Breakdown: No.5 Wisconsin vs. Penn State

Moving closer to clinching a share of its first Big Ten regular season title in seven years, No.5 Wisconsin travels to University Park to take on Penn State tonight. BadgerNation breaks down the matchup and takes a closer look at the struggles of the Badgers' bench.

No.5 Wisconsin (23-2, 11-1 Big Ten) vs. Penn State (15-11, 3-10 Big Ten)

Date/Time -Wednesday, February 18, 6 p.m. Central

Arena –Bryce Jordan Center (15,271)

Television -Big Ten Network (Eric Collins and Stephen Bardo)

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

Series – Wisconsin leads 32-10 (Wisconsin leads 13-7 in State College)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 89-72, on December 31, 2014 in Madison

Wisconsin Probable Starters

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 12.4 ppg)

15 Sam Dekker (6-9 Junior Forward, 13.0 ppg)

21 Josh Gasser (6-4 Senior Guard, 7.3 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Sophomore Guard, 7.5 ppg)

44 Frank Kaminsky (7-0 Senior Forward, 17.6 ppg)

Off the Bench

3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Sophomore Guard, 2.5 ppg)

13 Duje Dukan (6-10 Senior Forward, 5.3 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Sophomore Guard, 2.3 ppg)

Penn State Probable Starters

2 D.J. Newbill (6-4 Senior Guard 20.8 ppg)

10 Brandon Taylor (6-2 Junior Forward, 10.0 ppg)

13 Geno Thorpe (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 8.3 ppg)

32 Jordan Dickerson (7-1 Junior Center, 2.3 ppg)

33 Shep Garner (6-1 Freshman Guard, 9.2 ppg)

Off the Bench

0 Payton Banks (6-6 Freshman Forward, 2.0 ppg)

5 Donovon Jack (6-9 Junior Forward, 4.2 ppg)

43 Ross Travis (6-6 Senior Forward, 4.6 ppg)

44 Julian Moore (6-10 Freshman Forward, 1.5 ppg)

Last Meeting

MADISON - As good as Penn State was on offense, the Badgers were even better, shooting a season-high 64 percent — including 70 percent in the second half — to cruise to a 89-72 victory in front of an announced — and frequently hushed — crowd of 17,279.

“We had to shoot well to get this one,” said Badgers coach Bo Ryan, whose team has opened conference play with a victory for the 12th consecutive year.

Nigel Hayes led the way with 21 points. He, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker each made seven shots from the field. Dekker finished with 17 points Kaminsky added 18, while pulling down 14 rebounds for his league-leading sixth double-double of the season.

Wisconsin (13-1) also got 16 points from point guard Traevon Jackson, who knocked down both of his 3-point attempts and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line, where Wisconsin went 23 of 28 for the day.

“That’s four guys with pretty good numbers,” said Dekker. “It’s good to see from us that we weren’t just going to one guy. More than one stepped up and that’s the thing about this team that I’ve said from day one, we have more than one guy that can control the offensive end.”

Those free throws turned out to be a difference maker for Penn State (12-2), which made just 12 trips on the day and only three in the first half.

“We ran into a buzzsaw today,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “They’re really good. You take one thing away, they go to the next thing; you take that away, they go to their third option and if you take that away, they go to the fourth.”

-Andrew Wagner, Special to BadgerNation.com

Last Time Out

MADISON - Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin’s national player of the year candidate, got back to basics Sunday in the front of a national television after being a role player in the previous two games, finishing with a game-high 23 points as fifth-ranked Wisconsin rolled past Illinois, 68-49, at the Kohl Center.

Bronson Koenig had 15 points, Nigel Hayes had 14 and Sam Dekker added 10 for a Wisconsin team that continues to run right through the Big Ten conference. The Badgers (23-2, 11-1 Big Ten) have won eight straight conference games – their longest streak since the 1940-41 national title season – and have tied a school record for winning five straight league games by double figures.

More importantly, the Badgers own a three game edge in the loss column with six games to go.

“It just goes to show we can beat you in a lot of different ways,” said Kaminsky.

Kaminsky carried the Badgers in the first 20 minutes by scoring 17 points on 8-for-9 shooting, doing all his damage by putting the ball on the ground and converting buckets in the low post. It was a big reason Wisconsin had a 22-6 edge in point in the paint and shot 14-for-19 from 2-point range.

And they were the difference in the early going. In a half that featured six lead changes and Illinois leading for 1:50 (the first time UW trailed since the 14 minute against Indiana Feb.3), Kaminsky sparked a 6-0 run to close the half by slicing his way into the paint to register a pair of buckets using his arsenal of low post moves.

Wisconsin’s four double-figure scorers combined to shoot 61.9 percent (26-for-42) from the field. Kaminsky shot 68.8 percent (11-for-16) but didn’t score for the first 15 minutes, 52 seconds of the second half.

Just like the last two games, it wasn’t a problem for Wisconsin, which kept clicking right along without Kaminsky’s points by scoring 25 points on the 18 possessions to open the half.

Every one of the Badgers’ double-digit scorers had a stretch that carried the scoring burden. Eight of Dekker’s points came in the first half and included a couple slam dunks that added a spark to the arena. Hayes had 10 sprinkled throughout the second half and Koenig took advantage of opportunities on the perimeter, hitting three 3-pointers.

He also had zero turnovers in 37 minutes and hit a picturesque floater in the lane after Illinois had cut the lead to 9 with just over eight minutes to go. UW never led by fewer than 10 the rest of the way.

- Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Series Notes

W has won 19 of the last 21 against PSU overall, including the last six meetings, three straight at Penn State and 9 of the last 10 meetings in University Park.

Last year, the Badgers claimed a 71-66 win at PSU in the season’s only meeting.

Bo Ryan, a native of Chester, Pa. is 20-4 vs. Penn State all-time, including 9-3 in University Park. Ryan’s 20-4 record against Penn State is tied for his best winning percentage against any of the Big Ten teams (also 20-4 against Indiana).

UW has won 20 straight games vs. PSU when scoring at least 60 points, going 19-0 in such games under Ryan.

Wisconsin Notes

Wisconsin is in the midst of an 8-game Big Ten win streak, the school’s longest since winning the final 11 games of the 1940-41 season. The Badgers went on to win the 1941 National Championship.

Wisconsin is 13-1 against the NCAA’s official RPI top-100 this season, including five wins over the top 50. Only Kansas (15) and Kentucky (14) have more wins over teams ranked in the top 100.

UW is shooting 48.4 percent from the field this season, which would rank as the fourth-highest mark in school history. The Badgers’ 75.5 percent free throw percentage would be the third-highest in UW history.

During the Bo Ryan era, the Badgers lead the Big Ten and rank 8th among major conference schools with 82 true road wins. In the Ryan era, Wisconsin owns the most true road wins (82) and best win pct. (.539) among Big Ten teams.

In addition to passing Alando Tucker (126) for the most starts in Wisconsin program history, Gasser is also on pace to play the most minutes in UW history. He has played (4,232) career minutes, which trails only Tucker (4,297) in program annals.

Penn State Notes

Nine of Penn State’s Big Ten games have been decided by single digits, most recently with a three-point loss to Maryland. The eight single-digit losses have been separated by an average of 5.0 points.

Newbill, the top scorer among Power 5 conference players and sixth in Division I, is the No. 4 scorer all-time at PSU, he also is just second player in PSU history to reach 500 points in three-consecutive seasons. He has second-most points in DI and was second to pass 500-point mark this season.

It took Penn State 24 games to reach 15 wins on the season, the fewest games since 2008-09 since the Nittany Lions got to 15 wins in the span of 20 games. It took 30 games a year ago.

Penn State’s opponents are scoring on 40.6 percent of their total shots and 32.6 percent of 3-point attempts, defensive marks which both stand as fourth all-time since 1965 (among full-season figures).

Penn State has faced a team ranked in the Top 25 at the time of meeting four times this season, falling to Wisconsin, Maryland (twice) and Ohio State -- with three of four occuring on the road. Six of the Nittany Lions’ 2014-15 opponents are currently ranked, or receiving votes, in the AP and/ or USA Today polls.

Prediction

Not many teams could survive an injury to its starting point guard, a three-year veteran with a large volume of game experience and clutch shooting. Not many teams have a former four-star prospect waiting in the wings either.

Since taking over as starting point guard eight games ago, Koenig has averaged 13.0 points per game, shooting 21-for-39 (.538) on 3-point field goals and is averaging 2.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. Turning the ball over just six times in 281 minutes as the starting point guard (one every 46.8 min.), Koenig’s 3.9 assist-to-turnover ratio is second in the NCAA (min. 30 assists).

The only problem with Koenig is that he’s not coming off the bench anymore, which has caused bench production to drop.

For the second straight game, all of Wisconsin’s starters played at least 32 minutes. Against Illinois, reserves Vitto Brown, Duje Dukan and Zak Showalter were a combined 0-6 from the floor and outscored 19-3 by the Illini in a season-low 22 minutes.

Not only was there no scoring punch, there wasn’t much defense, as Ryan rotated in the above-mentioned reserves – UW’s current top three bench players – and watched the defense give up three 3-point baskets in a span of 1 minute, 19 seconds, turning an eight-point lead into a one-point deficit.

Seeing his team caught in some scramble situations and show some inexperience by not closing out, Ryan brought the starters back in and left them there until the game was pretty much decided.

“You know how I feel about 3-point shooters being uncontested, so true to my nature, I made some changes and kind of got back on track,” said Ryan. “Not that I lost faith in the other guys, it’s just you go with what’s working and who’s getting something done.”

Since their lone conference loss came on the road to Rutgers, 67-62, Jan. 11, which coincided with senior Traevon Jackson being sidelined indefinitely after breaking a bone in his foot and Koenig being promoted, the Badgers have defeated opponents by an average of 15.1 points.

The only problem is Wisconsin's bench has outscored its opponent just once in the last eight games, including four games in which they've contributed five points or less and more than six points only once in the last six games.

Since scoring a career-high nine points against Indiana Feb.3, Showalter is scoreless and 0-for-8 shooting the last three games; Dukan is 2-for-16 his last six games and Brown has 12 total points in his last 13 games.

“Those guys will come around,” Dekker said. “There’s been a couple games where they maybe haven’t contributed in the way they’d like to, but they bring energy, they bring effort. We know they’re good players, and they’re going to pick it up when they need them to. A few bad days will happen here and there but we know tomorrow is a new day. Before you know it, they’ll be doing big things again off the bench.”

Perhaps they’ll get inspired tonight. The Nittany Lions bench - which has dubbed itself the Bench Mob - is averaging 19.7 ppg this season, up five points from last season, and has outscored the opponent’s bench in 13 games, including scoring more than 30 points in four games this season.

Ryan wasn’t worried about his starters Sunday because four Illinois players also logged at least 30 minutes and says his starters have earned the minutes, but more productivity from his bench has got to be at or the near the top of his list of concerns on a team that has shown very little weakness.

Considering all five starters played 30 or more minutes in six of the past eight games after doing so only twice in the first 17, Ryan doesn’t want to burn out his key players, not with six games in the next 19 days that will determine if UW wins its first conference championship in seven years.

“If we can just get all those solid statistics on a stat sheet, it doesn’t have to be blazing offensive numbers,” Ryan said, noting he’s looking for defense, rebounding, good passes and ball security from his bench. “No question last year we were getting some more points, but I don’t think those three guys that have been coming in and helping us have done anything to not have us keep believing in them.”

The Badgers are hopeful to get Jackson – a three-year starter - back by the start of March for UW’s three championship runs, although they can wrap up a share of the regular season title early next week. Jackson likely will need a few games to get up to 100 percent conditioning wise, but will add some needed lift for the bench.

“We’ve got another man,” said Ryan when asked what will happen when Jackson returns. “We’ve got another player — with experience, with the strength, with the moxie, with the basketball IQ from so many possessions and tough environments.”

Although they sit with 11 losses on the year, Penn State has made the Bryce Jordan Center a challenge. Losing by nine to Michigan, seven in overtime to Purdue and three to Maryland Saturday, the Badgers have won their last three games in University Park by a combined 14 points.

With the scoring defense giving up only 55.9 points per game (first in the league and eighth in Division 1), Wisconsin’s success will be determined by either limiting leading scorer D.J. Newbill, challenging him on every shot or forcing him to take a lot of shots. Penn State is one of only three teams to score at least 70 on the Badgers this season, meaning UW will have to tighten up its interior defense and limit post touches.

“We’re nowhere near where we need to be,” said Dekker. “We have a lot of work to do if we want to get to our ultimate goal. It starts Wednesday again and if we continue to build off this last 40 (minutes) things will shape up for us.”

UW is playing so well (like Dekker said, see the 40 minutes Sunday against Illinois) that it’s hard to pick against them. Expect a close one, maybe even the rumblings of an upset, but the Badgers should win a hard-fought game by seven.

Worgull's Record: 23-2

Points off Prediction: 191 (7.6 per game)


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