Caleb King’s (@calebking_2) Preview: The Badgers open up their Big Ten season at home at the Kohl Center tonight against the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers; a game slated to start at 6pm in Madison on ESPN2.
The Scarlet Knights come in with an impressive record compared to years past as they are 11-2 on the season (8-0 at home, 2-2 on the road, 1-0 neutral). The Scarlet Knights’ schedule hasn’t been all that tough so far this season, their two toughest tests resulted in their only two losses, one to Miami (61-73) and one most recently to Seton Hall (61-72). The Scarlet Knights have yet to face a ranked opponent, so tonight’s test against the veteran Badgers will be a good gauge to see where this Rutgers team is at. Rutgers is led in scoring by Junior guard Nigel Johnson (12.7ppg). Deshawn Freeman leads the way in the rebounds column (9.5rpg) and Corey Sanders leads the Knights in assists (3.85apg).
The Badgers also come into tonight’s contest with an impressive 11-2 record (8-0 at home, 1-1 on the road, 2-1 neutral), but, as the 14th-rank in the nation explains, the Badgers non-conference road has been much tougher than that of Rutgers. To highlight some of Wisconsin’s non-conference victories; the Badgers have defeated Syracuse, Oklahoma, Georgetown, and Marquette. While the Badgers only two losses have came to top-10 opponents in Creighton (undefeated) and North Carolina. This Badgers team has a lot of experience coming into B1G play, and they are also riding a current 7-game winning streak. The Badgers are led by their “Big 3” in Bronson Koenig (14.6ppg), Nigel Hayes (13.5ppg, 5.8rpg, 3.4apg), and Ethan Happ (12.9ppg, 9.5rpg, 2.8apg). Another notable for Wisconsin is Freshman guard D’Mitrik Trice, who is shooting 60% from behind the arc(18-30 on the season). Ethan Happ is also shooting 69.2% from the floor; which is impressive from the big fella’ down low. Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter are also scoring 8.0ppg and 7.4ppg respectively.
But don’t count out this Rutgers team. Their non-conference schedule hasn’t been the toughest, but this team is much improved from last season, which was a team that went 7-25 overall and 1-17 in the B1G. Since the Scarlet Knights joined the B1G, the Badgers hold a 1-1 record against them. The last meeting between the two sides came last season where the Badgers defeated the Scarlet Knights by score of 79-57, but that game was tight throughout before Wisconsin used an 18-4 run to put the game away in the middle of the second half. Greg Gard and the Wisconsin Badgers know that they’ll need to put forth their best effort in every game of their Big Ten schedule if they want to win this conference, and Rutgers is no exception. Rutgers already has four more wins than last season and it’s easy to tell that they’re hungry for success in the B1G; and what better way to begin than knocking off the 14th-ranked Badgers in Madison.
But Wisconsin will be prepared. Greg Gard knows how to prepare his side for a battle in the B1G, and you can bet there won’t be anything Coach Gard isn’t ready for. With so many dangerous combinations that Gard can put on the floor; Koenig, Happ, Hayes, Brown, Showalter; and Iverson along with Trice mixed in with Thomas, Illikainen, and Hill, this Badgers team has much more depth than most people realize.
Success in the B1G is nothing foreign to this Badgers team. In each of the past 16 seasons the Badgers have finished with a winning conference record and Wisconsin has finished top-4 in the conference each of the past 15 seasons. The Badgers have high hopes of winning the B1G this season, but they’ll need to play solid Wisconsin basketball through the season to do so in this power-packed conference. A big factor in playing a ‘Wisconsin brand of winning basketball’ is efficiency on both ends of the court; which the Badgers sport one of the top-10 most efficient offenses in the nation. And on the defensive side of the ball, the Badgers have held 9 of their 13 opponents to their season low in point totals. Tonight’s match-up with Rutgers is just the beginning of this B1G season with the top half of the conference all being ranked in the top-52 of the country, and the Badgers want to start it out right with a ‘W’ in front of their home fans at the Kohl Center.
When asked about Rutgers season thus far, Gard had this to say, “You look at the numbers of shooting percentages, defensive field goal percentage, points per game, all those things are considerably lower than they were a year ago. What they are doing defensively, you freeze the film and watch how they are positioning. Coach Pikiell is doing a very good job.”
Rutgers has been dangerous this season off of dribble penetration and on the offensive glass. The Badgers back court will have to do a good job of keeping their guys in front of them defensively, while forcing the Knights to shoot from the perimeter. After shots go up, UW will have to box out and win the battle of the boards.
My Player-To-Watch tonight is Nigel Hayes. This is Hayes’ final season in the B1G and he’s a leader on the court for this Badgers team. Nigel does much more than just score, he facilitates and puts his teammates in positions to be successful. If Nigel is able to take control of the high post area and either drive or dish along with being active on the glass on the defensive side, it will be hard for Rutgers to keep pace. I’m looking for a big double-double tonight from Nigel!
King’s Prediction: BADGERS 75 Rutgers 59 (King is 8-2 on the season)
As always, #OnWisconsin
Ben Thorson’s (@benjthorson) Prediction: BADGERS 71 Rutgers 57 (Thorson is 12-1 on the season)