Caleb King (@calebking_2) Preview: On Friday evening the Florida A&M Rattlers have a date with the Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center in Madison slated to start at 8pm.
Florida A&M comes into Friday evening with a record of 2-10, as they were defeated last night 83-63 by the Samford Bulldogs. The Rattlers are currently on a 9-game losing streak, and have played no ranked opponents thus far. To be blunt, the Rattlers will have their hands full with the Badgers on Friday, especially since it will be the second game of back-to-back road games in the same amount of days.
Wisconsin comes into Friday evening with an overall record of 10-2 and are currently on a 6-game winning streak. Their most recent win came against an in-state rival UW-Green Bay by score of 73-59. The Badgers are 7-0 on their home floor and are ranked nationally at number 14.
On paper, this game is a matter of men against boys. Wisconsin has 3 players averaging double figures in Bronson Koenig (15.2ppg), Nigel Hayes (14.2ppg), and Ethan Happ (13.3ppg). The other two starters in Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown are also averaging 7.6ppg and 7.8ppg respectively. Happ leads in the rebound column with 9.6rpg, and Hayes continues to lead the way in assists per game with 3.3.
Florida A&M is led by junior forward Desmond Williams, who leads the team with 16.3ppg. and 5.1rpg. Williams has scored in double-figures 10 times in 12 contests thus far.
With this being the last non-conference game before the beginning of the conference season, it has become more and more evident what Gard’s rotation will look like this season. It’s no secret to Badgers fans who they’ll see in the starting rotation, which has been the same the past two seasons now. Koenig and Showalter in the backcourt, and Hayes, Brown, and Happ in the front court.
The substitutes is the area which Gard has had to do a lot of experimenting in, and it seems Gard and his staff has zeroed in on a rotation as they approach conference play. The “new guy” is true Freshman D’Mitrik Trice, who is averaging 18.3 minutes per game thus far this season. Trice has proved to be a key substitute and will surely play a vital role in Wisconsin’s rotation this season. The next guy rounding out the top 7 is Sophomore Khalil Iverson. Iverson has elevated his game day in and day out this season and is a key guy off the bench for Gard. He’s a tenacious defender and has the athleticism to change the tempo of a game. He’s averaging 5.3ppg and 3.8rpg so far.
Rounding out Gard’s top 10 rotation are Sophomore forwards Alex Illikainen and Charles Thomas IV, and Junior guard Jordan Hill. These players are used in varying roles depending on the situation. When asked about his recent role, Illikainen said “I’ve got to go in there and attack everything, be more physical. I have to put myself out there more and not really worry about making mistakes.”
In a recent interview, Greg Gard talked about this part of the rotation, saying “I think from game to game, each player’s individual strengths or deficiencies play in my mind in terms of who is going to get more minutes. We’re pretty well locked in on 10. And then how eight, nine and ten fluctuate within that group really depends on the flow of the game, and type of game it is, who is playing well, who is struggling a little bit. Those are always in-game determinations. I don’t go in with a set-in-stone plan.”
My Player-To-Watch this game is Alex Illikainen. Illikainen has struggled thus far this season and with this being the final prep for conference play, I look for Illikainen to play a lot of minutes against this weaker Rattler squad and build some confidence in his mid-range-3 point jumper and focus in on being a rebounding power down low. I see Illikainen really getting involved in tonight’s game.
King’s Prediction: BADGERS 89 Florida A&M 47 (King is 7-2 on the season)
Thorson’s Prediction: BADGERS 93 Florida A&M 57 (Thorson is 11-1 on the season)