The Badgers are 9-10 on the season and 2-4 in Big Ten play. It’s strange to see the Badgers slip below .500 in B1G play, and even stranger to see them with an overall record under .500. The Badgers have finished in the top four of the Big Ten Conference for 16 straight seasons, and have appeared in the NCAA Tournament for 18 straight seasons. And unless Wisconsin wins the conference tournament, neither of those streaks will continue.
Wisconsin struggled with a difficult non-conference schedule. The Badgers have suffered losses to Xavier, UCLA, Baylor, Virginia, Temple and Marquette. The Badgers had plenty of opportunities but couldn’t capture a solid non conference victory.
Key Losses and Additions
The Badgers lost four of five starters from last season’s Sweet 16 team. Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes were two Big Ten stars and Wisconsin greats the team lost to graduation. The Badgers also lost seniors Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown. Those four players each played over 20 minutes per game and combined for 43 points per game on the season. The Badgers lost a lot of experience and production, but expectations were still relatively high due to the success their system has had, regardless of who is on the roster.
As expected, the Wisconsin roster is riddled with freshmen to replace all of the seniors on last year’s team. The freshman leading the way is point guard Brad Davison. Davison is the prototypical, scrappy Wisconsin guard, all the way down to the buzzcut haircut. He is the team’s second leading scorer and distributor at 12 points per game and 2.3 assists per game, respectively. Every time Wisconsin is on my television set, for any length of time, I see Davison attempt to take at least three charges. Davison takes and makes the most three point shots on the roster and is the teams second best three point shooter by percentage, at 38%.
Wisconsin’s star watch goes to Ethan Happ. The junior from Illinois leads the Badgers in scoring and rebounding with 16 points and 8 rebounds per game. Happ’s production is very similar to last year with his scoring slightly increased, while still shooting over 55% from the field.
Happ is Wisconsin’s best player and another tough matchup for the undersized Illini. Illinois’ best chance at keeping Happ from a 20 and 10 game is to get him foul trouble early on. The Illini will need to use their patented ball pressure to deny the Badger guards from getting the ball to Happ on the block. If Happ gets his hands on the ball the Illini will need to send an extra defender, or else Happ will bully the Illini bigs into submission and into foul trouble.
These are two teams that want to play two very different styles. Illinois wants to play fast, turn people over, and play a game with as many possessions as possible. Wisconsin wants to do the exact opposite. Wisconsin still plays at an extremely slow place, and still plays very stout defense. This will sound cliche, but whichever team can impose their style of play on the game will have the best chance to win.
Illinois hasn't won a game at the Kohl Center since 2010, and hasn’t beaten Wisconsin anywhere since 2011. And even though Wisconsin is having their worst season in decades, Illinois is still winless in conference play.
Wisconsin 66, Illinois 60