Game 21 Preview & Prediction: Wisconsin at Rutgers

After a dominating second half Tuesday against Penn State, the 15th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers return to action Saturday morning as they take on Rutgers at Madison Square Garden.

Wisconsin outscored the Nittany Lions 46-22 in the second half on Tuesday as the Badgers won 82-55 at the Kohl Center. The win marked the fourth straight for the Badgers, who have won 11 of their past 12 contests. Wisconsin is currently 17-3 overall, and have a share of the Big Ten Conference lead with Maryland at 6-1.

Rutgers enters Saturdays 11a.m. tip with a 12-9 record, including 1-7 in conference play. The Scarlet Knights have dropped eight of their past nine contests; their lone win coming on January 21st as they defeated Nebraska 65-64 at Louis Brown Athletic Center.

Saturdays contest marks the second meeting between Rutgers and Wisconsin this season; the first meeting came on December 27th as the Badgers defeated the Scarlet Knights 72-52 at the Kohl Center. The Badgers were led that night by 20 points from Nigel Hayes and 18 points from Zak Showalter. Rutgers was led by junior guard Mike Williams, who finished the game with 18 points and eight rebounds.

The Scarlet Knights currently rank fourth in the nation in rebounds per game (42.1) and have shown a dramatic change on the defensive side of the ball as they rank 23rd in defensive field goal percentage allowed (39.3).

Sophomore guard Corey Sanders leads the Knights in points (12.5) and assists (3.5).  While junior forward Deshawn Freeman leads the team with 8.5 rebounds per game, to go along with 11.4ppg. Junior guard Nigel Johnson also posts 11.4ppg.

In their December 27th meeting, the Badgers led 47-26 with 14:17 remaining, but the Knights were able to claw their way back into the game with an 18-6 run to close the gap to nine with 8:22 remaining. That was the closest Rutgers would get for the remainder of the game, as the Badgers extended their lead to a 20-point victory.

So what should Badgers fans watch for in this meeting?

  1. Rebounding Battle: As mentioned before, Rutgers is one of the top rebounding teams in the country and the Scarlet Knights are extremely aggressive on the offensive glass. Luckily, this is also a strength of the Badgers, Wisconsin out-rebounded the Knights 44-35 in their first meeting.
  2. Quick Start: Wisconsin has been guilty this season of allowing inferior teams to hang around in the first half. The Badgers need to avoid giving the Scarlet Knights life at halftime to avoid the upset at Madison Square Garden.
  3. Bronson: The senior guard is on a hot streak right now. Koenig knocked down clutch triple after clutch triple against Michigan and Minnesota, which carried over to a 20-point performance Tuesday against Penn State. Bronson has made 21 of his 35 attempts from behind the arc over his past six games.

Thorson’s Prediction: BADGERS 78 Rutgers 63 (Thorson is 18-2 on the season)

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Game 20 Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin vs. Penn State

Ben Thorson’s (@benjthorson) Preview: After a thrilling overtime victory on Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis, the Wisconsin Badgers Men’s Basketball team returns to action tonight at the Kohl Center vs. Penn State at 8p.m.

The Badgers are sitting on top of the Big Ten conference with Maryland, as both teams have started the conference slate at 5-1. Wisconsin is coming off their top victory of the season according to the RPI rankings, as the Minnesota Golden Gophers are currently ranked 16th.

Penn State enters tonight’s contest ranked 66th in the RPI but the Nittany Lions have already posted two top-50 RPI victories this season as they have defeated both the Gophers and the Michigan State Spartans. Penn State is 11-9 overall and 3-4 in conference play as they have dropped their past two games to Indiana and at Purdue.

The Nittany Lions have a quartet of scorers averaging double figures on the season. Junior guard Shep Garner leads the way with 12.3ppg, to go along with 1.4 steals per game. Garner finished with 10 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals last season in his lone meeting against the Badgers. A game in which Wisconsin escaped the Bryce Jordan Center with a 66-60 victory.

Penn State is getting a strong contribution from freshman forward Lamar Stevens; Stevens is second on the team with 5.6rpg to go along with 11.6ppg. Junior forward Payton Banks is averaging 11.7ppg and helps spread the floor by shooting 38.5% from behind the arc (52-135).

Freshman guard Tony Carr has also contributed to the ‘semi-resurgence’ in State College. The freshman is leading the Lions with 3.6apg and is fourth on the team with 11.4ppg. Carr already has a 24-point performance this season, coming in a 75-78 loss to Indiana on January 18th.

Penn State is led by head coach Pat Chambers; this is the sixth season for Chambers in State College. Coach Chambers has his Nittany Lions playing with a lot of energy on the defensive end, as Penn State ranks 28th in the nation allowing 94.5 points per 100 possessions (according to kenpom adjusted rankings).

The Wisconsin Badgers enter play tonight on a 3-game win streak and an overall record of 16-3. The Badgers are led by recent co-Big Ten Player of the Week Ethan Happ. Happ earned this honor after a 28 point, 12 rebound, 6 assist, and 5 block performance on the road against Minnesota on Saturday. The redshirt sophomore is third on the Badgers in scoring with 13.6ppg, and leads Wisconsin in rebounding (9.2rpg), steals (1.8spg), field goal percentage (.602) and blocks (1.1bpg). Happ scored 20 points and grabbed 11 boards in his lone meeting against Penn State in his career.

So what should Badgers fans look for tonight?

  1. 16-point Favorites: The Badgers enter tonight’s game as 16-point favorites, but don’t sleep on these Nittany Lions. Penn State’s defense can keep them in any game. If Wisconsin doesn’t execute on the offensive side of the floor, this game may be closer than it has to be, similar to the Badgers 68-64 victory over Michigan last week.
  2. Dominate the Paint: Forwards Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ scored 35 of the Badgers 66 points last season against Penn State. Expect the Badgers to run their offense through these two early and often tonight.
  3. Bench Play: Alex Illikainen had nine points against Penn State last season during his freshman campaign. I don’t expect the same from Illikainen tonight, but I do want to see more efficiency from the Badgers bench. I am guilty of always looking a year ahead, and as the Badgers lose four seniors this season, it is important for players like D’Mitrik Trice, Khalil Iverson, Charlie Thomas, Brevin Pritzl, Jordan Hill, and Illikainen to start developing now.
  4. More Experience: Penn State doesn’t have a single senior on their roster, while the Badgers have four, who have an 11-3 record in the NCAA tournament. Wisconsin needs to use their experience level combined with a home court advantage to take an early and commanding lead on the Nittany Lions.

Thorson’s Prediction: BADGERS 74 Penn State 61 (Thorson is 17-2 on the season)

Caleb King’s (@calebking_2) Prediction: BADGERS 78 Penn State 66 (King is 12-3 on the season)

 

Game 19 Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin at Minnesota

Caleb King’s (@calebking_2) Preview: The Wisconsin Badgers travel to Minneapolis, MN today to take on the rival Minnesota Golden Gophers for a game slated to start at 3:30pm at the historic venue, “The Barn” at Williams Arena. This will be the first border battle of the season between the Badgers and the Gophers.

The Gophers come into the game unranked with a record of 15-4 overall and 3-3 in conference play. In conference they defeated Purdue, Northwestern and Ohio State before falling to Michigan State twice and most recently to Penn State. The Gophers most impressive win this season is by far their road win at Purdue. As I’ve mentioned before, Purdue was my pick to go undefeated at home this season in the Big Ten and the Gophers put an end to that prediction quickly.

This Golden Gophers team isn’t anything like what the Big Ten saw last year. Last season the Gophers struggled consistently on their way to winning eight games. This season they’re already at 15 and have knocked off a top-25 opponent on the road. This Gophers team is hungry and looking to prove themselves. Coach Richard Pitino’s team is led by sharp shooting guard Nate Mason (13.9ppg, 5.4apg) who scores a majority of the Gophers points and is involved in some way by facilitating for his teammates to put the ball in the basket. The Gophers are also led by freshman Amir Coffey (11.9ppg), sophomore Dupree McBrayer (11.7ppg), and sophomore, big man Jordan Murphy (10.2ppg, 8.1rpg).

The Gophers haven’t been too battled tested yet this season. Their non-conference schedule didn’t feature a team ranked near the top-25. But according to Badgers assistant Joe Krabbenhoft, this Gophers team is much different. “It’s a completely different (Minnesota) team now – night and day. The roster is different in a lot of ways and the identity of the team has focused on the defensive end.” The Gophers lead the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense and blocked shots, which was clutch in their win against Purdue. Krabbenhoft went on to say “The guys they did have returning from last year learned from what they went through and decided that was not the way they wanted it to go and they’re playing like a team that clearly has their eyes on the NCAA Tournament. We know that.”

The key addition for the Gophers this season is ‘Mr. Basketball’ from a year ago in the state of Minnesota, Amir Coffey. He has changed their team and their style of play, and really motivated his team to be gritty and tough especially on the defensive side of the ball. His passion has lifted this Gophers team, even their experienced leaders of the past.

Now let’s get to our Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers come into today’s contest ranked number 17 in the nation with a record of 15-3 overall and 4-1 in conference play. The Badgers have defeated Rutgers, Indiana, Ohio State and most recently Michigan, and fell at Purdue earlier in the season. The Badgers most impressive win this year has come on the road at Indiana where they won 75-68. The last meeting between the Badgers and the Gophers was last season at Williams Arena where the Badgers dominated the Gophers for a majority of the game and walked away victorious by the score of 62-49. But as mentioned before, this game has all the potential to be a better battle than a year ago, but the Badgers are ready for it.

The Badgers are led by senior guard Bronson Koenig (14.5ppg) who is coming off of a huge game against Michigan where he went on a 10-0 run of his own in the second half to pull the Badgers ahead and never look back. The Badgers are also led by post-powers and Wooden Award Watch-List candidates Ethan Happ (12.8ppg, 9.1rpg, 1.9spg, 2.8apg) and Nigel Hayes (13.6ppg, 5.4rpg, 3.2apg).

Some keys for the Badgers for success is to impose their defensive pressure and pace on the Gophers to not allow them to get into a rhythm. Nate Mason is a very aggressive guard that loves to take his guy outside but will drive and hit a floater on you all day long if you’re too aggressive coming out. Close-outs and quick feet will be even more crucial than normal against a skilled guard like Mason. Along with being able to keep Mason at bay, it will be important for the Badgers to control the glass and the inside match-ups. As I mentioned before, the Gophers lead the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense and blocked shots.

This brings me to my “Player-To-Watch” a little early, but it’s a huge part of today’s game. My “Player-To-Watch” today is Ethan Happ. The Gophers defense in the post has proved to be their strength this season and it was successful against Purdue, a game for the Badgers where they weren’t successful in that area. It’s no particular match-up between Happ and a particular big man for the Gophers, but really Happ against all their bigs down low. There’s no doubt that Ethan Happ is skilled and has a lot in his arsenal, but when Coach Krabbenhoft was asked about the match-ups down low for Ethan he had these things to say: “Keep it simple. He’s able to do so many advanced moves a lot of guys his age don’t know how to do in a post drill, let alone out on a court. But sometimes you’ve just got to keep it even more simple when you’re facing that much size. You have to trust your instincts and what you’ve worked on – maybe a simple right-handed hook – and not get fancy with it. Also you have to be persistent and not back down if you get your shot blocked or if you don’t get a call to go your way. You’ve just got to stay at ‘em.”

Well-said Coach. 

It’s no secret to Badgers fans that a lot of our success comes when Ethan Happ is on the floor and getting the ball in the post. Last game against Michigan we struggled in the second half while Happ sat with his three fouls. When Happ returned to the game he and Koenig took over and pushed the Badgers to a come-from-behind victory late in the second half. Ethan will need to stay out of foul trouble today and just be persistent. He knows what he can do, and he’s going to give an incredible effort just as he always does.

Another factor will be how our outside game plays today. If Koenig and company are able to prove to be threats early on from the 3-point line it will stretch the Gopher defense to give Happ and company more room to work down low, and if they double down? Kick it out and hit a more-than-ready Koenig or Showalter or Trice to splash home a triple and make the Gophers respect them.

Badgers vs Gophers games are not taken lightly in either of the two states. So many bets are placed between diehard supporters, so much tradition is shared between the two schools in the historic rivalry, and you can bet that this game will be all of that and more.Saturday’s game is expected to be a sellout, the first in two seasons for the Gophers dating back to the 2015 Wisconsin game.

“It’s a great college basketball environment and there’s a lot of history there,” said Krabbenhoft, “the one thing about the Barn, you usually saw a lot of red which was neat and I hope we’ll see that again on Saturday.”

King’s Prediction: BADGERS 76 Minnesota 64 (King is 11-3 on the season)

As always, #OnWisconsin

Ben Thorson’s (@benjthorson) Prediction: The top two defensives in the Big Ten square off at ‘The Barn’ this afternoon. According to Kenpom‘s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, the Gophers enter today’s matchup as the fifth ranked defense in the country, allowing 89.7 points in 100 possessions; while the Badgers enter as the 17th ranked defense allowing 92.0 pts/100 possessions. I have been guilty of telling colleagues that I feel that Minnesota can split with the Badgers this season, but I am going against my word on this one. The Gophers are led by Nate Mason and freshman Amir Coffey, both individuals are responsible for the turn-around season in Minnesota; but neither has played against a defense as disciplined as the Badgers this season.

I feel that the Badgers find ways to be more effective offensively; as I expect Nigel Hayes to assert himself more on the offensive side of the floor. This aggressiveness paired with the high experience level of Wisconsin’s seniors winning conference road games will help the Badger prevail in Minneapolis.

BADGERS 68 Minnesota 61 (Thorson is 16-2 on the season)

Game 18 Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin vs. Michigan

Ben Thorson’s (@benjthorson) Preview: The Wisconsin Badgers Men’s Basketball Team resumes Big Ten Conference play tonight at the Kohl Center as they square off the Michigan Wolverines at 8:00PM on ESPN.

The Badgers are coming off a strong performance last Thursday as they defeated Ohio State 89-66 to improve to 14-3 on the season. Wisconsin remains a half game out of first place in the Big Ten behind Maryland entering play tonight.

Michigan boasts a 12-6 record on the season and are 2-3 in conference play. Their most recent win came on Saturday as they defeated Nebraska 91-85 in Ann Arbor. This victory is the second of the season for Michigan against RPI top-50 opponents. Their first came on November 18th, as they defeated Southern Methodist 76-54. The Wolverines are currently 2-4 against RPI top-50 teams, and are 4-5 against RPI top-100 teams. One common opponent between Michigan and Wisconsin has been Marquette, who the Wolverines handled 79-61 on a neutral floor.

Michigan is led by senior guard Zak Irvin, who is currently averaging 14.2ppg, to go along with 4.9rpg and 3.7apg. Irvin recorded 14 points and eight rebounds in his lone meeting with the Badgers in 2015-16; a contest in which Wisconsin won 68-57 in Madison.

The Wolverines are also getting strong play from senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. and sophomore forward Moritz Wagner, who are averaging 12.4ppg and 12.2ppg respectively. Junior forward D.J. Wilson is the force inside for Michigan; the 6’10”, 240-pound Wilson is averaging 10.8ppg to go along with a team-high 6.4rpg and 1.3bpg.

Michigan head coach, John Beilein, has had a lot of success in conference play during his tenure in Ann Arbor. However Beilein has struggled against the Badgers as Wisconsin has won 15 of their 17 matchups against the Wolverines coach.

The Badgers enter tonight’s game with a little momentum after their offensive outburst against Ohio State. UW will look to continue that tonight against a defense that ranks 58th in the country in points against. Wisconsin will look to have a good balance offensively between outside and inside scoring. The Badgers connected on 12 three-point attempts in their win over the Buckeyes to go along with 21 offensive rebounds.

Wisconsin enters tonight’s contest as 11-point favorites, but the Badgers shouldn’t take this Wolverines squad for granted. Michigan is a led by a pair of senior guards who know what it takes to win in the Big Ten. The Badgers need to run their offense through Ethan Happ early, which should lead to open jumpers for Koenig among others as the game goes along. If Wisconsin can stay efficient on offense, they should be able to complete the double-digit victory, but if they fail to hit open jumpers and let Michigan hang around…well anything can happen in this year’s Big Ten.

Thorson’s Prediction: BADGERS 77 Michigan 65 (Thorson is 15-2 on the season)

Caleb King’s (@calebking_2) Prediction: BADGERS 81 Michigan 64 (King is 10-3 on the season)

Game 17 Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin vs. Ohio State

Ben Thorson (@benjthorson) Preview: The Badgers return to action Thursday evening as they look to build a new winning streak as they tip-off against the Ohio State Buckeyes at 6:00PM on ESPN2.

Coming off a disappointing loss Sunday at Purdue, a game in which the Badgers only mustered 55 points, UW will look to re-gain their offensive efficiency which is now ranked 15th in the country at 117.1 adjusted points per 100 possessions per KenPom rankings.

Ohio State enters Madison with a 0-3 conference record, with an overall record of 10-6. The Buckeyes haven’t played as poorly as their record may reflect. OSU lost by five at Illinois before losing by one at home against Purdue, and then most recently were defeated by ten to the surprising Golden Gophers of Minnesota.

The Buckeyes best win of the season came against Providence, who is currently ranked 63rd in the RPI, Ohio State defeated the Friars by a score of 72-67. The Buckeyes have already faced five opponents in the RPI top-40, dropping all five contests by an average of only 6.2 points per game.

Ohio State is led by junior forward Jae’Sean Tate, as Tate leads the Buckeyes with 14.5ppg to go along with 6.7rpg on .556 shooting from the field. Tate had nine points and three rebounds in his lone meeting with the Badgers last season. But in 2015, Tate scored 13 points to go along with six rebounds as a freshman against Wisconsin.

The Buckeyes are also getting strong production from sophomore JaQuan Lyle. Lyle enters tonight’s contest averaging 11.6ppg with a team-high 5.6apg. Junior center Trevor Thompson leads Ohio State with 9.1rpg to go along with a team-high 1.9bpg. The seven-foot Thompson also averages 10.7ppg.

Wisconsin enters the game with a 13-3 record, 2-1 in Big Ten play, after having their 9-game win streak snapped with a 66-55 loss at Purdue on Sunday. The Badgers are led by redshirt, sophomore Ethan Happ. The forward is averaging 13.4ppg to go along with 9.1rpg on .646 shooting from the field. Happ scored 17 of the Badgers 55 points Sunday against the Boilermakers. Happ was joined by senior forward, Nigel Hayes on the Mid-season Wooden Watch List. Hayes is averaging 13.5ppg, 5.5rpg, and a team-high 3.2apg. Nigel is coming off a lackluster performance Sunday in which he shot 4-for-12 from the field, finishing the game with ten points. Senior guard, Bronson Koenig will also look to bounce back strong tonight, Koenig leads the Badgers with 14.0ppg despite a nine point performance against Purdue.

So what can Badgers fans expect tonight at the Kohl Center? Don’t be fooled by the winless Buckeyes, Ohio State has a young, athletic, physical squad that can compete with anyone on any given night. If the Badgers want to avoid a home upset, they most expose the Buckeyes defensively. Nigel Hayes must be aggressive on the offensive side of the court, working his way to the free-throw line more than the four times he did against Purdue. If the Badgers can hit their open shots from behind the arc, it will open up the offensive for Hayes and Happ to work inside. If Wisconsin can’t get their outside jumper going, this game may become more stressful than expected as the Badgers will have to once again depend on the dominance of Ethan Happ inside.

What to watch for tonight? The Badgers bench will be under the microscope again tonight, Wisconsin got limited production from their bench Sunday against Purdue, as they finished with 12 points and five rebounds. Khalil Iverson and D’Mitrik Trice will be in the rotation for sure, as the two guards have given coach Greg Gard solid production and effort on both ends of the court. But will the Badgers see more minutes from redshirt freshman Brevin Pritzl tonight? Coach Gard mentioned this week that he is getting consistent production from Pritzl recently in practice. Can Pritzl provide the outside shot that Wisconsin needs to open up their offense? I guess we will find out more tonight!

Thorson’s Prediction: BADGERS 73 Ohio State 66 (Thorson is 14-2 on the season)

Caleb King’s Prediction (@calebking_2): BADGERS 76 Ohio State 68 (King is 10-3 on the season)

Game 16 Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin at Purdue

The Wisconsin Badgers continue their Big Ten journey this afternoon as they travel to West Lafayette to take on the Purdue Boilermakers at Mackey Arena. The game is scheduled to tip at 3:30pm on CBS; yes of course ten minutes before kickoff of the Packers playoff tilt with the Giants.

Last season, the Badgers lost both of their meetings with the Boilermakers, first to start off Big Ten play and then again to end the regular season. They were defeated by scores of 55-61 (Kohl Center) and 80-91 (Mackey Arena).

The Purdue Boilermakers have had a bit of an unexpected start to conference play, as have many teams in the B1G. They currently sport a record of 13-3, 2-1 conference. 2-1 doesn’t seem so bad, but how they’ve gotten there is what brings me to say it. Purdue was my pick to open the season to go undefeated at home, but in their second home test in conference play the Boilermakers lost at Mackey Arena to the Minnesota Golden Gophers despite a 20-point, 20-rebound performance from superstar, big-man Caleb Swanigan. The Boilermakers knocked off Iowa to open Big Ten play, and escaped Ohio State on Thursday with a 76-75 victory on the road. After coming into the B1G season ranked #15 and seeing their first couple of opponents, the Boilermakers haven’t exactly performed to the level they’d like.

Nonetheless, the Boilermakers, just like Indiana, are not a team that anyone can look past in this, seemingly weaker than normal, Big 10 conference. Purdue is led by, in my opinion, the best all-around big man in the conference, and one of the best in the nation, Sophomore Caleb Swanigan. Swanigan is currently posting impressive numbers: 18.3ppg, 12.9rpg, and also can take his defender outside the arc as he shoots 40% from the 3-point line. In the past 20 years the Big Ten has seen six ‘20 point-20 rebound’ games. Four of those belong to Caleb Swanigan, all of them coming this season. That’s impressive. Purdue is also led by 7’2” Isaac Haas (13.4ppg), Vincent Edwards (12.4ppg, 3.8apg, 5.5rpg), and Carsen Edwards (10.8ppg).

But let’s get back to the hottest team in the Big Ten, your Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers come into this afternoons contest with an overall record of 13-2, 2-0 in conference play. They are currently riding a 9-game win streak coming into West Lafayette, their last loss coming at the hands of North Carolina in the Maui Invitational Championship on November 23rd. Wisconsin’s most recent win came against a tough Indiana team on the road in Bloomington where the Badgers defeated the Hoosiers by the score of 75-68 at Assembly Hall. The Badgers are really starting to flex their experience and resiliency; especially in this last game against a tough and athletic Indiana team. The Badgers come into their matchup with Purdue ranked number 13 in the nation. Wisconsin sits a half-game behind the 3-0 Nebraska Cornhuskers in conference play; as the Badgers and Huskers are the only unbeatens in the conference after Michigan States loss at Penn State on Saturday.

The Badgers are led, per usual, by their consistent starting-5 in Ethan Happ, Vitto Brown, Nigel Hayes, Zak Showalter, and Bronson Koenig. Ethan Happ has been moving his way up into the conversation for Player of the Year in the Big 10 and also on the Wooden Award Watch List, and deservingly so. The redshirt Sophomore is averaging 13.1ppg and 9.4rpg, a near double-double. But it’s not just the numbers that are impressive about Happ, it’s his skill in the lane and his footwork and his hustle. Jay Bilas said during the Indiana game that he is so impressed with Ethan Happ because it’s arguably difficult to find a game where he hasn’t played well, and I have to agree with him. Even in a game like North Carolina where the Badgers were clearly outplayed, the Sophomore still put up a solid 13 points and 6 rebounds which was head-and=shoulders above anyone else on the Badgers roster. Happ’s ability to get to the rim is something special. The Badgers are also led by Senior duo Bronson Koenig (14.3ppg) and Nigel Hayes (13.7ppg, 5.5rpg, 3.2apg). Koenig is coming off an impressive performance at Indiana where he scored 17 points and went 5-5 from the 3-point line, but only played 25 minutes due to foul trouble throughout the game.

A crucial aspect of the game this afternoon will be the rebounding battle, and the big question is: can Wisconsin’s rebounding stand up to Purdue? The Badgers currently rebound 38.8% of shots on their offensive glass, which is 10th in the country; a mark that ranks higher than any of Bo Ryan’s 15 Wisconsin teams. Greg Gard loves to push the offensive glass, but in the way of all of this is Caleb Swanigan, who may be the only person standing between Ethan Happ and the Big 10 Player of the Year honors. Swanigan grabs nearly 34% of available defensive rebounds on a team that collectively corrals 77% of available defensive rebounds, that’s hard to handle. The defensive battle will be crucial for the Badgers game plan to be successful at a tough Mackey Arena. If the Badgers are able to limit Caleb Swanigan on the glass and get Ethan Happ going down low; the Badgers should have a good recipe for success. Ohio State held Swanigan to five points in the first half on Thursday and lost the game by one. If the Badgers can somewhat replicate that defensive lockdown and dominate the glass I can see Wisconsin escaping West Lafayette with another victory over a top-25 opponent.

I think it’s easy to tell that my Player-To-Watch this afternoon is Ethan Happ. Happ is coming off a big game against Indiana where he scored 19 points to go along with 6 rebounds where he completely outplayed and out-hustled the Indiana big men, including Thomas Bryant. If Happ can stay out of foul trouble and make Swanigan really earn everything he gets down low, that will help the Badgers immensely to escape with a victory. At the beginning of the season Happ wasn’t so great when the opponent doubled down on him in the post, but as of late he has been phenomenal in finding open teammates out on the perimeter to knock down open shots after the double team.

As I mentioned before, the Purdue Boilermakers were my pick at the beginning of the season to go undefeated at their Mackey Arena, which is an extremely tough place to play. But Minnesota proved that they can be beaten. While the Badgers are playing to keep their undefeated conference record alive and to possibly crack the top-10 in national rankings, there is one more thing that can motivate this Badgers team this afternoon: The Badgers have not won at both Assembly Hall and at Purdue in the same season since 1972. After the big win at Assembly Hall on Tuesday against the Hoosiers, the Badgers have an opportunity to break that streak and emerge victorious at both venues for the first time in 45 years.

King’s Prediction: BADGERS 78 Purdue 71 (King is 10-2 on the season)

As always, #OnWisconsin

Ben Thorson’s (@benjthorson) Prediction: I’m pretty torn over this one, earlier in the week I mentioned I would pick Purdue at home. It is a team that the Badgers don’t matchup great against as Swanigan and Isaac Haas create so many matchup problems for many Big Ten teams. In the Badgers last loss, against North Carolina, they struggled to defend forward Kennedy Meeks who finished the game with 15 points and 16 rebounds. But Wisconsin on Tuesday proved they are getting better against physical teams as they limited Indian center, Thomas Bryant to six points and three rebounds. The Badgers proved to me that their experience is going to pay dividends, and it may even be the reason they hoist the Big Ten crown by years end. After trailing Indiana 56-57 late in the second half, the Badgers finished the game on a 19-11 run over the final 7:06 to escape Assembly Hall with the victory. UW will most likely need a similar finish to defeat Purdue on Sunday afternoon as I expect the game to be close throughout. The biggest question marks are: can Ethan Happ stay out of foul trouble and who will guard the Purdue bigs with Happ on the bench? If the Badgers can survive these daunting tests, then I expect the Badgers experienced lineup to find a way to gut out another win.

BADGERS 73 Purdue 69 (Thorson is 14-1 on the season)

Badgers Commit Brad Davison: Quarterback of the Court

Recendavisont Badgers commit Brad Davison has been trying to gain the attention of college coaches for a long time. He recalls shooting baskets during half time and timeouts of his older sisters AAU tournaments trying to impress college coaches. Only a few years later, Davison found himself with 18 scholarship offers from major programs across the country, and after taking a week-long recruiting trip across the country, Davison ultimately decided upon the Badgers. A decision that was established in his relationship with Badgers head coach Greg Gard and assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft.

“My relationship with the coaching staff was huge for me! I have known Coach Gard and Krabbenhoft since before my freshman year. It felt like the perfect fit,” said Davison.

The ‘perfect fit’ is also for the Badgers basketball program as Davison exudes everything that being a Badger means; his development is rooted in his leadership and toughness which has led him to becoming one of the best floor generals in the country on both sides of the court.

“I got a lot of leadership and toughness from playing football, I always say that if you can lead ten guys in a huddle, it makes it a lot easier to lead four guys on the court,” said Davison, “my parents helped my leadership at a young age, they challenged me to be a leader with my friends so that we could be a successful team in the future.”

Davison will soon begin his senior year at Maple Grove High School in Minnesota, where he has set some high goals for himself in the upcoming year.

“My biggest goals for my senior year are maintaining a 4.0 GPA and to help lead my football and basketball team to state championships.”

Davison is the quarterback of his high school football team and Badgers head coach Greg Gard has mentioned that he wants Brad to be the ‘quarterback’ of his basketball team.

“(Being known as the quarterback) means everything! It means Coach Gard wants me to be the leader of the team and be an extension of him on the floor. Being a quarterback comes with a lot of responsibility and it is something I will have to earn.”

It comes to no surprise that Davison recognizes quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Tim Tebow as two of the best leaders in all of sports.

“I’m drawn to the passion that they have for their sport and their teammates. That is how I want to lead a team,” said Davison in reference to the former Badgers quarterback Wilson and former Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow.

Over the past few months Davison has become one of the fastest rising prospects in the country after his summer with the Howard Pulley Panthers, one of the top AAU teams in the country. Brad averaged 17 points per game on 51.2% shooting from the floor including a .435 mark from behind the arc; while leading the Panthers to a 51-6 record. In the process, Brad developed his game a lot and feels comfortable scoring and defending at both guard positions.

With his verbal commitment, Brad will be joining a recruiting class that already includes four-star Nathan Reuvers (Lakeville, Minn.) and four-star Kobe King (Lacrosse, Wisc.). With one of the best recruiting classes in the country already established, Davison recognizes the opportunity to maintain the winning tradition in Madison.

“When I think of Badger basketball I think of a very successful program that does things the right way. Badgers basketball has always been something I have wanted to be a part of,” said Davison.

Greg Gard is getting a special player but an even better person in Brad Davison. Davison has used his faith, family, and friends to get to where he is today. He’s thankful for the support and sacrifices those closest to him have made along the way and he is excited about the future support he will receive from Badgers fans.

“Badger fans can expect me to give 100% every day and do whatever it takes to bring a National Championship to Madison. Not only do I want to have a positive impact on the Basketball program, but on the University as a whole,” said Davison who plans to major in business at Wisconsin. “I believe that God has a plan for me and I am really looking forward to representing the University of Wisconsin!”

“Hey Brad…that feeling is mutual, future Quarterback of the Court!”