Wisconsin looks to upend Penn State for the eighth straight time

Fresh off its biggest win of the season, Wisconsin hits the road in conference play to take on Penn State tonight at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College. BadgerNation analyzes the matchup.

Wisconsin (10-9, 2-4 Big Ten) vs, Penn State (11-8, 2-4 Big Ten)  

Date/Time – Thursday, January 21, 7 p.m. central

Arena – Bryce Jordan Center (15,271)

Television – Big Ten Network (Jeff Levering and Shon Morris)

Radio – Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Wisconsin leads 33-10 (Wisconsin leads 14-7 in State College, PA)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 55-47, on February 18, 2015, in State College

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, 11.6 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Junior Guard, 14.3 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Junior Forward, 8.5 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

5 Aaron Moesch (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 0.6 ppg)

11 Jordan Hill (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 2.4 ppg)

15 Charlie Thomas (6-8 Freshman Forward, 3.4 ppg)

21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Freshman Forward, 3.1 ppg)

24 Alex Illikainen (6-9 Freshman Forward, 2.5 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

The conference co-freshman of the week, Happ leads the Big Ten with six doubles-doubles on the season and leads UW in steals (25) and blocks (21). Happ had 14 points, eight boards and scored the game-winning basket with 10.2 seconds remaining in the win over Michigan State.

PENN STATE PROBABLE STARTERS

0 Payton Banks (6-6 Sophomore Forward, 10.8 ppg)

10 Brandon Taylor (6-6 Senior Forward, 16.4 ppg)

32 Jordan Dickerson (7-1 Senior Center, 3.1 ppg)

33 Shep Garner (6-1 Sophomore Guard, 14.3 ppg)

44 Julian Moore (6-10 Sophomore Forward, 4.5 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

1 Deividas Zemgulis (6-6 Freshman Forward, 3.4 ppg)

3 Devin Foster (6-2 Senior Guard, 3.6 ppg)

5 Donovon Jack (6-9 Senior Forward, 4.5 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Although averaging just 16.5 minutes over the last two games, Jack is averaging 13 points and 6.5 rebounds. In the win at Northwestern, Jack finished with a season and Big Ten career high 14 points and 9 rebounds.

LAST TIME OUT

MADISON – Ethan Happ delivered the play to finally get Wisconsin over the hump, hitting a reversed layup with 10.2 seconds left to lift the Badgers to a 77-76 victory over No.4 Michigan State at the Kohl Center.

“We’ve been on the wrong side … and we’ve had a couple tough losses in a row,” said Happ. “To beat a team like Michigan State, a tough team like Michigan State, it was really joyful to share that with my teammates.”

Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig combined to score a combined 51 points to help Wisconsin snap out of its three game conference losing streak and show that the defending Big Ten champions still have some fight, especially its two seasoned veterans.

Koenig shot above 40 percent for the first time since Jan.2 and scored a career-high 27 points, including a handful of deep 3-pointers in the face of Spartans senior guard Denzel Valentine, who simply threw up his hands as if to say “what could I do?”

“Koenig is a Spartan killer,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo of Koenig, whose 3-pointer with 26.8 seconds left cut the deficit to 76-75. “He did the same thing in the Big Ten tournament that he did today.”

An outspoken critic of Wisconsin following Tuesday’s 70-65 loss at Northwestern, Hayes used harsh words to describe the play of himself, his teammates and vowed it would improve. Stewing on the loss for four days, Hayes delivered with 25 points (7-for-14 shooting) and seven rebounds.

But it was Happ who was the hero by shaking off a pair of turnovers and two missed free throws down the stretch to hit the winning bucket, a shot that came after initially bobbling the pass from Koenig and sticking with it with Matt Costello towering over him.

All the things that had crippled Wisconsin at points this season - not strong enough on the glass, not enough scoring contributors and not enough plays in crunch time – started to evaporate against a Michigan State team that has beaten everybody on its schedule not named Iowa.

Wisconsin scored 10 points on its final four possessions from four different sources, out rebounded Michigan State, 6-3, over the final four minutes and had Happ and Khalil Iverson force a critical turnover – trapping junior Eron Harris in front of UW’s bench and seeing him step out of bounds – to set up Happ’s winner.

Wisconsin had been 1-5 in one-possession games, including 0-3 at home.

“We were just a little bit better in possessions,” said head coach Greg Gard. “Did we play any differently? No. We’re still trying to do the same things, but we were a little bit better in terms of how we executed at certain times. We’re far from perfect, but we’re stepping in the right direction.”

The Spartans (16-3, 3-3) had two leads of at least four points in the final 2:10 after Valentine (23 points) hit repeated tough right-handed hook shots in the lane. Michigan State scored 34 points in the paint, compared to just 20 for Wisconsin, but the free throw line made the difference.

Wisconsin went 29-for-36 (80.6 percent), including 7-for-7 from Koenig, 9-for-10 from Hayes and 8-for-13 from Happ, while Michigan State went only 12-for-16 (75 percent). One of those misses was by Valentine with 2:10 remaining on MSU’s last attempt. In the loss to Northwestern, UW went just 10-for-13 from the line.

LAST MEETING

STATE COLLEGE, PA. - Sam Dekker dominated an ugly shooting night on both sides by scoring a career-high 22 points, helping No.5 Wisconsin maintain its healthy Big Ten advantage with a 55-47 victory over Penn State at the Bryce Jordan Center.

On a night where Wisconsin shot 39.2 percent from the field and 5-for-22 from 3-point range, Dekker was the steady influence. He scored 13 points in the first half, scoring three buckets (two dunks) by slashing to the basket and hit a pair of 3-point shots, scored four points on an 8-2 run to start the second half and helped limit Penn State’s frontcourt – Brandon Taylor and Jordan Dickerson – to nine points on 4-for-11 shooting.

On UW’s nine game winning streak, Dekker has increased his points per game from 12.3 to 13.4 per game, including scoring at least 20 points in two of the last three games.

Despite going 4-for-12 from the field and missing eight for his last nine shots, senior Frank Kaminsky grinded out 16 points by going 7-for-8 from the free throw line. Nigel Hayes added nine points and a game-high 13 rebounds, including five on the offensive boards that led to 10 second-chance points.

That production made up for a night where UW’s starting guards – Josh Gasser and Bronson Koenig – combined to go 3-for-15 and 1-for-10 from 3-point range.

Senior guard D.J. Newbill lived up to his billing as a dynamite scorer – finishing with 29 points on 13-for-21 shooting – but got little help from his teammates. Only four other Penn State players scored, none above seven points, and the Nittany Lions bench – averaging 19.7 points – had only one 3-point field goal.

Shep Garner and Geno Thorpe, who combined for 22 points in Wisconsin’s 89-72 victory in Madison New Year’s Eve, went just 3-for-15.

SERIES NOTES

This marks the only regular-season meeting between UW and PSU.

The Badgers have won the last seven meetings with the Nittany Lions, including a home-and-home season sweep last season.

Wisconsin has won four straight at Penn State and 10 of the last 11 meetings.

UW has won 20 of the last 22 against PSU overall. Penn State’s last win over the Badgers came in the 2011 Big Ten Tournament.

UW has won 20 straight games vs. PSU when scoring at least 60 points. The Badgers’ last loss to PSU when scoring at least 60 was a 76-61 setback in 2000 under then-head coach Dick Bennett

WISCONSIN NOTES

Wisconsin is 39-12 (.765) away from home over the last two seasons, including a mark of 21-2 last year (10-2 on the road and 11-1 in neutral).

Including the win over No. 4 MSU, Wisconsin has won seven of its last 10 games against teams ranked in the AP top five dating back to 2013. During that same span, no other Big Ten team has a winning record or posted more than five wins over the AP top five.

Hayes is averaging 16.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and a team-high 3.6 assists per game. He has dished 69 assists with just 41 turnovers (1.7 ratio). He leads the Big Ten in both FTs (105) and FTAs (141) and is one of just two Big Ten players averaging at least 15.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 3.5 apg.

Koenig ranks second on the Badgers and 12th in the Big Ten averaging 14.2 ppg while shooting 40.6% from the field and 38.0 percent (46-121) from 3-point range. The junior is hitting an average of 2.4 triples per game (fifth in the Big Ten).

PENN STATE NOTES

Penn State is playing without freshman standout Josh Reaves, as it was announced he has mono prior to the Michigan State game and is estimated he will miss about three weeks of action. Reaves saw action in the first 17 games of the season, starting 14 and averaging 6.4 ppg. He is second on the team in both steals (22) and blocks (17).

Brandon Taylor is one of just five players in the Big Ten to rank in the Top 15 of both scoring (7th) and rebounding (15th), joining Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Nebraska’s Andrew White III and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes.

The Nittany Lions are 7-0 when holding their opponents below 70 points this season. Opponents average 61.8 points in PSU wins with Penn State outscoring them by 8.1 points.

Penn State is 8-2 this season in games separated by nine or fewer points. Last season, the Nittany Lions had 24 of 34 games decided by single-digits with the team going 13-11 in those contests (8-1 in non-conference play).

PREDICTION

Can Wisconsin build on prosperity?

UW had a tremendous overtime road win at No.14 Syracuse and came back with a nice home win at Temple but promptly dropped back-to-back home games to Milwaukee and Marquette. It’s been such an inconsistent year that the Badgers have yet to win three games in a row.

But the win over No.4 Michigan State Sunday comes at a critical juncture for Wisconsin. UW has battled through some heartache but have taken its bumps, had its younger players learn about the league’s physicality and started to embrace its identity.

The Badgers have left points in the paint and at the free throw line this season, which have resulted in the close losses. UW’s DNA this needs has to include those two areas to win games, as the Badgers are a prolific 3-point shooting team. UW got outscored by 14 points in the lane against the Spartans but outscored the Spartans by 17 from the free throw line and had only six turnovers.

“A turnover is a big thing, it’s a chance we don’t get a shot at the basket,” said Gard. “We gave up about 1.33 points per possession for the first half and 1.25 for the game. Defensively we have some things we need to shore up, but how did we give up this many points and still have a chance to win at the end? There were two answers – we didn’t turn the ball over and we shot a lot of free throws. Those things can help make up the difference.”

It appeared it was good timing by UW to bring out the football pads in practice last week and smack the players on drives to the hoop; a drill designed to help simulate contact and finish through contact. And while Penn State doesn’t have the reputation that Michigan State does, the Nittany Lions have traditionally played the Badgers physical.

Nine of the last 10 meetings between Penn State and Wisconsin have been decided by 10 or fewer points, and the Nittany Lions’ success this season is largely dependent on their defense. Eight of Penn State’s 11 wins this season have come when holding opponents below 40 percent shooting. One of those wins came at Northwestern – the same Wildcat team that knocked off the Badgers last Tuesday. Penn State shot 33 free throws, held Northwestern to 3-for-26 from 3-point range and out muscled them the Cats in multiple areas Saturday.

“Penn State was really physical in that game, which is how we need to be and how we need to play,” said Gard. “They have some experience now. They had a 13-point lead at Maryland with six minutes to go, had a couple issues with the press and let the crowd get into it.”

Penn State also has a cavernous atmosphere that’s usually half full, meaning the Badgers will have to generate their own energy instead of having it provided to them by the crowd. One could argue that played an impact on UW in the small Welsh-Ryan Arena last week.

“We’re going to have to play very well (to win),” said Gard.

Prior to this season, the last time UW was .500 in January was during the 2001-02 season. That year, a win over a ranked MSU team sparked a run of wins in 10 of the final 13 Big Ten games to win the conference championship. I’m not saying UW is going to win a conference title, but these are the kind of games UW needs to win to start being taken seriously as contenders instead of a team that plays hard.

While I can easily see UW falling back to earth, I believe the Badgers can parlay their momentum into a modest winning streak. UW will take advantage of Penn State not having Reaves and will win by seven.

Worgull's Record: 13-6

Points off Prediction: 200 (10.5 per game)


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