While I'm not going to say this is a must-win game for the Illini, it is one that could bring a lot more confidence to this team. Today, Wisconsin is tied in the lead for the conference race with a 3-1 record.
Head coach Bo Ryan has done a tremendous job up there in Badger Country, but it appears that many fans still don't consider them to be a "basketball" school. They have the longest conference winning streak going with 19 games straight and are playing with great confidence. The Illini lost a heartbreaker last year in Madison 60-59, with the Big Ten Title on the line.
This game is important for the Illini because right now the Badgers appear to be the team to beat. History is not on the Illini's side. Illinois comes into the Kohl Center a cool 1-4 record there. However this college basketball season, anything is possible. Case in point - the Richmond Spiders (10-8) went to Kansas and gave former Illini coach Bill Self his first loss at home of the season.
To drive home the importance of this game, this week Weber did not allow his players to speak to the media. He's looking for his players to walk-the-walk today.
The past two games the Illini seem to have a better feel for the motion offense; they are getting easy baskets and they are not just settling for three-pointers. The Badgers rank #1 in the conference in scoring defense with 56.2 ppg, while the Illini are ranked #2 in the conference in scoring with an average of 73.4 ppg. Given the game is in Madison, it may be hard for the Illini to get to their average.
IB/IN Keys To The Game:
1. Get Dee Brown involved in the offense early. Sure he's struggled at times this season, but this team feeds off Dee's emotion.
2. Dictate tempo. The Illini need to get out and run, but convert at the other end today. Motion offense will be key in the half-court.
3. The Illini have to guard like they have been since the start of the second half of the Iowa game.
4. James Augustine needs to be on the floor and look to give Weber and company another double-double.
5. If they have the lead, expect the Badgers to make a run. When they do, find a leader (Dee or Deron) to step up to silence the crowd.
If the Illini can do these five things, they will win 69-65; if not, they will lose 65-60.