Enjoying a four day break after a 10-point road win over Nebraska, Wisconsin faces an Illinois team for the first time this season. The Illini (17-8, 7-5 Big Ten) come into Madison with only two days to prepare for the Badgers but have won four straight – the longest in the conference after Wisconsin - and came from behind to beat Michigan in overtime.
Three of the four wins came at home with the road win coming by five over Michigan State in East Lansing. Outside the victory, Illinois is only 2-4 on the road in conference play this season, with the other win coming over Northwestern.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as it strives for its eighth straight win.
Lay up: Can Sam Dekker keep it going?
Even when senior center Frank Kaminsky has been able to have offensive success, junior forward Sam Dekker has been able to consistently score in Big Ten play, as Purdue has been the only team to hold Dekker to single digits. With Kaminsky having been kept in check over the last two games, Dekker has found ways of picking up the scoring success against the opposition.
I n four career games against Illinois, Dekker has averaged 12.5 points a game on 58.1 percent shooting in an average of 24.7 minutes a game. If you take away a four-point performance from Dekker’s true freshman season, he is averaging 15.3 points a game against Illinois. That scoring success will have to continue if he can continue to play with that same aggressive style he did against Nebraska.
Dekker has been able to find balance scoring amongst both halves over the last three Big Ten games, showing the ability to make adjustments of his own while teams are making adjustments on him. Over the last three games Dekker has averaged 9.3 points in the first half and 7.6 points in the second. With scoring outputs like that, it has helped him either be one of the top scorers for Wisconsin.
It will be interesting to see who is defending Dekker, as it could be either Kendrick Nunn or Malcolm Hill. Hill matches up with Dekker in terms of size and length opposed to the 6-3 Nunn, but Illinois could use Hill on one of Wisconsin’s starting guards. If Nunn is up against Dekker, he should be able to find different ways of attacking the basket and possibly drawing fouls, as teams are averaging 15.9 free throw attempts a game.
At the same time, even when Dekker has been defended well, he has somehow found ways of making difficult shots. Teams are worried about defending Kaminsky but when the senior draws two defenders over the last two games, it has meant that either Dekker or Nigel Hayes has benefited from the attention by creating an open man. An open Dekker should allow him to get into a rhythm on offense and his success should continue as Wisconsin tries to seize the tempo of the game.
Mid-range jumper: Preventing the three
Wisconsin has been very good at limiting teams from scoring, giving up a league-best 56.2 points a game, but have struggled to contain teams from being effective from the 3-point line. Wisconsin ranks 12th in the Big Ten in allowing teams to shoot 35.8 percent from three, and Illinois has shown to be one of the more efficient 3-point shooting teams in the Big Ten, as they are shooting 36.8 percent from three this year. Despite Illinois ranking sixth in 3-point field goal percentage they are tied for second in average made 3-pointers a game (7.7 per) in the Big Ten. Sttempting 20.8 3-pointers a game in the Big Ten, only Purdue was able to hold the Illini to half of their average attempts a game at 10.
Wisconsin will have to be ready for Rayvonte Rice, Nunn and Hill, as all three are hitting above 40 percent from three on the season (Rice 47.5 percent, Nunn 42.6 percent, Hill 40.5 percent). Rice averages close to two made 3-pointers a game on 3.8 attempts while Hill and Nunn only average about 3.2 and 4.3 attempts a game, respectively. Wisconsin will need to be careful with the 5-9 Ahmad Starks, who comes off the bench to lead Illinois in 3-point attempts (4.6) despite hitting 31.9 percent of his 3s. Over the last four games, Starks is hitting 45 percent on five attempts per game.
If Wisconsin leaves any of them open, they could make Wisconsin pay for the defensive lapse. UW has done well over the last three games of switching off of ball screens and Kaminsky has forced guards to take jump shots instead of drive to the basket. Wisconsin’s length and size are its biggest weapons in suffocating Illinois’ perimeter shooters.
3-pointer: Winning the turnover battle
Illinois has shown to be one of the more efficient teams in the Big Ten in terms of taking care of the basketball, averaging only 9.9 turnovers a game (second in B1G) and forcing their opponents into 13.5 turnovers a contest. It won’t be easy to have that kind of success against Wisconsin, even with consistent aggressive defense the entire game. As many Wisconsin fans know, a good Bo Ryan team doesn’t turn the ball over, as the Badgers only commit 7.5 turnovers a game.
Despite the limited turnovers, Illinois has committed a total of 63 turnovers in Big Ten road games. In a 16-point road loss at Ohio State Jan.3, Illinois finished with a season-high 20 turnovers. In conference play, Wisconsin has forced double-digit turnovers in only two games (Purdue and Indiana), but the Badgers continue to be effective in cashing in those points. UW averages 11 points off of their opponent’s turnovers and only gives up 6.1 points off of its own miscues.
Illinois has shown to be an effective scoring team this year with three players who average at least double digits. Leading the team with 16.4 points per game, Rice managed only four points in his return to the lineup against Michigan, but his absence allowed Hill to have a bigger scoring role within the offense, a reason why Illinois has been playing well as of late.
Facing an offense with capable scorers, Wisconsin has to limit turnovers and fouls, as Illinois is shooting a league-best 79.2 percent from the free throw line and average 17.7 attempts per game. The Illini generates a lot of their opportunities off of steals, averaging 6.5 per game, meaning Wisconsin will need to be careful on its intended passing target.
If Wisconsin plays its game and takes care of the ball, it should help prevent an Illinois offense from reaching its average of 71.7 points a game.