Texas A&M Corpus Christi (8-2, 0-0 Southland) vs. Wisconsin (6-5, 0-0 Big Ten)
Date/Time – Tuesday, December 15, 8 p.m. central
Arena – Kohl Center (17,287)
Television – Big Ten Network (Brian Anderson and John Crispin)
Radio – Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)
Series – Wisconsin leads 1-0 (First meeting in Madison)
Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 76-63, on March 16, 2007, in Chicago
WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS
3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Junior Guard, 8.1 ppg)
10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Junior Forward, 16.3 ppg)
22 Ethan Happ (6-9 Freshman Forward, 10.8 ppg)
24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Junior Guard, 15.1 ppg)
30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Junior Forward, 9.8 ppg)
OFF THE BENCH
15 Charlie Thomas (6-8 Freshman Forward, 4.4 ppg)
21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Freshman Forward, 3.3 ppg)
24 Alex Illikainen (6-9 Freshman Forward, 2.0 ppg)
PLAYER TO WATCH
Koenig delivered with a game-winning basket with 5.9 seconds left against VCU but missed a jump shot that would have beat Milwaukee and shot 3-for-11 against Marquette. Koenig is 4-for-18 on 2-point shots in the last two losses.
TEXAS A&M CORPUS CHRISTI PROBABLE STARTERS
0 Brandon Pye (6-0 Senior Guard, 11.9 ppg)
1 Hameed Ali (6-2 Senior Guard, 8.0 ppg)
11 Jelani Currie (6-4 Senior Guard, 5.8 ppg)
23 Bryce Douvier (6-7 Senior Forward, 9.9 ppg)
25 Rashawn Thomas (6-8 Junior Forward, 16.2 ppg)
OFF THE BENCH
3 Joe Kilgore (6-5 Sophomore Forward, 8.2 ppg)
4 Ehab Amin (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 5.6 ppg)
31 Viktor Juricek (6-11 Senior Center, 3.1 ppg)
PLAYER TO WATCH
A second-team all-conference selection last season, Thomas leads the Islanders in points, rebounds (8.9) and blocks (2.6). He’s committed at least four fouls eight times this season, including fouling out four times. Before fouling out Saturday against UT-San Antonio, he scored 30 points on 11-for-19 shooting.
LAST TIME OUT
MADISON – Battling back from a 14-point deficit to tie the game twice in the final 90 seconds, a valiant late effort by the Badgers couldn’t clean up all the problems that ultimately led to a 57-55 defeat at the hands of in-state rival Marquette.
The losses are starting to pile up for Wisconsin and conference play is still two weeks away. Instead of enhancing their resume, the Badgers (6-5) have lost consecutive non-conference games for the first time since 2011, lost at least two games to in-state opponents under Ryan and dropped consecutive non-conference home games for the first time since 1990-91.
“We’re not going to hang our heads after this game, but just go back to the drawing board and see what we could have done better,” said junior Vitto Brown, who finished with a career-high 15 points. “We’ll apply it to the next game. We don’t look at it as we lost two in a row (and) we’re done now.”
UW put four players in double figures, including the first career double-double by Zak Showalter (10 points, 10 rebounds), but the key cogs of UW’s lineup were off its marks.
Three days after scoring a career-high 32 points, Nigel Hayes – plagued by the Golden Eagles’ best perimeter defender in Sandy Cohen - scored just 10 points. Finishing 4-for-18, it’s the fifth straight game the junior preseason All-American has missed at least nine shots.
Bronson Koenig was no better, scoring only eight points on 3-for-11 shooting. In UW’s six wins this season, the junior is 38-for-70 (54.3 percent). In the five losses he’s 20-for-72 (27.8 percent).
After coming undone in the second half in its loss to Milwaukee, Wisconsin was thoroughly dominated, although the final score didn’t always indicate it.
Marquette out ran Wisconsin in transition (17-2 in fast-break points), crushed them in low-post production (36-16) and locked the Badgers down offensively.
Wisconsin hit 2 of its final 14 shots in the first half, including only one point on its final seven possessions of the first half, and came out punch less in the second half by misfiring on 13 of its first 17 shots.
Marquette’s young squad, with three freshmen in the starting lineup, was fairly steady throughout, using its length inside with the 6-11 Ellenson (15 points, 11 rebounds) and the 6-11 Fischer (11 points, 8 rebounds) to shoot 52.2 percent.
Despite shooting 20 more field goal attempts, Wisconsin shot just 36.4 percent and went only 1-for-4 from the free throw line.
UW scored nine points on in five possessions to tie the game at 53 with 1:29 left. Ellenson’s paint jumper swung the lead back to Marquette until Hayes’ jumper tied the score at 55 with 51 seconds left.
The Badgers would get no closer. The Badgers failed to box out Fischer following an Ellenson miss, allowing him the easy tip-in with 27 seconds left.
And to perfectly encapsulate the day, Hayes airballed a layup and a 3-pointer on the next possession and the Badgers failed to box out Fischer after Haanif Cheatham missed the front end of the bonus when UW was forced to foul, allowing the Golden Eagles to practically bleed out the rest of the clock.
CHICAGO – Watching the Islanders build an 18-point lead in the first half, the Badgers were able to slowly chip away at a seemingly insurmountable lead thanks to seniors Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor scoring a combined 47 points. Their production helped Wisconsin avoid the disastrous N.C.A.A. tournament opening round upset with a 76-63 victory over Texas A&M Corpus Christi.
To say Wisconsin (30-5) came out of the starting gates slow would be a vast understatement. TAMU-CC (26-7) started off on a 10-0 run and never looked back in the first half, pushing their lead to as big as 25-7 and got the crowd squarely behind the underdogs. While the Islanders were connecting on their shot attempts, shooting as high as 53 percent in the game’s first 20 minutes, the Badgers started 3-for-24 (12.5 percent), committed sloppy turnovers and could generate no rhythm on either end of the floor.
“They were doing some good things on offense and we weren’t clicking as a unit,” Tucker said. “I asked someone if they would take the lids off the basket.”
But just when things started to look the bleakest for the Badgers, they awoke from their startling slumber.
Just like the Big Ten Championship game when he didn’t score until 3:40 left in the first half, Tucker connected on his first bucket with 3:15 remaining in the opening half. From there, Tucker did what he does best, put the Badgers on his back and take control. Tucker scored Wisconsin’s next eight points, including a thunderous dunk to end the first half with Wisconsin down only 27-19.
Looking back, the steal by Taylor and the ensuing dunk was the igniting point that charged up Wisconsin’s offense.
“To end the first half, the way we were playing, on a steal and a dunk by Tuck, it lifted the team up,” Taylor said. “We wouldn’t have played any worse than we did in the first half. We just went into the locker room and stuck together.”
When Tucker went to the bench with 10:59 left, Taylor put on his own personal shooting clinic. His first bucket of the game – a three-point make from the corner – brought Wisconsin within three for the first time since the opening minutes. From there, Taylor did everything on his own, hitting a three to tie the game and a 16-foot jumper to give Wisconsin the lead for good.
In a span of just over two minutes, Taylor scored 11 straight Wisconsin points and scored all of his game-high 24 points in the second half, single-handedly giving his team control of the contest.
“It was one of those rare moments,” Taylor said. “I started to hit my first shot of the game and it just felt good from there. Tuck was basically the only one scoring for us and we needed someone else to step up.”
“I could tell his confidence rose at that point and I understood that because he’s a senior,” Tucker added. “Seniors play like this at this time.”
Wisconsin scored 57 points after halftime, their highest output for any half this season, after scoring a season-low 19 points in the first half.
“I am just glad that when they set this game up, they did it in halves,” UW coach Bo Ryan joked. “They won the first 15 pretty handily and we won the rest. How many teams could withstand that and still come back and do what our guys did? It’s nice to be on this end, it just took a while.”
Wisconsin is 4-0 against teams currently in the Southland Conference. The Badgers beat Nicholls, 86-43, last December.
Texas A&M Corpus-Christi will mark UW’s 6th top-100 opponent this season and the 10th top-150 foe. According to the Dec. 13 official NCAA RPI, no Big Ten team has faced as many top-150 teams as Wisconsin (9). Illinois (8) is the only other Big Ten school to have played more than 7 top-150 teams.
Wisconsin’s 5 losses have come against teams who are a combined 36-10 (.783): Oklahoma (7-0), Marquette (8-2), Western Illinois (7-2), Milwaukee (8-3), Georgetown (6-3).
ESPN.com’s BPI lists UW with the 17th-toughest schedule in the NCAA, trailing only Iowa (11th) among Big Ten teams.
In his 32nd season as a head coach, Bo Ryan is tied for 27th on the NCAA’s all-time wins list with a record of 746-233 (.762). Ryan needs just 1 win to pass the legendary Phog Allen (Kansas) on the NCAA ledger. Among active Div. I coaches, Ryan’s 746 wins rank 5th.
TEXAS A&M-CC NOTES
With eight seniors on the roster, there is only one team in the nation (Tulsa) that has more seniors on its roster than the Islanders.
After going 13-5 in league play, finishing in a tie for third place and playing in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, the Islanders were picked third in the Southland Conference Preseason Polls, behind defending champion Stephen F. Austin and Northwestern State.
Five Islanders are scoring at least eight points per game and five different players have led or tied for the team lead in scoring in nine games this season.
Pye is fifth all-time at A&M-Corpus Christi with 128 three-pointers made and fourth in the record books for three-point percentage with a career mark of .412.
Is your glass on Wisconsin basketball half full or half empty?
If the glass is half full, Wisconsin has played poorly for long stretches on both ends of the floor of its three home losses but have only lost said games by a combined five points, signaling that the Badgers aren't far off from fixing things. If it’s half empty, Wisconsin lost to three very beatable teams by not converting on a game-winning/tying shot in the closing seconds and were far from the most aggressive team.
Maybe those fans who couldn’t wait to run off Traevon Jackson and his four game-winning/tying shots are having regret?
Whatever way fans choose to look at it, the fact is the Badgers have lost more games in 11 outings than they did in 40 games last season, not to mention dropping consecutive nonconference home game for the first time since 1990-91 and three at home for since 1974-75.
And unfortunately for fans, there are few quick fixes. With four freshmen in the eight-man rotation, not to mention 60 percent of the starting lineup playing meaningful minutes for the first time, the Badgers simply need more games under their belt.
The same can’t be said for Texas A&M Corpus Christi, which has seven players who have started at least 24 games and four who have started at least 37. That veteran corps has done well shutting down a manageable schedule with its defense. The Islanders have held their last five opponents until 41 percent shooting and lead the Southland in scoring defense (66.7) and field goal percentage defense (36.9), the latter which ranks 16th in the nation.
The blueprint for beating Wisconsin is simple – double Hayes in the post and pressure Koenig on the perimeter. It’s a different way than both are used to being defended and the results show. Hayes is shooting 36.2 percent from the floor – the worst among the eight in the rotation – and has missed at eight shots in the last six games (nine overall). In the last five games for Koenig, he’s only shot above 33 percent once.
This is another game that Wisconsin no doubt would have won in past seasons. This year, I hate to say, it’s a tossup because UW is so inconsistent. I’m picking the Badgers to win by six tonight, but I wouldn’t be surprised if UW lost another one.
Worgull's Record: 6-5
Points off Prediction: 139 (12.6 per game)