As many of you know, the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team is off to its best start in school history; boasting a 15-0 record.
The Badgers ran through their non-conference schedule at a perfect clip of 13-0 and their schedule was the seventh hardest in the nation.
What’s more impressive? They have carried their solid play into conference play without skipping a beat.
The Badgers kicked off Big Ten play with a 76-49 win on the road at Northwestern. Any road win in the Big Ten is a good win. The following game, they put together an awe-inspiring 51 point second half on the No. 22 Iowa Hawkeyes for a comeback victory.
Shout out to Fran McCaffery’s epic meltdown for the assist in the comeback over Iowa.
Wisconsin is looking to keep their perfect season alive tonight as they welcome the No. 23 Illinois Fighting Illini to the Kohl Center.
Illinois is 13-2 and has looked solid all year. They are 2-0 in conference play, including an 83-80 win over a talented Indiana squad.
Illinois is led by ultra-talented junior guard Rayvonte Rice, averaging 18.7 points-per-game.
Rice has topped the 20 point mark six times this season and the Badgers will look to limit his scoring in this game. He can also dish the rock, too. The Badgers need to keep him from driving into the lane and creating scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Teammates such as junior guard Tracy Abrams and senior guard Joseph Bertrand. Both are averaging double-digit scoring and are threats to score every time they touch the ball.
Illinois has as solid guard play as anyone in the Big Ten and the Badgers will need to capitalize on its own solid guard play to counteract the Fighting Illini’s scoring attack.
Wisconsin will look to its guards to come up big defensively tonight. Senior Ben Brust, junior Traevon Jackson, junior Josh Gasser and freshman Bronson Koenig will all receive ample minutes and will be counted on to play strong on the defensive side of the court.
If the Badgers’ guards can limit the offensive impact of the Illini’s guards Wisconsin will be in good shape to carry on its perfect season in front of their home crowd.
Freshman forward Nigel Hayes has become an offensive power for the Badgers in recent weeks and is averaging 6.5 points-per-game on the year. Over the last four games though, Hayes is averaging a stout 13.5 points-per-game; a sign of things to come from the sensational freshman.
Look for another solid game for Hayes in the paint. I see his stat-line somewhere in the ballpark of 12 points and 6 rebounds for this game, the Illini will not be able to slow him all game.
The Badgers are riding a lot of momentum but the Illini are one of the most underrated teams in the country. They have quietly built the foundation of an NCAA tournament bid despite just finally cracking the AP top 25 last week.
This should be a classic Big Ten matchup between two solid teams, watch for free throws and turnovers to decide what should be a close game.
Both teams shoot well from the free throw line but the Badgers have the edge with a .735 percentage over the Illini’s .726 percentage. The Badgers also average two less turnovers-per-game than the Illini.
The game is at the Kohl center and the Grateful Red will come out in full support tonight, the big winter storm has passed and the fans are eager for tip-off. There are serious implications to every game the Badgers play this year in what could be a magical season.
I wouldn’t quite call these two schools rivals but they are border state universities and the Badgers’ perfect season is on the line. There will be no lack of intensity in this matchup as the Illini look to tell the Big Ten, and the country, that they are for real.
This game will stay close early but Bucky will pull ahead in the second half.
This game can be seen on the Big Ten Network at 8:00 PM CT tonight.
Will you be watching?