Wisconsin Basketball: Badgers look to end two-game slide vs. Illinois

Wisconsin Basketball has lost two straight heading into Monday’s showdown with a hot Illinois squad at the Kohl Center.

Judging strictly by the eye test, the Badgers seem likely to get back in the win column against the Illini on Monday evening.

After Wisconsin’s 72-60 win in Champaign back on January 23, the program has now enjoyed 14 straight victories over Illinois dating back to January of 2011. In addition, while the Badgers are bound for a relatively high seed in the NCAA Tournament, the season has not gone quite as well as for the Illini, who currently sit with a 10-15 record. At this point, Brad Underwood’s squad would be ecstatic to just get back to .500.

However, Illinois  has arguably been the Big Ten’s hottest team as of late, winning four in a row and six of their last seven since falling to Wisconsin a few weeks ago. In order, the Illini took down Nebraska, No. 9 Michigan State, and Rutgers at home, and just felled Ohio State in Columbus on Thursday for their first road win of the season. Make no mistake, this is a dangerous team that is fully capable of exacting revenge on the Badgers on Monday if they aren’t careful.

However, while Wisconsin has lost two straight, those defeats came at the hands of two title contenders in Michigan and Michigan State, and the Badgers had their chances to win both contests. Before that, they won five in a row going back to their win over the Illini.

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We should be in store for another entertaining evening of hoops on Monday, but will the end result be what Badger Nation is hoping for?

Projected starters

No. 22 WISCONSIN (17-8)

G – D’Mitrik Trice – SO (12.7 ppg)

G – Brad Davison- SO (11.0 ppg)

F – Khalil Iverson – SR (4.7 ppg)

F – Nathan Reuvers – SO (8.5 ppg)

C – Ethan Happ – SR (18.4 ppg)

ILLINOIS (10-15)

G – Da’Monte Williams – SO (3.8 ppg)

G – Trent Frazier – SO (14.7 ppg)

G – Ayo Dosunmu – FR (14.2 ppg)

G – Aaron Jordan – SR (18.2 ppg)

F – Giorgi Bezhanishvili – FR (12.2 ppg)

Keys to the game and prediction

Wisconsin’s losses against Michigan and Michigan State were in large part due to a lack of production from Badgers not named Ethan Happ. As is usually the case, the outcome against Illinois could come down to how Brad Davison, D’Mitrik Trice, and Nate Reuvers step up offensively. Reuvers had a decent outing the last time out against the Spartans with 11 points on 4-7 shooting, but the Badgers simply need more than a combined 11 points on 4-18  from the field out of Davison and Trice.

The trio was extremely effective in the last matchup with the Illini as Happ struggled against star freshman forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili. While Happ spent much of the game in foul trouble and finished with just nine points and nine boards (a great night for some, but quiet for him), Davison, Reuvers, and Trice combined for 48 points, led by 22 from Reuvers. Even Khalil Iverson got in on the fun with 12 points.

Wisconsin might not need quite that much production this time around against Illinois in the comfort of their own arena, but the Badgers will likely need solid games from at least a couple of those guys if Bezhanishvili brings it again defensively against Happ. The freshman from the nation of Georgia has been playing with confidence and at a high level as of late, particularly on offense, with a career-high 35 points against Rutgers on February 9.

However, while the physical big man gave Happ loads of trouble last time, he definitely shines brightest on offense. I’m  just not sure that I envision him having that level of success against the Player of the Year Candidate again. Plus, if Bezhanishvili gets in foul trouble, Illinois does not have much behind him to check Happ, which means double teams on the Wisconsin star and open looks from the perimeter for his teammates.

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I like the Badgers to get back in a groove offensively on Monday. As a whole this season, Illinois has not exactly been a defensive stalwart, ranking No. 258 nationally in opponent scoring and No. 314 in opponent field goal percentage. A matchup with the porous Illini defense should be exactly what the doctor ordered for a struggling Wisconsin offense.

Against one of the country’s very best defenses, the Illini’s only hope of keeping up with the Badgers could be forcing a bunch of turnovers. In the last matchup, Illinois turned Wisconsin over 17 times, and that’s how they stayed in the game. However, the odds of them achieving that level of success against a Wisconsin team that, in general, has been excellent at taking care of the ball this season and will be playing at home is not very likely.

Illinois has obviously been hot, and because of this I anticipate another dog fight on Monday. However, in the end, the Illini have won just one game on the road this season and face a Wisconsin squad that will be eager to get back in the win column. Pulling the upset will prove to be too tall a task.

Badgers win, 74-62

Next: Wisconsin's all-time starting five

All stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com