Date/Time – Saturday, January 31, 8 p.m. central
Arena – State Farm Center (15,544)
Television – Big Ten Network (Dave Revsine and Jon Crispin)
Radio –Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)
Series – Illinois leads 110-85 (Illinois leads 68-25 in Champaign)
Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 69-60, on February 21, 2016, in Madison
WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS
3 Zak Showalter (6-3 Senior Guard, 7.8 ppg)
10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Senior Forward, 13.4 ppg)
22 Ethan Happ (6-10 Sophomore Forward, 14.5 ppg)
24 Bronson Koenig (6-2 Senior Guard, 14.4 ppg)
30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Senior Forward, 7.8 ppg)
OFF THE BENCH
0 D'Mitrik Trice (6-0 Freshman Guard, 5.8 ppg)
15 Charles Thomas (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 2.9 ppg)
21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Sophomore Forward, 4.3 ppg)
PLAYER TO WATCH
The two-time reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, Happ was dominant vs. Rutgers at Madison Square Garden, becoming the first Big Ten player in over 20 years with at least 30 points, six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and 4 steals.
ILLINOIS PROBABLE STARTERS
3 Te'Jon Lucas (6-0 Freshman Guard, 4.1 ppg)
5 Jalen Coleman-Lands (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 8.7 ppg)
12 Leron Black (6-7 Sophomore Forward, 9.2 ppg)
21 Malcolm Hill (6-6 Senior Guard, 17.5 ppg)
22 Maverick Morgan (6-10 Senior Center, 10.2 ppg)
OFF THE BENCH
2 Kipper Nichols (6-6 Freshman Forward, 4.0 ppg)
13 Tracy Abrams (6-2 Senior Guard, 8.8 ppg)
33 Mike Thorne (6-11 Senior Guard, 5.4 ppg)
43 Michael Finke (6-10 Sophomore Forward, 7.3 ppg)
PLAYER TO WATCH
Hill is only four rebounds away from becoming just the fifth Illini player in school history – and the 11th active Divison I player – in the career 1,600-point/600-rebound club.
LAST TIME OUT
NEW YORK – Before heading to the victorious locker room, Wisconsin sophomore Ethan Happ got a standing ovation in the world’s most famous arena. It’s turning into that kind of season.
Wisconsin’s super sophomore was the star in the second annual Big Ten Super Saturday, scoring a career-high 32 points to lead No.15 Wisconsin to a 61-54 overtime victory over Rutgers in Madison Square Garden.
“That was something special,” Happ said, referring to his ovation. “I had to savour the moment. It was kind of like a curtain call. Whenever you get a curtain call in MSG, you’re not going to pass it up.”
With starters Vitto Brown (0-for-8), Nigel Hayes (2-for-7) and Bronson Koenig (2-for-13) ineffective for most of the afternoon, Happ delivered in all three sessions by hitting a career-high 12 field goals (on 18 attempts) and going 8-for-16 from the line to keep the Badgers in first place in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin won despite shooting 33.3 percent (20-for-60) and 3-for-25 from 3-point range, choosing to get hot at just the right time. After making only nine field goals on its first 46 attempts, UW made 11 on its final 14 attempts.
A lot of those makes came from Happ. With his team facing desperation trailing 41-32 with 3:22 remaining, Happ scored the game’s next six points and delivered a low-post bucket with two seconds remaining. UW went on a 13-4 run to send the game to overtime.
Once in overtime, Happ took over with seven points and a key block on Corey Sanders with 21 seconds left to keep the Badgers lead at five. Wisconsin iced the game from there, giving the Badgers their seventh straight win when playing an extra session.
“It means a lot for this team to come together through a really bad shooting night and come out on top,” Happ said.
Koenig had a part in getting the game to overtime. Despite going 2-for-10 from 3-point range, Koenig hit a critical 3-pointer with 32 seconds left to cut the deficit to 44-43. This season Koenig is 11-for-21 (52.4 percent) from beyond the arc in the final 5:00 and OT.
Sanders scored 15 points to lead Rutgers (12-10, 1-8), which was trying to beat a ranked opponent for the first time since knocking off No.4 Wisconsin two years ago 40 miles away in Piscataway, N.J.
So even through Rutgers was 0-for-9 in its first 12 possessions of the second half, the Scarlet Knights scored buckets on its next four possessions to take a six-point lead with 9:28 remaining. Rutgers held that lead until Happ’s final basket of regulation.
Sanders hit a 3-pointer on the Rutgers’ first overtime possession but the Scarlet Knight couldn’t string together offense or slow Wisconsin down the stretch. Rutgers saw 19 turnovers turn into 17 UW points, missed three free throws in the final 1:45 of regulation and only got eight points off 10 offensive rebounds.
Tonight marks the 196th meeting between UW and Illinois in a series dating back to 1906.
Wisconsin has won 10 straight over Illinois, the team’s longest-ever win streak vs. the Illini. That streak four consecutive wins in Champaign, UW’s longest road winning streak against Illinois in series history. After UW’s 10-game win streak, the Big Ten’s next-longest active win streak over Illinois is Indiana (four). Dating back to 2007, UW has won 17 of the last 21 meetings with Illinois.
Reaching 60 points has been an incredible indicator in this series. The first team to score 60 points is 28-1 over the last 14 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 23 match-ups.
The only Illinois native on UW’s travel roster, Happ has averaged 13.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 4.0 bpg and 4.0 spg in two career games against Illinois, including 20 points, 12 boards, 4 blocks and 4 steals in the most recent meeting.
MADISON – The Wisconsin team that began the season likely would not have been able to pick itself off the court after trailing by as many as 13 points. But the team that has now won eight of nine certainly did, executing a 28-4 run that ignited the crowd, saw shooting become contagious and keep itself a half game out of fourth place after a 69-60 victory over Illinois.
After missing its first three shots in the second half, Wisconsin (17-10, 9-5 Big Ten) made 11 of its final 13 to register the program’s biggest comeback since erasing a 15-point deficit to beat No.1 Ohio State in Feb. 2011.
Avoiding its fourth sub-100 RPI loss at home, nobody has matured more in the last two games than freshman Ethan Happ. After scoring 18 points against Michigan State, Happ finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds and a career-high six steals.
It was Happ’s eighth double-double of the season, a stark contrast from scoring only six points in the team’s first meeting in Champaign Jan.31, and production that was critical throughout.
His nine points and seven rebounds were one of the few bright spots in a first half that saw Wisconsin go 8-for-28 from the field and 1-for-13 from 3-point range, while his six points, four rebounds and four steals over the 10:04 run was the fuel that kept Wisconsin’s fire burning.
Happ wasn’t the only player to find his footing. Hayes had missed 17 of 18 shots dating back to Thursday’s 69-57 loss at No.8 Michigan State, but scored six of his 17 points on a 15-0 run to put the Badgers in front 48-46 with 6:27 to go. After not making his first field goal until the 11:55 mark of the second half, Hayes went 3-for-4 the rest of the way.
Koenig and junior Zak Showalter were equally important. Koenig scored 12 of his 14 point after halftime and hit a vital 3-pointer – one of only five makes on 20 attempts for UW - with 7:11 remaining to the score at 46.
Showalter scored all seven of his points in the second half while added five assists, four rebounds and plenty of hustle plays.
Wisconsin struggled for flow on both ends in the first half and right after halftime, contributing to scoring only one point over an 11 possession stretch that dug the hosts into an 11-point deficit
But there was no stopping them when they finally figured things out, scoring 34 points over their final 19 possessions with only two empty possessions. Part of that came with UW attacking the rim and drawing the second half’s first seven fouls, getting into the bonus with 12:43 remaining and going 26-for-33 from the line.
Illinois (12-15, 4-10) made eight of its first nine shots (88.9 percent) in the second half and led by as many as 13 points with 12:22 remaining but quickly cooled. For the remainder of the game, Illinois had 12 fouls to only three made field goals, a result of how the Badgers altered guarding the ball screen.
With a record of 18-3, the Badgers have equaled the school's third-best start in the last 100 years (20-1 in 2006-07, 19-2 in 2014-15). Wisconsin has won at least 18 of their first 21 games for the fourth time in the last 11 seasons.
UW has won 23 straight games vs. unranked opponents overall (dating back to 1/12/16).
Over the last four seasons, UW ranks third in the N.C.A.A. in most wins away from home ranks fifth in win percentage away from home over that span.
The Badgers are averaging 75.9 ppg, which would be the team's highest single-season scoring average since 1993-94 when UW scored 77.9 ppg.
Victorious in 10 of its 12 home games, Illinois is shooting nearly 50 percent from the field (355-711) and 43 percent from 3-point range (107-250) this season at State Farm Center.
Illinois is aiming for its first win against a top-25 opponent this season. The Illini’s most recent win over a ranked foe was a 68-66 victory over No. 20 Iowa in last year’s Big Ten Tournament (March 10, 2016). The Illini’s last win over a top-10 team, meanwhile, was a 74-72 home victory over No. 1 Indiana on a Tyler Griffey layup at the buzzer during John Groce’s first season (Feb. 7, 2013).
Over the last 12 games, Morgan has scored in double figures 10 times, averaging 12.7 points on 60.6 percent shooting. Morgan is Illinois’ second-leading scorer during Big Ten play, averaging 12.0 points on 58.3 percent shooting (fourth in B1G).
Coleman-Lands is once again hitting from long distance. He leads the Illini with 47 three-pointers this season, ranking ninth in the Big Ten with an average of 2.1 treys per game. He is shooting 44.4 percent from behind the arc during conference play, connecting on 20-of-45.
Winners of 13 of its last 14 games, Wisconsin sits in a first-place tie in the Big Ten and in position to be seeded in Milwaukee for the N.C.A.A. tournament. From an offensive standpoint, the Badgers can point to Ethan Happ has one of the prime reasons for the team’s recent surge on offense.
When it comes to the defense, a lot of the fingers should point toward Nigel Hayes. While many will critique his shot selection and his outside interests, there’s no debating that Hayes is delivering when it comes to defense.
“He’s sharp; he understands players pretty well,” head coach Greg Gard said Monday. “He watches a lot of film away from what we do as a team. He’ll say things that he’s picked up on film, this guy knowingly does this or he’s always reverted to that in a specific situation.”
Hayes has always had the length, strength and size to be a handful but the addition of the knowledge through film study and experience has been invaluable. Countless times over the last two seasons Gard has made defensive changes at halftime to put Hayes – who can guard all five positions – on the hot shooter and see those results pay off.
From shutting down Ja’Quan Lyle at the point to holding Caleb Swanigan scoreless for a half, Hayes’ craftiness has been a huge asset, even if the numbers don’t show it.
“He’s pulled the chair out on guys quite a bit and forced guys into traveling,” Gard said, something Hayes did twice on Swanigan earlier this season. “He has a knack. I think a lot of it is to what he sees. He sees things coming ahead of most players and studies it pretty well and obviously uses his basketball IQ to our benefit.”
Hayes’ test will be important again tonight against Illinois and with his likely assignment of Malcom Hill. After scoring a game-high 19 points along with a season-high seven assists and six rebounds in the four-point loss at Penn State Saturday, Hill sits fifth in the Big Ten in scoring at 17.5 points per game and does a large share of the work for the Illini, responsible for 23.4 percent of the Illini’s conference points (to compare, Happ is scoring 23.6 percent of UW’s conference points).
While Illinois has been decent shooting the ball (93rd nationally in field goal percentage at 46.2 percent), the Illini take things up a notch when they are their home floor. Illinois is averaging 83.2 points while going 10-2 at home, shooting 49.9 percent overall (355-711) and 42.8 percent from 3-point range (107-250). That’s a stark contrast to their road adventures, which have them with a 3-7 record and managing just 66.3 points on 41.6 percent shooting (238-572), including 29.6 percent from behind the arc (55-186).
Wisconsin has had success in this series by winning the battle of the boards. In the Badgers' last trip to Champaign (a 63-55 win), UW posted a dominant 22-8 scoring edge in the paint and out-rebounding Illinois 37-25. In two meetings last season, the Badgers out-scored Illinois, 46-20 in the paint.
Entering tonight fifth in the nation with a plus-9.8 rebounding margin and fourth in the country in defensive rebounding percent (77.3 percent), Wisconsin will have to neutralize an Illinois team that is second in defensive rebound percentage (.738) in conference play and has more second-chance points than its opponents in five of the last seven games.
This game registers all sorts of warning signs for me, especially after how ugly things looked on Saturday for Wisconsin offense. With this veteran roster, however, it’d be surprising to see things be that off offensively two games in a row.
The prediction: UW gets things going against offensively, frustrate Illinois on the glass and knock off Illinois by 10.
Worgull's Record: 19-2
Points off Prediction: 179 (8.5 per game)