While Kobe King didn’t put up outstanding numbers in the second half on Monday night at Maryland, his mere presence on the court was a factor for an offense in desperate need of some help.
That stretch likely has given University of Wisconsin men’s basketball coach Greg Gard something to think about as he constructs the best lineup to help the slumping Badgers (11-6, 3-3 Big Ten) beat No. 2 Michigan (17-0, 6-0) on Saturday at the Kohl Center.
King, a redshirt freshman wing, played the final 17 minutes, 9 seconds of the Badgers’ 64-60 loss to the No. 19 Terrapins. The only UW player who logged more playing time after halftime was sophomore point guard D’Mitrik Trice.
Khalil Iverson has started 49 games over the past two seasons for the Badgers. But after playing the opening 2:51 of the second half at Maryland, Iverson was replaced by King and sat the rest of the way.
King only finished with five points and three rebounds in 27 minutes total, missing five of the six shots he attempted. But he gave the Badgers an additional perimeter threat on the floor, which led to better spacing and a more free-flowing offense.
“He brings a lot to the table,” Gard said. “His experience level needs to catch up with his ability.”
The Badgers trailed by as many as 21 points in the second half against Maryland and were down 51-33 when senior center Ethan Happ picked up his fourth foul with 10:38 remaining.
A 3-pointer by Nate Reuvers with 9:45 remaining began a stretch in which UW scored 24 points over 11 possessions to erase the massive deficit and take a one-point lead with 2:02 left.
Happ was on the bench for most of that spurt, giving the Badgers a lineup that included five potential perimeter threats. When Happ and Iverson are on the floor together, that’s two players who aren’t a threat outside of a few feet from the rim and limits the Badgers’ ability to create good spacing.
UW will need all the offense it can muster against the Wolverines, who feature the top defense in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country. But inserting King for Iverson could create an issue on the other end of the court, where the Badgers must deal with a Michigan offense that includes two wings, Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews, who combine for more than 27 points per game.
While Iverson isn’t an offensive weapon — he averages 4.9 points and hasn’t even attempted a shot in two of the past three games — the senior forward is a strong defender who typically guards the opponent’s best guard or wing. He’s also UW’s second-best rebounder behind Happ.
Practice was closed to the media Thursday and Gard didn’t disclose whether he was considering a change in the starting lineup, but he did acknowledge the difficulty in finding the right balance between offense and defense.
“That’s a challenge, because in areas where we’re better offensively we’re not as experienced defensively and visa versa,” Gard said. “Our better defensive lineups, maybe our offense isn’t as good or isn’t as efficient. Trying to find that right mix.
“We’re trying to develop those guys on both ends. The guys that are good offensively have to become better defensive players, and the guys that are further ahead defensively have to add more (to their) repertoire, more weapons and do more things offensively.”
King made his only career start against Savannah State on Dec. 13 when Iverson missed the game with an injury. The former La Crosse Central standout is arguably UW’s most versatile weapon on the offensive end, but it’s no secret his struggles on defense have kept him from being on the court for longer stretches.
The loss to Maryland followed an 84-80 setback at home to Purdue three days earlier. The difficult assignment for Iverson and King that day was to keep up with Boilermakers star Carsen Edwards, who finished with 36 points on 10-of-26 shooting.
“That was the first game where I’ll admit I felt a little bit lost,” King said of his 14-plus minutes against Purdue. “Carsen was flying everywhere and they ran some great stuff. It was a learning experience and it’s something I know I’ll get better from.”
UW assistant coach Dean Oliver said the specific areas where King needs to improve include transition defense and boxing out so the Badgers can secure rebounds. He pointed out that some of King’s errors are ones typically made by freshmen.
“He just has to continue to stay the course,” Oliver said. “Everyone earns the minutes they get and he’s earned some, he’s getting more. He’ll produce better as he gets smarter and more experienced.”
King was limited to 10 games last season due to a fractured patella in his left knee. Since a good chunk of his offseason was wiped out while recovering from that injury, King said he began the 2018-19 season feeling like a true freshman in many ways.
Now that he’s got almost a full campaign under his belt over two seasons, King feels like it’s time to become more consistent on both ends of the court.
“I felt like last year around this time I hopefully would have started to flourish a little (if not for the injury),” King said. “Hopefully, that’s something I can do in the future and help us win games.”