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Wisconsin looks to win its 10th straight against Illinois tonight

Wisconsin continues its push toward an 18th straight N.C.A.A. appearance when it hosts Illinois at the Kohl Center Sunday night. BadgerNation breaks down the matchup.

Illinois (12-14, 4-9 Big Ten) vs. Wisconsin (16-10, 8-5 Big Ten)

Date/Time – Sunday, February 21, 5:30 p.m. central

Arena – Kohl Center (17,287)

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

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

Series – Illinois leads 110-84 (Wisconsin leads 56-39 in Madison)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 63-55, on January 31, 2016, in Champaign, Ill.

WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Junior Guard, 7.7 ppg)

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Junior Forward, 16.7 ppg)

22 Ethan Happ (6-9 Freshman Forward, 11.8 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Junior Guard, 13.4 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Junior Forward, 9.3 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

11 Jordan Hill (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 3.0 ppg)

15 Charlie Thomas (6-8 Freshman Forward, 2.7 ppg)

21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Freshman Forward, 2.7 ppg)

24 Alex Illikainen (6-9 Freshman Forward, 2.8 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Coming off 18 points at Michigan State Thursday, Happ ranks third in the Big Ten with seven doubles-doubles, ranks fifth in rebounding (7.8 rpg) and is third among Big Ten freshmen in scoring (11.8 ppg).

ILLINOIS PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Khalid Lewis (6-3 Senior Guard, 3.7 ppg)

5 Jalen Coleman-Lands (6-3 Freshman Guard, 9.8 ppg)

21 Malcolm Hill (6-6 Junior Guard, 18.5 ppg)

22 Maverick Morgan (6-10, Junior Center, 7.6 ppg)

25 Kendrick Nunn (6-3 Junior Guard, 16.5 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

0 D.J. Williams (6-7 Freshman Guard, 2.2 ppg)

1 Jaylon Tate (6-3 Junior Guard, 2.1 ppg)

23 Aaron Jordan (6-5 Freshman Guard, 3.7 ppg)

43 Michael Finke (6-10 Freshman Forward, 8.3 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Hill leads the Illini in scoring (18.5 ppg), rebounding (6.7 rpg) and assists (3.5 apg). He is joined by Michigan's Derek Walton as the only Big Ten players to lead their teams in all three categories this season

LAST TIME OUT

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Playing its second top 10 team on the road in a week, Wisconsin never found its rhythm offensively in an ugly 69-57 defeat to No.8 Michigan State, which led wire-to-wire and by as many as 22 points, at the Breslin Center – better known as UW’s new house or horrors.

Not only did it see its seven game winning streak, the longest in the nation among major conference teams, come to a crashing halt, Wisconsin dropped 2.5 games out of first place with five games to go and became one of five conference teams with five losses.

And while UW’s defense was marginal, it was mainly the offense that extended UW’s losing streak at the Breslin Center to nine.

Averaging 72.7 points on the winning streak, the Badgers were held to their lowest point total since Dec.29 after shooting only 33.9 percent.

Wisconsin beat Michigan State in mid-January by attacking the post and getting to the free throw line 36 times. This time the Badgers went only 11-for-17, settling for the long range jump shots that finally stopped falling. After making double-digit 3-pointers in three consecutive games, Wisconsin finished 6-for-20 from beyond the arc.

The team-wide shooting epidemic affected everybody to some degree but UW’s two leading scorers suffered the brunt of it.

Nigel Hayes – averaging 20.4 points per game on UW’s seven game winning streak – missed 12 of his 13 shots and finished with a season-low five points after getting hounded all night by the 6-10 Deyonte Davis and his cohorts.

Bronson Koenig – a player Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo dubbed “the Spartan killer” after his career-high 27 points Jan.17 – finished with 12. He scored UW’s first points, attempted only two more shots in the first half and didn’t attempt his first shot in the second half until there was 6:22 remaining.

Ethan Happ scored a team-high 18 points but became a footnote to Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine. Averaging 22.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists in the last eight contests, Valentine finished with 24 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.

Valentine is the only Big Ten player in the last 20 years to score at least 20 points with 10 assists in three straight games. Bryn Forbes added 17 points (4-for-8 from 3-point range) to help lead Michigan State (22-5, 9-5) to its sixth win in the last seven games.

Wisconsin went scoreless for 6:21 from the 18:55 mark to 12:34 in the first half, allowing the Spartans to jump out to a 14-3 lead and never looked back. A 24-10 run over an 11-minutes stretch in the second half sealed things for Michigan State, which led by as many as 22 in the final half.

LAST MEETING

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Chalk this one to resilience for the University of Wisconsin.

Struggling to get to the foul line and disjointed at times on offense with key personnel struggling with their shot or on the bench with foul trouble, the Badgers were able to mostly stick to the game plan in a 63-55 victory over Illinois at the State Farm Center.

Winning its ninth straight over the Illini, including a program-record fourth straight on the road, Wisconsin pushed its season-long winning streak to four and beat a team it had to beat to prevent further damage to its N.C.A.A. resume

Junior Nigel Hayes scored a team-high 17 points, including going 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the final minute. After attempting no free throws the first 29:33, Wisconsin finished the game 17-for-20 from the line.

“That obviously sealed the game but also won the game from a standpoint we were able to get to the bonus quicker,” said Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard. “We were a long ways from it in the first half. To be able to make more than they attempted (15) is always a good sign. That was a positive step.”

There weren’t many pretty things to pick out from the stat sheet for the Badgers. In addition to the lack of free throws, Wisconsin went just 2-for-14 from 3-point range, shot 6-for-19 (31.6 percent) in the second half and had only two players in double figures.

But Wisconsin had four players contribute between 8-and-11 points and UW’s improving defense held Illinois (10-12, 2-7) to just 18-for-50 (36 percent) from the floor.

With Vitto Brown (upper body) limited throughout the week, true freshman Khalil Iverson brought critical production. Averaging just 5.2 minutes over the last five games, Iverson played 14 minutes in the first half and contributed six points, three rebounds, two assists and a block.

In the second half he started getting Wisconsin to the foul line. Shooting 52 percent from the line entering the game, Iverson went 4-for-4 and finished with a career-high 10 points in 30 minutes.

And while he didn’t get the start for the first time all season, replaced in the starting lineup by sophomore guard Jordan Hill (his first career start), Brown scored nine points in 12 minutes.

Down by as many as eight in the first half, Wisconsin took control of the game on a 15-4 run, doing all of it with Ethan Happ (six points) on the bench and most of it with Bronson Koenig (11) sitting right next to him. UW never trailed after the 4:56 mark of the first half.

SERIES NOTES

Wisconsin has won nine straight over Illinois, the team’s longest-ever win streak vs. the Illini. That includes 5 consecutive wins in Madison. After UW’s nine-game win streak, the Big Ten’s next-longest active win streak over Illinois is Ohio State (five).

Dating back to 2007, UW has won 16 of the last 20 meetings with Illinois.

The first team to score 60 points in this series is 27-1 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 22 match-ups.

WISCONSIN NOTES

Wisconsin has won 32 consecutive games when scoring at least 70 points (12-0 this season).

Shooting 35.9 percent from deep and averaging 6.3 made 3FGs per game on the year, UW has gone 42-for-86 (.488) from long range over the last four games.

Since 2013-14, Wisconsin is an impressive 32-5 (.865) in the months of February and March, far and away the best mark in the Big Ten (MSU is second at 26-12).

Wisconsin has won its last four home games, improving its all-time record at the Kohl Center to 257-39 (.868), the fifth-highest active win percentage of any team in its home building.

ILLINOIS NOTES

Illinois has started 13 different lineups this season, but the Illini’s turnover rate of 14.4 percent ranks sixth nationally, and the Illini rank 15th in the NCAA in fewest turnovers per game (10.2 avg.).

Seven different Illini players have combined to miss a total of 77 games due to injuries and other circumstances so far this season. The only contest where Illinois has had its full roster available (not counting Tracy Abrams, who tore his ACL prior to the season) for the entirety of the game was the 72-58 victory over UAB on Nov. 27.

Illinois leads the Big Ten in free show shooting during league play at 77 percent, connecting on 194-of-252. Illinois led the conference in free throw shooting last year as well, making 81 percent in Big Ten games.

The Illini have increased their production from behind the arc in recent weeks. Illinois has made an average of 8.8 threes per game over the last 20 games (176), 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 13 times during this stretch, including 11 of the last 16 contests.

PREDICTION

How important is Hill to Illinois? Take a quick look at the Illinois’ media notes and you’ll get the answer.

A slew of injuries to the Illini this season has put a lot of the production pressure on Hill’s shoulders, causing him to put up some gaudy numbers. Cherry picking some of the stats:

*Hill has scored in double figures in all but one game this season. His streak of 29 straight games in double digits was snapped last Saturday at Northwestern (7 points). Hill began a new streak on Tuesday, scoring a game-high 22 points in the win over Rutgers.

*Hill currently ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring with an average of 18.5 points. His average is the highest by an Illini since Brian Cook led the Big Ten in scoring in 2003 (20.0 ppg).

*Hill has scored 20+ points 13 time this season, including six of the last 10 games. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 20.4 points (204).

*Hill leads the Big Ten and ranks 15th in the NCAA in made free throws (156). He is second in the conference (behind Nigel Hayes) and 24th nationally in free throw attempts (193).

*Hill has grabbed at least eight rebounds in six of the last seven games – reaching double figures four times – and is averaging 9.4 rpg over this stretch (66).

*Hill is averaging 5.0 assists over the last four games (20), led by a career-high eight assists last Saturday vs. Northwestern.

You get the point. Opposing teams can attack Illinois in one of two ways: make it extremely hard on Hill to generate production or make it extremely hard for the people around Hill to be productive. While still trying to make things challenging on Hill, UW choose option two earlier this year and it worked. Hill was 6-for-12 for a game-high 22 points and the rest of the roster was 12-for-38 (31.6 percent). UW employing a similar philosophy tonight should lead to success.

Regardless of what happened Thursday, Wisconsin is playing solid basketball and has turned things around at home, having won four straight and two against top 20 teams. The Badgers have owned the Illini and should bounce back strong in a game it has to win to avoid another ugly loss of their resume. UW wins by 16.

Worgull's Record: 19-7

Points off Prediction: 237 (9.1 per game)


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