The #19 Wisconsin basketball team is going to have a big challenge on their hands in their final eight games. At 14-5 (8-4), the Badgers are currently tied for 3rd in the Big Ten. It is an absolute logjam near the top. There are five teams within 2.5 games of Michigan for first in the conference. During the next four weeks, the Badgers will take on six opponents ranked in the top-25 of the country. If they want to end the season at the top of the conference, they will need to be playing the best basketball of the season.
They showed everyone what they can do on Tuesday night. The Badgers dominated Penn St. in the second half at home, after losing there just a few days before. They will need to continue that type of play during the remainder of their schedule. Otherwise, they could drop significantly in the standings by the time the conference tournament rolls around.
First on the docket for the Wisconsin basketball team is Illinois, who are 12-5 (8-3) and second in the Big Ten. The Illini came into this season with high expectations. The Illini, Hawkeyes, and Badgers were thought to be the cream of the crop of the conference. Like Wisconsin, Illinois went through a few rough patches this season, losing games they probably shouldn’t have. They have losses to Ohio St., Maryland, and Rutgers this season.
Now, the Illini are getting hot at the right time. They defeated Iowa in a thrilling game at home, 80-75. They are coming off of a 75-71 victory over Indiana in overtime.
Differing styles of play
These two teams are similar in how their seasons have played out so far, but also extremely different teams. As we all know, Wisconsin loves to control the tempo and pace of play, slowing things way down. Illinois loves to run and keep the pace high. Usually, the winner of these types of contests is the ones who are able to dictate the tempo and make their opponents play uncomfortably.
Illinois is averaging 82.2 points per game this season, the 18th most in the country. They are also shooting 50.1% from the floor (15ht). The Illini also score 1.4 points per shot (6th). This is a high-powered and efficient offense that the Badgers need to slow down.
Wisconsin basketball, on the other hand, is allowing just 71.9 points per game (194th). They are also shooting just 43.9% from the floor (190th), and score 1.25 points per shot (140th). The Badgers are clearly not as efficient on offense as the Illini are.
Illinois – Ayo Dosunmu – Guard
Illinois’ scoring leader is guard Ayo Dosunmu, who is averaging 21.2 points per game on 48.5% shooting. If the Badgers can slow Dosunmu down, they should have a decent chance at winning. In their conference losses, Dosunmu didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. He shot a combined 25/59, a 42.4% from the floor. He is going to put up a high number of shots; Trice and Davison are going to have to make it as hard as possible for him.
Illinois – Kofi Cockburn – Center
Another big piece for the Illini is big man Kofi Cockburn. The 7’0″ sophomore center is averaging 16.8 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game. He is a physical presence down low, something the Wisconsin basketball team has struggled with this year. Potter and Reuvers are going to need to play physical, but smart defense in the post. The big guys getting into foul trouble has been somewhat of an issue for the Badgers this year.
Wisconsin – Micah Potter – Center
Whenever the Badgers get the ball in the post, good things happen. They are a good three-point shooting team, but they have a tendency to rely too heavily on long-distance shots. When they get the offense to work from inside-out, the offense is better as a whole. Micah Potter needs to be a scoring threat down low against Cockburn. Between Potter and Reuvers, the Badgers should be able to help the Badgers control the pace of the game by working inside for some easier shots, rather than launching threes and giving up points in transition.
Wisconsin – D’Mitrik Trice – Guard
Scoring-wise, D’Mitrik Trice has been very hot at times this season, and non-existent at others. Granted, he has still done a lot of good things, but in the past two games, he has scored just six points on 2/14 shooting, including 0-7 from three. Before that, he scored in double digits in nine straight games. Luckily, his teammates have picked up the slack a bit, but Trice needs to get it going. Trice is going to need to have one of his best games on both sides of the ball if Wisconsin is going to leave Illinois with a win.
The Wisconsin basketball team is still working some kinks out. They’ve been struggled to put up points early in the second half, often letting halftime leads disappear. They seemed to have solved it against Penn St. on Tuesday, starting the second half with a 7-0 run and extending their two-point lead to nine. It won’t be so easy against the Illini. They are a much more formidable team than the Nittany Lions.
This is going to be a good game to test where Wisconsin truly is. It will be telling if they can hang with the Illini on Saturday afternoon. I think as long as they can keep it close, that will be a good sign for the Badgers.
In the end, I think being at home will be a big advantage for Illinois. I talked about this in my final ten game predictions from last week.
Illinois is fresh off of a home victory over Iowa. I could see this being type of game where the Badgers get out of their element and start taking a lot of threes. If it’s a night where the Badgers are on fire, they should win no problem. But I think the more likely scenario is they struggle shooting on the road and can’t keep up with Illinois and ultimately leave Champaign with a loss.
Illinois 75 – Wisconsin 67
All stats are courtesy of ESPN.com.