The air of invincibility the Badgers once had in Madison is gone. These Illini players know they can definitely win in Madison, they proved it last year. Not to mention, this year's Wisconsin team is definitely not perfect, and is beatable at home. Just ask the North Dakota State Bison. The Illini are coming into Madison knowing it is possible to win in the house that Herb Kohl built, but it is not going to be easy. The Badgers will be ready for the Illini, as they are coming off a nine-point loss at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor, which was actually in front of fans, something the Wolverine basketball program had not seen much of earlier this year.
Mike Wilkinson, and his lovely wife, are no longer roaming the streets of Madison, but that does not mean Bo Ryan's team is left without talent. What Bo Ryan's team has in talent, they make up for in lack of depth, especially recently. Freshman Marcus Landry is ineligible for the Spring semester due to not taking care of business in the class room, and sophomore Greg Stiemsma is also ineligible for the spring semester due to his battling depression.
The lack of depth has placed even more pressure on the Badgers' key players: Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor. Tucker is leading the Badgers in scoring with 18.7 points per game, but he is doing it with a Bracey Wright-like efficiency (0.97 points per shot attempt). Sure Tucker scores a lot, but he also uses up over twenty-five percent of all Badger offensive possessions (as a comparison, Dee Brown is utilizing just over twenty-two percent of all Illinois' offensive possessions). The Fighting Illini defenders, most likely a combination of Brian Randle and James Augustine, will need to work on staying in front of Tucker and not getting into foul trouble. Unfortunately, history with both Randle and Augustine, and the Kohl Center shows that either one or both of them will end up sitting next to Bruce Weber for an extended period of time.
Playing the role of Robin to Tucker's Batman is Kammron Taylor. Taylor is listed as questionable by the Badgers heading into Tuesday night's game after being on the receiving end of a vicious pick from Michigan's Graham Brown. While it is not certain that the Badger point guard will play, I expect to see him lined up across from Dee Brown when the game starts. After getting knocked out of the game by Brown, Taylor managed to come back into the game and was, well, for the lack of a better term, unconscious from the floor. He scored 13 of his career-high 29 points after getting laif out on that pick, and he almost single-handedly brought Wisconsin back form behind to knock off the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
The other player to mention for the Badgers is a member of the IlliniBoard.com All Underrated Big Ten Team, sophomore center Brian Butch. Butch has quietly put together a solid campaign this season for Bo Ryan. He is averaging 10.2 points per game, and pulling down 6.0 rebounds per game, all while people look on and just wonder if he needs to eat a sandwich. Like all Wisconsin big men, outside of Tucker, Butch can step out on the floor and shoot from the perimeter. While he is no Mike Wilkinson, he is a very good fit in Bo Ryan's swing offense, and will move the Illini big men to the perimeter to defend the basketball, which could have an effect on the defensive glass.
Speaking of the defensive glass; that might be where the Illini win this game. With the genius offense derived in a mad laboratory in Platteville, WI, by Wisconsin Head Coach and wunderkind Wisconsin normally gives opposing defense a different look than they are used to on the defensive glass. The Illini are a very good defensive rebounding team, but their best rebounders will be on the perimeter defending big men, while guards will be on the interior. While Wisconsin normally gives up the defensive rebound after a missed shot, the Illini guards will need to box out and rebound the missed shots (and as the game against North Dakota State showed there will be a lot of them) over the more physical Wisconsin backcourt.
Outside of defensive rebounding and Brian Randle and James Augustine not picking up the quick Kohl two, the other defensive key will be how the smaller (Dee Brown & Chester Frazier) and less physical (Jamar Smith) Illini guards are able to defend the Wisconsin guards on the blocks.
WISCONSIN & ILLINOIS BY THE NUMBERS
|Offensive Rebounding Percentage||36.10||39.28|
|Defensive Rebounding Percentage||69.42||71.02|