No.17 Wisconsin hosts Western Illinois in tonight's season opener

Beginning its road to a third-straight Final Four appearance tonight, Wisconsin - ranked No.17 in the preseason poll - hosts Western Illinois at the Kohl Center. BadgerNation takes a closer look at the matchup.

Western Illinois (0-0) vs. No.17 Wisconsin (0-0)

Date/Time – Friday, November 13, 8 p.m. Central

Arena – Kohl Center (17,287)

Television – Big Ten Network (Brian Anderson and John Crispin)

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

Series – Wisconsin leads 1-0 (Wisconsin leads 1-0 in Madison)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 69-42, on December 7, 1989 in Madison

WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Junior Guard, 2.1 ppg)

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

22 Ethan Happ (6-9 Freshman Forward, DNP)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Junior Guard, 8.7 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Junior Forward, 1.8 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

11 Jordan Hill (6-3 Sophomore Guard, DNP)

21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Freshman Forward, DNP)

30 Charlie Thomas (6-8 Freshman Forward, DNP)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Happ is tabbed by many as the breakout player of the year. He did nothing to limit those expectations with his 16-point, 10-rebound performance in 19 minutes in the Badgers’ lone exhibition game last week. Happ is expected to be the first UW freshman to start an opener since George Marshall in 2012-13.

WESTERN ILLINOIS PROBABLE STARTERS

1 Jabari Sandifer (6-1 Junior Guard, 7.4 ppg)

14 J.C. Fuller (6-4 Senior Guard, 12.0 ppg)

31 Garret Covington (6-5 Junior Forward, 15.5 ppg)

32 Tate Stensgaard (6-9 Senior Forward 4.3 ppg)

52 Brandon Gilbeck (6-11 Freshman Center, DNP)

OFF THE BENCH

10 Jamie Batish (6-4 Senior Guard, 6.4 ppg)

11 De’Angelo Bruster (5-11 Freshman Guard, DNP)

22 Jalen Morgan (6-8 Freshman Forward, DNP)

33 Jalen Chapman (6-7 Senior Forward, 4.9 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Covington was tabbed preseason All-Summit League First Team prior to the season, but be wary of Gilbeck. He grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds and blocked a team-best four shots, to go along with his seven points, in Western Illinois’ lone exhibition victory.

SERIES NOTES

The Badgers are 8-3 all-time against teams from the Summit League. Most recently, UW beat Oral Roberts, 76-67, on Nov. 23, 2013.

Western Illinois assistant coach Mark Vershaw played for the Badgers from 1998-2001. He scored 1,066 points with 452 rebounds, and was the leading scorer on UW’s 2000 Final Four team.

Garret Covington is the brother of Wisconsin women’s basketball assistant coach Anya Covington.

WISCONSIN NOTES

UW has won 17 consecutive home openers dating back to 1998-99. The Badgers’ last loss in the home opener was a 65-60 loss to Marquette on Nov. 14, 1997 in the UW Field House.

UW opens the season in the preseason rankings (No. 17) for the fifth straight season. In each of the past six seasons, Wisconsin has finished the season equal or higher than its preseason ranking.

The Badgers have also won 51 consecutive regular-season, non-conference games against unranked teams. The last time UW lost to a team that was not ranked in the AP poll was a 58-51 defeat to Notre Dame at the 2010 Old Spice Classic (11/28/10).

Under Bo Ryan (since 2001-02), UW is 143-31 (.822) in non-conference games, including a mark of 104-8 (.929) at the Kohl Center.

Ryan’s teams are 87-2 (.978) at the Kohl Center against teams outside of the 6 major conferences, including a streak of 60 straight wins.

WESTERN ILLINOIS NOTES

The Leathernecks were picked to finish ninth (last) in The Summit League’s annual preseason poll with 126 votes.

Western Illinois returns 10 players that were on the roster a season ago: four seniors, three juniors, two sophomores and one redshirt-freshman. The Leathernecks have six newcomers for the 2015-16 season, all freshmen.

A year ago Western Illinois lost two starters to season-ending injuries during the season; sophomore Mike Miklusak injured his knee versus Oral Roberts on Jan. 10, while junior forward Tate Stensgaard hurt his wrist against North Dakota State on Feb. 1.

Fuller started off league play slow averaging only 5.0 points per game and shooting just 30 percent (9-of-30) from the field through the first five league games but shot 47.3 percent from the floor (78-of-165) and averaged a team-high 17.2 points over the final 12 games. During that same time Fuller has also grabbed 4.2 rebounds, dished out 2.5 assists, and shot 40.7 percent (24-of-59) from long range.

WIU is 14-42 (.250) on the road since the beginning of the 2011-12 season, and 1-26 (.037) in the last two seasons.

PREDICTION

UW returns just 38 percent of its minutes played from last season, but welcomes back a pair of preseason All-Big Ten selections in Hayes and Koenig. Hayes was 9th in the AP Preseason All-American voting. The Badger duo are also on the watch lists for the Julius Erving Award (Hayes) and Bob Cousy Award (Koenig), given to the nation’s top small forward and point guard, respectively.

Those two should be able to handle a lot of the burden early on with Wisconsin’s young roster getting some seasoning. Playing three games over the next five days will push the group, but all games are at home against teams UW are easily better than on paper.

The Badgers have won their last 12 openers by an average of 28.2 points per game, including a 62-31 win over Northern Kentucky last season. Expect something similar tonight, as Wisconsin wins by 29.

Worgull's 14-15 Record: 37-3

Points off Prediction: 277 (6.9 per game)


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