Wisconsin and Rutgers meet at a neutral site for the first time since 1949

No.15 Wisconsin heads to Madison Square Garden for the second straight season, this time to face last-place Rutgers Saturday afternoon. BadgerNation breaks down the match-up.

No.15 Wisconsin (17-3, 6-1 Big Ten) vs. Rutgers (12-9, 1-7 Big Ten)

Date/Time – Saturday, January 28, 11 a.m. central

Arena – Madison Square Garden in New York City (19,812)

Television – Big Ten Network (Kevin Kugler, Jon Crispin and Rick Pizzo)

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

Series – Wisconsin leads 5-1 (Wisconsin leads 1-0 in neutral sites)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 72-52, on December 27, 2016, in Madison

WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Zak Showalter (6-3 Senior Guard, 8.0 ppg)

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Senior Forward, 13.7 ppg)

22 Ethan Happ (6-10 Sophomore Forward, 13.7 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-2 Senior Guard, 14.6 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Senior Forward, 8.0 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

0 D'Mitrik Trice (6-0 Freshman Guard, 6.1 ppg)

15 Charles Thomas (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 2.9 ppg)

21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Sophomore Forward, 4.5 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Brown scored a season-high 16 points (6-for-8) and six rebounds in Tuesday’s win over Penn State. On the season, Brown is shooting 34.2 percent from 3-point range, hitting 25-of-73 from downtown.

RUTGERS PROBABLE STARTERS

0 Nigel Johnson (6-1 Junior Guard, 11.4 ppg)

3 Corey Sanders (6-2 Sophomore Guard, 12.5 ppg)

11 Eugene Omoruyi (6-6 Freshman Forward, 2.2 ppg)

33 DeShawn Freeman (6-7 Junior Forward, 11.4 ppg)

34 C.J. Gettys (7-0 Senior Center, 7.9 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

5 Mike Williams (6-2 Junior Guard, 9.5 ppg)

21 Candido Sa (6-9 Junior Forward, 4.0 ppg)

32 Ibrahima Diallo (6-10 Sophomore Center, 1.3 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Scoring in double figures in 36 of 48 career games, Sanders is averaging 18.8 points over last four games and ranks fifth in B1G in steals (1.5).

LAST TIME OUT

MADISON – For the fourth straight game No.15 Wisconsin shot over 50 percent from the field in the second half, finding a rhythm offensively and providing a stiffer test defensively to turned a three-point halftime lead into an 82-55 victory at the Kohl Center.

Koenig (20 points), Brown (16) and Happ (14, eight rebounds) all reached double figures for the Badgers, which kept pace with Maryland at the top of the Big Ten conference by shooting 55.6 percent in the second half to beat the Nittany Lions (11-10, 3-5) for the ninth straight time.

Playing against a team that rotated in two freshmen forwards, Wisconsin used its experience in the low post to finish plus-14 on the glass, plus-9 in second-chance points and had a 28-10 edge in points in the paint. When the Badgers weren’t making field goals they were making free throws. Leading at the break based largely on making more free throws (10) than Penn State attempted (four), UW finished 21-for-29 from the line, while Penn State finished 8-for-12.

The final margin was Wisconsin’s biggest over Penn State since 2003 but didn’t appear headed that way through 20 minutes.

A young team playing with a lot of spunk and toughness, Penn State played a near perfect opening 20 minutes offensively with its shot making, ball movement and transition opportunities. Thirteenth in the conference in scoring offense and field goal percentage, Penn State hit seven of its first 11 shots, shot 52.2 percent (12 of 23) and went 6 of 10 from 3-point range.

The final box score lists only four fast-break points for Penn State in the first half. By Gard’s count there was 13.

“We emphasis that quite heavily,” head coach Greg Gard said. “We had to recheck ourselves at halftime a little bit.”

With some self-policing in the locker room, a big benefit of having a veteran-laden team, the Nittany Lions cooled down, missing 11 of their first 13 shots and shot just 26.9 percent (7 of 26). More importantly, Wisconsin gave up zero transition points in the final 20 minutes by making the Nittany Lions settle for tougher looks in their base offense.

It also helped that the Badgers – more often than not – put the ball in the bucket. On a 13-2 run to begin the second half, Wisconsin pounded the paint and used good ball movement to knock down a pair of 3-pointers to take control of the game.

SERIES NOTES

UW and Rutgers have met once previously at a neutral setting, a 68-55 Wisconsin win in Iowa City, Iowa in 1949.

The Badgers are 2-1 against Rutgers since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten.

Wisconsin participated in the 2015 2K Classic at the World's Most Famous Arena, suffering a 71-61 loss to Georgetown before knocking off VCU, 74-73. Koenig hit the game-winning shot against VCU on a spinning, left-handed lay-in with 5.9 seconds left.

Wisconsin also played in the previous building known as Madison Square Garden (closed in 1968) five times, going 3-2. UW went 1-1 in the 1947 N.C.A.A. tournament, losing to City College of NY in the semifinals and beating Navy in the third-place game. UW also went 2-1 in the 1961 ECAC Holiday Festival, beating Providence and Dayton and losing to Cincinnati.

It will mark the 100th game for the Scarlet Knights at the current (since Feb. 1968) Madison Square Garden, where they have won two straight and three of their last four to help comprise a 45-54 record. Overall at MSG since 1949, Rutgers is 51-56 with a 3-20 mark against ranked opponents.

LAST MEETING

MADISON – Nearly a year after scoring a career high against the Scarlet Knights, Showalter came up big again for No.14 Wisconsin with 18 points in the Badgers’ 72-52 victory at the Kohl Center.

Hayes scored a game-high 20 points (10-for-10 free throws) for Wisconsin (12-2, 1-0 Big Ten), which extended its winning streak to eight games and won its Big Ten opener for the 13th time in the last 14 years.

Showalter was an efficient 6-for-10 while adding four steals and three assists.

“In these types of games he thrives,” Gard said of Showalter. “He likes the physicality, he likes the mix it up, stick your nose in, get knocked around, knock some people around. He’s always been a guy that’s really thrived in that type of game.”

After averaging 6.4 points in the first 10 games of the season, Showalter is averaging 12.5 points on 60.7 percent shooting (17 of 28) over the last four games.

On a night where things were choppy on offense and ball security was sloppy, Showalter appeared to be the one constant on both ends of the floor.

Wisconsin missed five 3-pointers, five free throws and committing five turnovers in the first half, but the Badgers jumped all over Rutgers (11-3, 0-1) with defense. Wisconsin forced eight of its 10 steals in the opening 20 minutes, including four in the first four minutes, 20 seconds to jump out to an 8-2 lead.

Showalter had two of the steals, leading a pair of fast breaks that he finished off with a bounce pass to Happ (10 points) for a dunk and another he cashed in himself.

Rutgers started 2 of 17 from the field with seven turnovers in first 19 possessions. Although getting 17 offensive rebounds, Rutgers managed only 18 second-chance points and shot 30.6 percent. Rutgers also committed 15 turnovers that led to 18 Wisconsin points.

WISCONSIN NOTES

Gard is the fastest to 30 wins of any Wisconsin head coach in the N.C.A.A. tournament era (since 1938-39). All-time, only Naismith Hall of Famer Walter Meanwell (30-1, 1911-13) reached 30 wins quicker than Gard.

Koenig is shooting 57.5 percent from 3-point range (23-for-40) during Big Ten play, averaging 3.3 triples per B1G game.

Hayes enters the weekend as the only player in the Big Ten averaging at least 13.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg and 3.0 apg per game this season.

Happ is the only player in the N.C.A.A. averaging at least 13.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.5 spg and 1.0 bpg

RUTGERS NOTES

Rutgers is fourth nationally in rebounds-per-game (42.14), 19th in rebound margin (plus-7.3), 16th in blocks (5.6) and 23rd in field goal percentage defense (39.3).

Johnson has started 11 straight games and has scored in double-digits a team-best 15 times.

Williams leads the team with 29 made three-pointers (33.3 percent).

Averaging 16.0 minutes in conference games with two starts, Sa has team-high 25 blocks, ranking 11th in the Big Ten (1.2).

PREDICTION

There was apparently a heated locker room debate following Wisconsin’s victory over Penn State Tuesday involving the play of Khalil Iverson, a conversation that had no wrong answer.

Quiet for the last three games and throughout the first half against the Nittany Lions, Iverson delivered three critical plays in a four-possession stretch in the second half that gave the Badgers a lift to the finish line.

It’s well documented what Iverson can do above the rim, evident by him elevating on a Koenig’s inbounds pass for a two-handed slam, but the vote in the locker room was Iverson’s steal two possessions later, diving on the floor and starting a fast break that Trice cashed in with a layup.

“I said it was the dive for the floor,” Gard said of his pick in the debate. “Even though it was after the dunk, that (dive) energized him and energized us. Those are things he can do. He athletically can create a lot of havoc defensively.”

Iverson hasn’t been asked to carry much of the scoring this season, not with the Badgers returning their entire starting lineup from a year ago. So while Iverson has only scored on double figures four times this season, and none over the last nine games, the sophomore sticks to his role of coming off the bench to provide energy.

With his head coach saying he’s fueled by positive-energy plays as much as anybody on the team, Iverson is fourth on the team in rebounds per conference game (3.1), fourth in steals (five) and tied for third with three blocks.

“I know my role coming off the bench,” Iverson said. “That’s to make the little plays, get rebounds, play defense. I think the dive on the floor gave us a little spark.”

Over the last four games, Wisconsin could use some sparks in the first half. While the Badgers have shot 50 percent from the field in the second half of the last four games (and over 50 percent in overtime last Saturday at Minnesota), Wisconsin has been unable to start games in rhythm, shooting less than 42 percent in each of the last three outings.

Brown said that’s two stellar halves is the main emphasis going into the weekend, and Gard pointed to playing UW’s brand of basketball to snap that skid.

“I don’t think there’s any magical potion to be able to play two halves consistently,” he said. “I think that’s the word I’ve used more than anything. How can we be more consistent? It’s just one possession at a time.”

A slow start could be trouble for Wisconsin. Although the Scarlet Knights were an ugly 11-for-29 in the first half against Maryland Tuesday, Rutgers shot 52 percent in the first half at Indiana and 44 percent in its lone conference win against Nebraska. The Scarlet Knight’s physical brand has helped them average 32.7 points in the paint over the last three games, so an interior presence will be critical for Wisconsin.

The Badgers will also need to be cautious of Williams, who has seen his scoring average dip 2.6 points over the last six games. Williams has only made 6 of his last 32 field goal attempts, which includes 0-for-12 from 3-point range. In fact Williams has made more turnovers (nine) than field goals in his slump, so it’s only a matter of time for him to start finding his rhythm again.

Another matchup to watch is Koenig trying to create space on Sanders, who held him to 3-for-10 shooting and eight points in the first meeting. Sanders has a knack for getting good shooters off their game, as he has held Penn State’s Shep Garner, Iowa’s Peter Jok, Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh, Indiana’s James Blackmon and Nebraska’s Tai Webster all below their season averages and very few quality looks (and makes) from 3-point range.

Wisconsin hasn’t played Rutgers on the East Coast since 2015, when the Scarlet Knight delivered a shocking upset to the fourth-ranked Badgers. Even with some possible advantage in Rutgers’ favor, I’d be surprised if it happened again.

Expect Wisconsin to come out firing early on and put together a solid performance on both ends of the court to earn an 18-point road win.

Worgull's Record: 18-2

Points off Prediction: 168 (8.4 per game)

 


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