The 'Cats will face Wisconsin Wednesday night without senior guard Alex Marcotullio, who suffered a concussion in their Saturday upset of Michigan State. "He's not available. He won't be going to the game," Bill Carmody said Tuesday.
But there is still uncertainty surrounding sophomore guard JerShon Cobb, who is experiencing pain in the left hip he had operated on during the off-season. "We're going to see. He really hasn't practiced in awhile," Carmody said of him. "I was hopeful I could give him a couple weeks (off) to see if things got better and then, maybe the first week of February, get him going and he'd be healthy and we could make some kind of run. But now with Al out, I don't know. He's going to travel with us, though, I know that."
This means senior swingman Nick Fruendt, who has totaled just nine minutes in the Big Ten portion of the 'Cat schedule, will be their first perimeter player off the bench against the Badgers. "Nick'll play. Nick'll play," said Carmody.
The 'Cat rotation, then, is down to seven with only Fruendt and senior center Luka Mirkovic expected to see time off the bench. "But you only play five, right?" Carmody said with a chuckle when asked about that. "I have no choices. You have to coach. You can just concentrate on what you're doing and you don't have to worry about subs. It'll be obvious what you have to do. Foul trouble, put a guy in."
Carmody could expand that rotation by taking the redshirt off 6-foot-8 freshman forward Mike Turner, who averaged 18.6 and 8.9 rebound per-game last season at University of Chicago Laboratory High. "It's possible. Possible," Carmody said of that prospect. "You still want to win. You still want to win. They say about burning (the redshirt), well, how many games do we have left, 15? That's still a lot of games."
Asked for a scouting report on Turner, Carmody said, "He's pretty good at everything, he's not great at anything. He can dribble a little bit, he can make a shot, rebounds decently, decent defender. He's working and he seems to be getting better and he can put the ball in the basket. He's a very good 15-foot jump shooter, 16-foot jump shooter. So that's good."
A short bench is not good when you employ the 1-3-1 zone that the 'Cats used in their victory over the Spartans. That ploy demands that defenders cover acres of ground, which could easily lead to tired legs. "It might. It might," admitted Carmody, who then added this. "But then (using a zone) you might not get into as much foul trouble too. It works both ways. Sometimes man-to-man, you can get into foul trouble a little bit, there's a little bit more driving to the basket maybe. So you have to balance that out, figure that out a little bit."
The 'Cats, way back in November, picked up close wins over LSU (by six) and Tulsa (four), Seton Hall (seven) and Stony Brook (five). Those kinds of experiences, some feel, steeled their spines for gut checks like the one they faced against the Spartans. But, said Carmody, "I don't think it's as important as everyone else does, as far as playing today and what happened in November. I don't know. I don't know if it makes that much of a difference."
Still, after enervating losses to Illinois (by one) and Michigan (by two in overtime), it was crucial that they win another close one before seeds of doubt sprouted in their collective brainpan. "Now they know we can do it," explained Carmody. "Like I said, we won close ones in November. But November was ages ago. If they remembered that, that would be good. But you can't. Everything is so present day. So I think it was important we got that thing so they didn't start feeling like, 'Here we go again.'"
But, no matter how much that win may have buoyed the 'Cats, it did not add any giddy-up to their step when they returned to practice on Monday. "No. I was all over them yesterday," Carmody reported before the start of Tuesday's practice. "Holy Mackerel. We had to give them off Sunday, so yesterday they came out, there were a couple guys who looked very good and a couple guys I was not happy with. So it was not a fun practice. Anytime after a day off, you come out, it was probably normal. But I wanted to jack it up a little bit, expect more from them if I could. And I can."
The 'Cats countered Michigan State's aggressive defense with those backdoor plays that used the Spartans' aggression against them. But the task will be far different against the Badgers, whose defense is precise and fundamental and -- not insignificantly -- physical as well. "So you're going to get checked up pretty good, and you have to push through that," said Carmody, offering up a what-to-look-for. "They grab you a little bit, hold you a little bit, a forearm in your chest a little bit. Yeah, we talked about that. I liked that the other night. Reggie (Hearn, the guard) was cutting really hard. It was great. He was responsible for about eight points just with his hard cuts that helped him or helped someone else. So we will emphasize that."
The Badgers are usually infallible at home, but already this season they have lost to Marquette and Iowa and Michigan State at their Kohl Center. That's the good news. The bad news is the 'Cats are 0-12 in that building. "People say why is it such a tough place?" Carmody said when asked about that playpen. "Well, since I've been here, they've had really good teams. If they had bad teams, it wouldn't be so intimidating. It might be the fans and the court and all. But mostly it's the five guys on that court. They've had some really good players for a number of years, and they've been well coached. So I don't know if it's the building as much as the guys you're playing against."