Illinois Looks to Avenge Loss to Wisconsin

The Illini come into Wednesday night riding a four game winning streak brought about by their defense. The last team to beat Illinois, will be the team visiting Assembly Hall on Wednesday evening, the Wisconsin Badgers. <br><br> An Illini win will avenge a previous 76-56 loss to the Badgers in Madison this season, and also create a three-way tie atop the Big Ten at 8-3 with Wisconsin & Michigan State.

Dateline - Madison, WI: January 24, 2004. The Illinois Fighting Illini decide defense is not needed to win, and allow Devin Harris and Mike Wilkinson to score 54 points, two less than Illinois' team total. The Illini hit rock bottom as a team.

Now, as we sit here in front of our computer screens, it is February 18, and the Illini and Badgers are right where they were expected to be: battling it out for the Big Ten Championship. Despite all the implications in the Big Ten race and on the NCAA Tournament seeding picture, this game in Champaign is a simple revenge game for Illinois. The Illini were embarrassed in Madison, and they would love nothing better than to embarrass the Badgers in Champaign.

Wisconsin comes into Champaign leading the Big Ten with an 8-2 conference record. An Illinois win will create a log jam at the top of the Big Ten standings between Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. There is no secret as to what Wisconsin will do in Champaign: play hard nosed defense, run Bo Ryan's swing offense, and not have fouls called against them. There is also no secret what Illinois will do in Champaign as well: play hard nosed defense, try to force tempo, and run the motion offense.

1. Keep up the defensive intensity of the last three games
The one constant for Illinois in the last three games has been defensive intensity. In each of the last three games, Illinois has held their opponent without a field goal for at least eight consecutive minutes.

The key to the defensive pressure Wednesday night will be whoever is guarding Devin Harris. Deron Williams will probably draw that assignment initially, but it will be a team effort to slow down the leading candidate for the Big Ten Player of the Year. In Madison, Illinois discovered that Harris could beat them by himself, so Illinois must not allow it to happen in Champaign. Just like the Illini would not let Indiana's Bracey Wright beat them, they must not allow Devin Harris to beat them.

The other key defensive assignment for the Illini will be how they stay with Mike Wilkinson on the perimeter, be it either Roger Powell or James Augustine.

2. Force the game's tempo
The Illini prefer to play a quick game that allows their athleticism and speed to flourish. Wisconsin can play basketball at all tempos, but is much more effective when the game is at a slower pace. To force tempo, the Illini will need to pressure Wisconsin's guards on the perimeter, creating turnovers that result in quick transition baskets.

Another way Illinois can set the tempo in their favor is having guards ready to receive outlet passes on defensive rebounds. When the Illini pull down a rebound, Dee Brown and Deron Williams need to be on the wings ready to catch and push the ball down the court. The guards that do not receive the ball should fill the lane and the sideline, trying for a quick lay up or three-pointer. Illinois' big men need to fill the lane on the secondary break for a good look in the post if Illinois cannot score a quick basket.

The Illini can also force the tempo by pulling the ball out of the basket and in bounding it after a make as quickly as possible. The quicker the transition from a Wisconsin made basket to offense for the Illini, the faster the pace of the game will be.

3. Close out on Wisconsin's big men on the perimeter
The swing offense is geared to make defensive players defend a position on the court they are not comfortable with by consistently inverting the court. The Wisconsin big men are skilled offensively both inside and outside, and will hit the open jump shot if left open when Illinois is doubling down on the post.

Since the Illini have routinely doubled the post this year, the big man doubling the post needs to close out on the Wisconsin big man as quickly as possible. Mike Wilkinson and Zach Morley have shown that they can either hit the open jump shot, or give a ball fake and drive to the basket, causing more problems. I still have flashbacks of Wilkinson hitting jump shots over a slow to close out Illinois big man from January 24.

James Augustine, Roger Powell, Brian Randle, and Nick Smith will have their hands full defensively playing out of their comfort zones, but they will need to close out quickly to take the Wisconsin offense out of its comfort zone.

4. Play emotional, but do not let your emotions control you

If either team scores 70 points, I think they win the game. As much as Illinois will try to force the tempo of the game, I do not think it will be possible, and we will witness a war between these two teams in Champaign. Illinois will be geared up for revenge, and Wisconsin will be looking to take a two-game lead over the Illini in the conference standings, effectively knocking Illinois out of contention for the Big Ten Championship this year.

Illinois: 64
Wisconsin: 61

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