’Mitrik Trice (10.5 points) and Brevin Pritzl (9.2) are also key to the offense and combined for 22 points on Friday.
ABOUT VIRGINIA (6-0): Sophomore guard Kyle Guy leads the team in scoring (15.8) and has drained 14-of-29 from 3-point range while senior backcourt mate Devon Hall is contributing 11.2 points per game. However, senior forward Isaiah Wilkins (team-best 6.3 rebounds) was the man to step up Friday as he scored a career-high 19 points in the 70-55 championship game victory over Rhode Island and was named the MVP of the NIT Season Tip-Off. “He brings so much,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett told reporters of Wilkins. “His stat line usually doesn’t show it. It showed it (Friday). He’s usually making a huge impact.”
1. The teams split a pair of games in the Big Ten/ACC challenge in 2012 and 2013 with the road team winning both.
2. Johnson, who previously played at Kansas State and Rutgers, had a season-high 12 points in Virginia’s win over Rhode Island on Friday.
3. Happ is currently second all-time at Wisconsin in career field goal percentage (56.6) and is shooting 57.7 percent in 2017-18.
PREDICTION: Virginia 62, Wisconsin 56