Breakdown: Wisconsin at Illinois

Unranked for the first time all season, Wisconsin looks to win its third straight at Champaign for the first time in over 100 years, and possibly get itself back on track, when it takes on the struggling Fighting Illini tonight. BadgerNation breaks down the matchup.

Wisconsin (17-5, 4-5 Big Ten) at Illinois (13-9, 2-7 Big Ten)

Date/Time -Tuesday, February 4, 8 p.m. Central

Arena –State Farm Center (16,818)

Television -Big Ten Network (Dave Revsine and Shon Morris)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Illinois leads 110-81 (Illinois leads 68-23 in Champaign)

Last Meeting - Wisconsin won, 95-70, on January 18, 2014 in Madison

Wisconsin Probable Starters

1 Ben Brust (6-1 Senior Guard, 13.2 ppg)

12 Traevon Jackson (6-2 Junior Guard, 10.8 ppg)

15 Sam Dekker (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 13.5 ppg)

21 Josh Gasser (6-3 Junior Guard, 8.7 ppg)

44 Frank Kaminsky (7-0 Junior Forward, 12.9 ppg)

Off the Bench

10 Nigel Hayes (6-7 Freshman Forward, 7.2 ppg)

13 Duje Dukan (6-9 Junior Forward, 2.9 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-3 Freshman Guard, 3.2 ppg)

Illinois Probable Starters

2 Joseph Bertrand (6-6 Senior Guard, 11.0 ppg)

13 Tracy Abrams (6-2 Junior Guard, 12.0 ppg)

24 Rayvonte Rice (6-4 Junior Guard, 16.5 ppg)

32 Nnanna Egwu (6-11 Junior Center, 7.0 ppg)

22 Jon Ekey (6-7 Graduate Forward, 8.0 ppg)

Off the Bench

1 Jaylon Tate (6-3 Freshman Guard, 2.5 ppg)

10 Mike LaTulip (6-1 Sophomore Guard, 1.1 ppg)

21 Malcolm Hill (6-6 Freshman Forward, 3.5 ppg)

25 Kendrick Nunn (6-3 Freshman Guard, 4.1 ppg)

Last Time Out

A botched final possession led to an off-balanced 3-point attempt by Sam Dekker that bounced off the back iron, leading to more questions, disgust and frustration following a 59-58 defeat at the hands of No.24 Ohio State.

Bringing the ball up court, junior guard Traevon Jackson tried to make a move on senior Aaron Craft – one of the best defenders in the conference. Ball pressure from Craft and a double team from LaQuinton Ross allowed too much time to drip off the clock before Jackson could pass the ball, leaving Dekker little chance for a high-percentage shot.

"He lost the ball on the dribble," said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, referring to Jackson. "He miss dribbled and he had to pick it up … He loses his dribble, so we can't make a good, solid play. It was just mishandled."

It was also expected. With Jackson's propensity to take the big shot, Ohio State coach Thad Matta said the Buckeyes (17-5, 4-5 Big Ten) had Jackson marked, knowing he was probably going to be the one who was going to try and create something.

"He likes big shots and he loves the ball at the end of the shot clock, end of games," said Matta. "He's hit like 19 game winners in his time here, so we told our guys he's probably going to take the shot."

"Groundhog Day" has arrived for Wisconsin, as the Badgers are stuck in the same familiar script being played over and over and over again. Losers of five of six and three straight home games for the first time since the 1997-98 season, it came down to shooting for the second time this week.

The Badgers shot only 36 percent in the second half, 40 percent for the game and went 3-for-17 from the 3-point line, including 1-for-9 in the second half. In the last two games Wisconsin is 33 of 102 overall (32.4 percent) and 8 of 41 (19.5 percent) from the 3-point line.

"I've a hard time figuring out how the last two games we haven't knocked down more perimeter shots," said Ryan. "That I don't understand."

To make matters worse, Wisconsin was given multiple chances to take control of the game, but never capitalized, another reoccurring theme for a team who is season its season spiral well out of control.

UW finally appeared to take control of the back-and-forth title with a 13-2 run midway through the second half, capped by a Hayes' made free throw to put UW up 52-45. Wisconsin only made one field goal the remainder of the game, including none over the final 6:44.

Part of the reason for no field goals was Wisconsin getting to the free throw line, but that didn't turn out to be much better. UW went 6-for-14 in the second half from the free throw line, including 4-for-10 during the final stretch; a stark turnaround from the first half went UW went 13-for-15.

- Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Last Meeting

No.4 Wisconsin put forth an effort worthy of its stature during a 95-70 demolishing of No.23 Illinois Wednesday night at the Kohl Center.

Led by Ben Brust's 18 points, five players scored in double figures – for the fifth time this season – for Wisconsin, which shot 32-for-57 (56.1 percent) from the field and seems to break or tie a school record on a nightly occurrence.

The Badgers have started 16-0 for the first time in school history (surpassing the 1911-12 and 1913-14 seasons), moved within one game of tying the modern-era school record for consecutive wins and tied their longest winning streak ever against Illinois.

And unlike their past two games against ranked teams this season, the Badgers left no doubt from the start.

The only two ranked opponents UW has faced (No.11 Florida and No.22 Iowa) both built double-digit leads in the first half, forcing UW to claw its way back into the game on its home court.

No such problem this time. When the under eight media timeout hit, Wisconsin was shooting 60 percent overall (4-for-8 from deep and 8-for-12 inside the arc) and had just put the finishing touches on a 20-0 run that turned a 13-10 game into a laugher.

When it was all said and done, Wisconsin had another school record - its biggest margin of victory over a ranked opponent.

After seven turnovers Sunday, Jackson rebounded with four assists to two turnovers. Sam Dekker also got himself right with the basketball gods, shaking off a 2-for-12 performance against the Hawkeyes to go 6-for-8 for 17 points.

All this helped Wisconsin score at least 70 points in its seventh straight game, over 80 for the sixth time this season and scores at least 90 points in a regulation conference game for the first time since Jan. 1995 (97-73 vs. Northwestern).

- Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Series Notes

Wisconsin has won 6 straight over Illinois, equaling its longest win streak vs. the Illini. The Badgers other 6-game win streaks against Illinois were from 1906-1908 and 1912-1914.

Dating back to 2007, UW has won 13 of the last 17 meetings with Illinois. The Badgers have won 5 of 7 in Champaign, Ill. during that stretch.

UW has won back-to-back games at Illinois and is looking for its first 3-game win streak in Champaign since earning victories in its first three trips to Illinois, winning in 1906, 1907 and 1908.

Tonight's game will mark just the 2nd time in the last 32 meetings that neither Illinois or Wisconsin has been ranked in the AP top 25, dating back to 1998. Last year's match-up in Champaign (2/3/13) is the only other game that did not feature at least one ranked team.

Reaching 60 points has been an incredible indicator in this series. The first team to score 60 points is 24-1 over the last 11 seasons. The only loss was UW's 71-64 comeback win on 1/20/07 (ILL led 60-57 with 5:07 left).

Wisconsin has held Illinois to 70 or fewer points in each of their last 19 matchups.

Wisconsin has 3 players from the state of Illinois: Ben Brust (Hawthorn Woods), Duje Dukan (Deerfield) and Frank Kaminsky (Lisle).

Wisconsin Notes

No. 12 in the RPI, the Badgers are 7-2 away from home this season, owning the 2nd-most road wins (4) among Big Ten teams.

The Badgers have also put together 13 consecutive seasons with a winning conference record. In 107 years of Big Ten basketball, only 2 schools have a longer streak of continuous success.

Despite only playing 20.0 minutes per game during B1G play, Hayes is averaging 9.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg and shooting 56.4% from the floor. When averaged over 40 minutes, Hayes has been the Big Ten's most productive freshman. Per 40 minutes, Hayes is averaging a Big Ten freshmen-best 19.5 ppg and ranks 2nd with 7.5 rpg and 56.4% shooting

Ryan's teams have posted a 144-60 (.706) Big Ten record, the best mark in the conference over the last 12 seasons. Michigan St. is second at 137-67 (.672) and Ohio St. is third at 135-69 (.662).

Illinois Notes

Tonight's match-up features two of the three Big Ten players who lead their teams in both scoring and rebounding in Rayvonte Rice (16.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Wisconsin's Sam Dekker (13.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg). The other is Northwestern's Drew Crawford. Rice also leads the Illini in steals (1.2 spg), the only player in the conference to rank first on his team in all three categories.

Over the last two games, Rice has averaged 16.5 points (33) on 47.8 percent shooting (11-23) and 45.5 percent from 3-point range (5-11). This followed an unusual 4-game stretch for Rice where he averaged just 7.8 points on 23.3 percent shooting and 22.2 percent from three.

The Illini are allowing an average of 64.1 points per game this season (fourth in Big Ten, 35th in NCAA). Only five opponents have exceeded 70 points against the Illini defense this year and Illinois ranks 41st nationally in defensive efficiency (96.7) and 43rd in defensive free throw rate (33.4).

Malcolm Hill has logged double figure minutes in five of the last six home games, averaging 8.0 points (40) on 58.3 percent shooting (14-24) in those five games (Dartmouth, Penn State, Michigan State, Iowa).

Prediction

A creature of habit and one not known to change course in midstream, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan did something Sunday that he had never done in over 30 years of coaching: he took his teaching classroom one step further.

Showing clips of mistakes made throughout the season, Ryan came up with a 28-question test to see how perspective his players were being about what mistakes they were making. After losing six of seven and losing a couple games due to the same defensive mistakes over and over, it was worth checking to see if his group was grasping the concepts. According to him, as he thought, UW is a pretty perceptive group.

"They caught a lot of the teaching points, but you never know," said Ryan. "At least it was encouraging to know that this player did not rotate or this player did not pump fake or this player did not … You still have to go out and execute it. So what that has to do with anybody in the room yelling rah-rah, there wasn't any of that, but it's about teaching."

Maybe that test will spark a team who is having its confidence tested after one of the worst months in Ryan's tenure.

During the span of three weeks, Wisconsin went from 16-0 and ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press poll to unranked after losing five of sixth, marking the first time UW hasn't been included in the AP Top-25 since Feb. 4 of last season - a span of 19 polls.

Once thought to be title contenders, the Badgers enter the second half of the Big Ten season with virtually no title hopes and little chance to open the NCAA tournament in Milwaukee.

"Anything can happen in those nine games," said Jackson. "We're still keeping our hopes up, but we've just got to take care of our business. We know what can happen in the league; we've seen a lot of strange things happen. Other than that, we've just got to keep working on ourselves, and keep getting better every day."

Improvement needs to be better across the board if Wisconsin is going to do anything over the final two months of college basketball, if they even last that long. Jackson needs to be more controlled and effective, Dekker needs to be more aggressive, Kaminsky can't settle for jump shots, Brust needs to find his long-range abilities, Hayes has to make his free throws at a high percentage and the bench as a whole needs to contribute more. As you can tell, this team has a laundry list of problems.

However, Gasser would say that Wisconsin has improved in some areas over the last month, just not as quickly as one would have hoped.

"You're not going to make huge leaps and bounds game after game," said Gasser. "We're slowly improving. We'd like to be there quicker, but we're still working towards it. We're still going to do whatever it takes to get back on track here and be ready to go against Illinois."

Illinois is in the same boat as Wisconsin. Losers of seven straight, which started with the loss in Madison Jan.8, and finishing the month of January 1-6, the Illini sit dead last in the conference standings. However, John Groce's team appeared to take a step forward in Saturday's 81-74 home loss to Iowa.

The 74 points was its most in seven games (75 vs. Penn State, 1/4), the 44.6 percent shooting was its best in eight games (.449 vs. Indiana, 12/31), and the 40 percent accuracy from 3-point range was its best in 13 games (.522 vs. Auburn, 12/8).

"Watching them play Iowa, they've improved in a lot of areas because we know how athletic they are," said Ryan. "Earlier in the year, there were just some things getting away from them. But now they're just more in tune with one another and their talent level is starting to show through. Sometimes you can have talent, but it's not in sync. But they're playing a lot better together."

There are no more guaranteed wins in February, let alone on the rest of Wisconsin's schedule, and I can easily see Wisconsin losing four straight after tonight's game, so this game is vital for UW. I think the Badgers pull this out by four, but I really don't have a lot of confidence in this team.

Amazing how much can change in such a short time.

Worgull's Record: 15-7

Points off Prediction: 203 (9.2 per game)


Badger Nation Top Stories