Wisconsin did not appear to be the same team they showed over its seven game winning streak Thursday, as Michigan State was in control as soon as the ball was tipped. After being handled throughout their game two days ago, it will be interesting to see how the Badgers respond going into Sunday’s matchup against Illinois.
With the Badgers still firmly on the bubble, Illinois (12-14, 4-9 Big Ten) is a team Wisconsin has to beat. Since losing to Wisconsin three weeks ago, Illinois is 2-2 and is averaging 78.2 points during that stretch. However, the two wins came against Rutgers, which hasn’t won since Dec.28.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (16-10, 8-5) in order to pick up the regular season sweep against Illinois.
Lay Up: Winning the rebounding battle
As of late Wisconsin has done a better job of attacking the glass and consistently finding ways of winning the rebounding battle. Over the last five games Wisconsin has outrebounded three of its opponents, which includes beating Illinois on the glass by 12 in UW’s 63-55 road victory Jan.31. Although Wisconsin has been outrebounded seven times in 13 conference games, UW has averaged 34.4 rebounds over the last five games, up from its 31.2 rebound average.
Illinois allows its opponents to average 37.8 rebounds a game and have been out rebounded 10 times in Big Ten play. Ranking 12th in the Big Ten in rebounding defense, Illinois is giving up 40.1 rebounds in conference play, part of the reason the Illini allow 75.2 points per game. If Wisconsin can do a better job of being aggressive from the start, the Badgers should generate the second chances it needs to create the extra possessions they need in order to be successful.
Illinois has allowed opponents in Big Ten play to average 10.3 offensive rebounds and score 12.5 points off of second chance opportunities. In the first meeting, Wisconsin managed only seven second-chance points. Over the last four games, however, UW has registered double-digit offensive rebounds three times and have posted a combined 35 second-chance points against Maryland and Michigan State, suggesting that things are trending in the right direction.
Mid-Range Jumper: Preventing Illinois from striking an offensive balance
Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn combined to score 37 of Illinois’ 55 points in the first meeting on a combined 11-for-26 shooting from the field. If Wisconsin can contain those two, it should be able to prevent Illinois from creating the same kind of balance Michigan State had on offense.
Wisconsin held Illinois to 36 percent (18-for-50) shooting but Illinois shot 42.9 percent from 3-point range. Coming off of a performance where they allowed Michigan State to shoot 47.1 percent from the perimeter, Wisconsin will need to do a better job of communication switches, rotating and preventing simple catch and shoot opportunities.
Although Illinois ranks 10th in the Big Ten in field goal percentage (42.9 percent), the Illini rank fifth in 3-point field goal percentage (36.1 percent) and make 8.3 a game. Jalen Coleman-Lands leads Illinois in 3-point attempts with 160 but went 0-for-1 on Jan.31. Since then he’s made multiple threes in four straight games, averaging 4.5 makes on 10.5 attempts over that stretch.
Nunn is second on the team with 149 3-point attempts and Hill is third with 91. Wisconsin’s defense will try to keep Hill on the perimeter, as the junior is only making 33 percent of his 3-point shots. Forcing Hill to settle for jump shots instead of driving for the hoop is a win for the Badgers, as Hill is attempting 7.4 free throws per game to help him average a team-high 18.5 points per game.
Nigel Hayes will likely draw the defensive matchup against Hill and need to his length to prevent uncontested shots and pester him. Hill has committed multiple turnovers in 18 games this season, including three turnovers against Wisconsin.
3-Pointer: Re-establishing the three
Wisconsin’s hot shooting from three had to come to an end at some point, but the Badgers shooting 30 percent from 3-point range against Michigan State was the lowest since they shot 14.2 percent against Illinois. Wisconsin is shooting 35.9 percent from three on the season but has raised that number to 38 percent over Big Ten play.
If the Badgers play with better spacing on the floor then they did Thursday, Wisconsin will have a chance to get back on track. The Illini have struggled to defend the 3-point line this season, ranking 13th in the conference in allowing teams to shoot 37.5 percent. As a byproduct, Illinois is last in the conference in field goal percentage defense (46 percent).
Illinois played a 2-3 zone against Wisconsin in Champaign, and the Badgers had trouble busting it early, causing them to fall into an early deficit. UW should be better prepared for the 2-3 zone but have struggled this season shooting with consistency. When the offense gets the ball into the post and can draw attention, Wisconsin’s perimeter shooting improves with players finding wide-open spots and getting their feet set toward the rim. UW has struggled when it hoists quick shots or fires attempts in transition. One of the disadvantage of the 2-3 zone is it allows open spacing on the floor, meaning there will be opportunities for UW near the lane.
Coming off his worst shooting game of the season, Hayes needs to be in rhythm for Wisconsin to have success. Hayes was averaging 20.6 points in the five games prior to playing Michigan State and was helping the offense flow by leading the team with 3.3 assists a game. But Hayes has done well of setting his teammates up to find offensive success as when Wisconsin’s offense can play off of him it allows Hayes to find offensive success as well.