Date/Time – Sunday, January 31, 6:30 p.m. central
Arena – State Farm Center (17,287)
Television – Big Ten Network (Steve Physioc and Shon Morris)
Radio – Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)
Series – Illinoia leads 110-83 (Illinois leads 68-24 in Champaign, Ill.)
Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 68-49, on February 15, 2015, in Madison
WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS
3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Junior Guard, 7.5 ppg)
10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Junior Forward, 17.0 ppg)
22 Ethan Happ (6-9 Freshman Forward, 12.6 ppg)
24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Junior Guard, 13.5 ppg)
30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Junior Forward, 8.4 ppg)
OFF THE BENCH
5 Aaron Moesch (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 0.6 ppg)
11 Jordan Hill (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 2.7 ppg)
15 Charlie Thomas (6-8 Freshman Forward, 3.2 ppg)
21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Freshman Forward, 2.8 ppg)
24 Alex Illikainen (6-9 Freshman Forward, 2.7 ppg)
PLAYER TO WATCH
Off a career-high 25 points vs. Indiana, Happ leads the Big Ten in doubles-doubles (7), ranks third among freshman in scoring (12.6 ppg) and second in rebounding (8.3 rpg).
ILLINOIS PROBABLE STARTERS
1 Jaylon Tate (6-3 Junior Guard, 2.6 ppg)
5 Jalen Coleman-Lands (6-3 Freshman Guard, 9.0 ppg)
21 Malcolm Hill (6-6 Junior Guard, 18.3 ppg)
25 Kendrick Nunn (6-3 Junior Guard, 17.9 ppg)
OFF THE BENCH
3 Khalid Lewis (6-3 Senior Guard, 3.5 ppg)
22 Maverick Morgan (6-10, Junior Center, 6.3 ppg)
23 Aaron Jordan (6-5 Freshman Guard, 4.1 ppg)
PLAYER TO WATCH
Hill leads the Fighting Illini in total points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots on the season. He is one of just three players nationally to lead his team in all of those categories, joined by LSU's Ben Simmons and Florida A&M's Malcolm Bernard.
LAST TIME OUT
MADISON – Nigel Hayes went 17-for-22 from the free throw line to give him 31 points in Wisconsin’s 82-79 overtime victory over No.19 Indiana in front of a raucous sold-out Kohl Center crowd Tuesday.
Freshman Ethan Happ contributed a career-high 25 points to go along with eight rebounds, four steals and two blocks, while sophomore Jordan Hill also set a new career-high with 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting in 32 minutes off the bench.
The win gives Wisconsin (12-9, 4-4 Big Ten) its first three game winning streak of the season and starts to finally make them look like a N.C.A.A. tournament team in the process. Make no mistake they have a long way – and a lot of wins – to go before getting back on the bubble, but Hayes and Co. delivered in a game it had to have.
“What’s so neat about this team is they’ve come together,” said head coach Greg Gard, who commended his team for finding a way despite 16 turnovers resulting in 21 Indiana points. “The chemistry and the culture in the locker room has grown tighter and tighter over the last five weeks. I don’t know if we be in position to be able pull something like this out six-eight weeks ago.”
The belief in close games hasn’t always been there. Before Jan.17, Wisconsin was 2-7 in games decided by six points or less, including a three game conference skid that started with a 59-58 setback at Indiana Jan.5. That game Hayes shot 3-for-13 from the floor, 8-for-11 from the free throw line and couldn’t deliver the little plays late.
Those now seem to be a thing of the past, especially now that the Badgers are getting to the free throw line. After averaging 14 free throws through its first five Big Ten games, Wisconsin went 29-for-36 in the one-point win over No.4 Michigan State, 22-for-35 in the six-point road win at Penn State and 28-for-37 Tuesday.
The critical moments in the game are too numerous to mention, but always seemed to involve either Hayes, Happ, Hill or Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell down the stretch
In overtime alone, Hayes had two offensive rebounds on the first offensive possession that led to free throws from Happ, scored six of UW’s 11 points and delivered on pesky defense throughout, including blanketing Farrell (team-high 30 points) at the end of regulation that led to a tough jump shot and the overtime session.
In the final minute of regulation and overtime, Hayes was a perfect 8-for-8.
Hill registered a block on OG Anunoby’s 3-pointer from the corner after Happ delivered a nasty baseline spin move to make 74-71 Wisconsin. He also hit 1-for-2 free throws with 12.2 seconds left to make it a two possession game after registering a key offensive rebounding following a Happ block.
Throughout the game Hill pestered Ferrell, who got his points, and made a critical play when he poked the ball away from the Indiana senior to engineer a Hayes’ 3-point play to make it 61-55 in the second half.
MADISON - Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin’s national player of the year candidate, got back to basics 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.
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.
Wisconsin has won eight straight over Illinois, the team’s longest-ever win streak vs. the Illini. After UW’s eight-game win streak, the Big Ten’s next-longest active win streak over Illinois is OSU (5).
Dating back to 2007, UW has won 15 of the last 19 meetings with Illinois. The Badgers have won six of eight in Champaign, Ill. during that stretch.
Wisconsin has won its last three trips to Champaign. The last time the Badgers did that was their first three trips to Illinois from 1906-08. UW has never won four straight in Champaign.
In this series, the first team to score 60 points is 26-1 over the last 13 seasons. The only loss was UW’s 71-64 comeback win on 1/20/07 (ILL led 60-57 with 5:07 left).
Wisconsin has held Illinois to 70 or fewer points in each of the last 21 matchups.
UW ranks second in the Big Ten, averaging 22.4 FTAs per game. Over the last three games, the Badgers have taken it to another level averaging 36.0 FTAs per game.
The Badgers have registered six RPI top-100 wins and four wins over the RPI top 50 this season. Among Big Ten teams, only Iowa (seven) has more top-100 wins.
Hayes is one of just two Big Ten players and one of six major conference players averaging at least 16.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 3.5 apg.
During the last 5:00 minutes of games (and overtime), Hayes is 42-for-49 (85.7 percent) from the free throw line this season.
Nunn and Hill are leading the charge for the Illini offensive attack, ranking as the highest-scoring duo in the Big Ten at 36.2 ppg. They are fifth nationally.
Illinois' turnover rate of 14.3 percent ranks fifth nationally, and the Illini rank 11th in the NCAA in fewest turnovers per game (10.1 avg.).
Illinois has made an average of 8.9 threes per game over the last 15 games (133), a vast improvement over the average of 6.5 made treys through the first six games (39). The Illini have hit at least nine treys 10 times during this stretch, including eight of the last 11 contests.
Illinois has seven newcomers who have all factored into the rotation this season. Together they have accounted for 51.8 percent of the team's minutes played, the highest number in the conference. Illinois is one of only two Big Ten teams with more than half of its minutes coming from newcomers (Nebraska):
Greg Gard is a walking, talking book of analogies. If the basketball job doesn’t work out, he could easily put together a desk calendar with a different saying for each day of the year.
One of his favorites, one that he has said multiple times to his Wisconsin basketball team, is make sure each player has two feet in the boat, two hands on an oar and are paddling in the right direction. Earlier in the season, it was easy to see that the ship was lost at sea. Now UW is starting to move swiftly in the right direction.
The Badgers are 5-4 since Gard assumed the head coaching duties on Dec. 15. Over that span, Wisconsin is shooting 45.1 percent (35.9 percent 3-point range) after hitting on just 41.2 percent (32.9 percent) in the 12 contests prior to him taking over. UW is averaging 75.0 ppg over its current three-game win streak.
Most importantly, they are winning big games and close games, having registered two of their four RPI top 50 wins in the last two weeks.
“The chemistry is growing,” said Gard. “We’ve had so many new guys that have had to step into roles this year. Whether they are new guys on campus or returning players who have changed roles, it takes a while for that cohesiveness to come together. I think they believe what we’re doing.”
The word “belief” can be applied to many outlets. From a veteran standpoint, Hayes doesn’t believe anybody can guard him in the Big Ten. He ranks among the top 13 in the Big Ten in all three major categories: points (fifth), rebounds (12th) and assists (13th). He is also fifth in the conference with 2.4 offensive rebounds per game. Over the last three games, his aggression with the basketball has caused him to be a frequent visitor to the free throw line. The conference leader in both FTs (126) and FTAs (170), Hayes is 30-for-39 (76.9 percent) on UW’s longest winning streak of the season.
From an inexperience standpoint, Wisconsin has seen Happ become more confident and remain aggressive, persevering even when things don’t go his way. Jordan Hill continues to improve now that he’s getting an opportunity on the court and is building consistency in practice, while Aaron Moesch is bringing mobility defensively, serving as a role model for UW’s young bench players. All of this combined has made UW look like a tournament team over the last two weeks.
Which tournament is now the question? Wisconsin certainly can’t earn a bid to the N.C.A.A. tournament in the next week, but the Badgers certainly can lose it if they drop any more ugly games, including tonight at Illinois. The Illini have a RPI of 102, not pretty, but an Illinois win would make it only the fifth-worst RPI loss on UW’s resume. No matter how hard UW tries, it won’t wipe away the stain of the one-possession home losses to Marquette (119), Milwaukee (153) and Western Illinois (300). WIU is 4-12 against division-1 competition and its best win after UW’s 69 RPI is Eastern Illinois’ 240 RPI.
Illinois doesn’t turn the ball over (only 10 miscues against Ohio State) but are inconsistent shooting the ball, having shot 40 percent or less from the field four times in conference play. As a result, Illinois has trailed by double digits in 13 games this season, including seven of its eight Big Ten games. It’s hard to win games when consistently digging such a deep hole.
Winning on the road is tough in Big Ten play, but Wisconsin is starting to play with some fire on both ends of the floor, while Illinois is floundering, giving up 75.7 points per game. If UW can take either Hill or Nunn out of their rhythm and continue playing with the aggressiveness that has led them to production in the low post and the free throw line, the Badgers will win this game by nine.
Worgull's Record: 15-6
Points off Prediction: 202 (9.6 per game)