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Illinois Basketball Conference Opponent Preview: Wisconsin

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Illinois can exploit an uncharacteristic Wisconsin team.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

What Happened Last Year:

Illinois fell to No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers, 57-43, in its only meeting last season. Wisconsin opened up the game with a 16-2 lead, and the Badgers stayed in the driver’s seat for the rest of the game. Illinois did trim the lead to just six in the second half, but it never really got the ball rolling. The Illini had one of their worst shooting percentages in recent memory. The team went a lousy 16-for-58 (27.6 percent) from the field and 5-for-21 behind the three-point line.

You won’t win any games with a performance like that.

Illinois will get a shot at the Badgers in Champaign and up in Madison this season.

How Illinois Can Win:

The good news for the Illini is the Badgers have to replace four of five starters. Wisconsin lost Bronson Koenig (All-Big Ten Second Team), Nigel Hayes (All-Big Ten Third Team), Zak Showalter (All-Big Ten Defensive Team), and Vitto Brown to graduation.

The Illini can take advantage of the inexperienced team and lack of quality bench depth.

How Illinois Can Lose:

ETHAN. HAPP.

That is all that needs to go wrong for the Illini in this matchup. All-Big Ten First Team and All-Defensive Team last year; Freshman of the Year before that; an AP All-American Third Team selection last year — the resume continues to grow from the junior forward out of Illinois. (Ugh. That always hurts.)

I digress.

Happ stuffs the stat sheet with 14 points per game, nine rebounds per game, three assists per game, just over two steals per game and just over a block per game. He will look to build on all these averages entering his junior year.

The Badgers return guard D’Mitrik Trice and forward Khalil Iverson, and also usher in four-star point guards Kobe King and Brad Davison, along with four-star power forward Nate Reuvers.

Prediction:

Illinois drops the first one on the road. Coming out of the Kohl Center with a win is not an easy thing to do, especially for a young team with a new coach.

That being said, I do like the rematch in Champaign a couple weeks later. The Badgers will have to rely heavily on Ethan Happ this year if they want to be successful.

Coach Underwood has gotten a chance to look at the Badgers once, and the team should have a good grasp of Underwood’s offense at this point in the season. This is one of maybe two or three games that I think the Illini have the chance to steal. The Illini pull off the upset and win a nail-biter.