March Madness: Wisconsin vs. Virginia Tech

Caleb King’s (@calebking_2) Preview:The Badgers are in the NCAA Tournament for the 19th straight season. That is among the top streaks in the nation. Also, this is the Badgers 15th consecutive season where the football team has made a Bowl Game and the Basketball team has made the Big Dance. That’s the longest streak in the nation, and the closest behind them is on only their 4th year.

The Badgers will open up their NCAA Tournament play out East in Buffalo as the top 8 seed as they take on the 9 seed Hokies from Virginia Tech. The game is slated to begin 25 minutes following top seed Villanova’s game, approximate tip time for the Badgers is 8:40CT.

In the past 3 seasons, the Badgers have the most wins out of any program in the country in the NCAA Tournament with 11. That owes thanks to the back-to-back Final Four runs in 2014 and 2015, along with 2 wins in last year’s tournament as a 7 seed.

Let’s meet the Virginia Tech Hokies.

The Hokies belong to the tough Atlantic Coast Conference where they finished 8th in the league with a record of 10-8 and an overall record of 22-10. The Hokies are led by Zach LeDay who averages 16.3ppg and 7.4rpg. Seth Allen is also a key contributor for the Hokies as he tosses in 13.4ppg.

The beginning of the Hokies season was strong much like the Badgers, but they went through some struggles in the ACC before they pulled it together to finish the year strong. To begin their ACC campaign the Hokies defeated the Duke Blue Devils handily, 89-75. Their struggles turned around following a double overtime win against Virginia where they trailed 23-37 at the half. They would go on to win 6 of their last 9 to end the season. Seth Allen has been clutch for the Hokies this season, he’s had many clutch moments to carry Virginia Tech in games through the season. In games decided by 5 points or less, the Hokies are 8-4. That’s 12 games that have been within 5 points, so it’s no secret that the Hokies know how to battle down the stretch.

The Hokies are coached by Buzz Williams, and that should be a familiar name for Wisconsin fans. Buzz coached at Marquette from 2008-14 before he left for Virginia Tech. Buzz had some success against the Badgers in his tenure with the Golden Eagles, and you can bet that he hasn’t easily forgotten the days coaching in the Golden Eagle-Badger rivalry game. Buzz will have a lot of insight into how Wisconsin plays and operates.

But you can bet that Coach Greg Gard remembers a lot of how Buzz Williams coached as well.

Coach Gard leads the Badgers for the 2nd year into the NCAA Tournament. In his debut Tournament as the Head Coach for the Badgers last season he went 2-1, defeating Pittsburgh in the first round and downing the number 2 seed Xavier Musketeers thanks to a Bronson Koenig buzzer-beater before they fell to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 after a collapse in the final minutes, kissing good-bye a trip to the Elite 8. The last time Greg Gard coached in a game in Buffalo, it was 1995 when he was in his second year assisting Bo Ryan at UW-Platteville and they won a National Championship in Division 3. Let’s hope some of that success is waiting for Gard as he returns to Buffalo.

The Badgers have had the textbook definition of a roller coaster year, at times playing like they could be in the top 5 in the country, and at other times seeming like they don’t belong in the RPI top 50. Wisconsin had a 3 game winning streak heading into the Big 10 Championship game, defeating Minnesota at home on Senior Day and went on to steam roll their way through their first two games in the Big 10 Tournament, defeating Indiana by 10 and Northwestern by 28 before falling to a HOT Michigan side by 15 in the Championship game.

Many would argue that the Badgers deserved a higher seed than they were rewarded, especially seeing that the Badgers received the 3rd worst seed out of the Big 10 teams that made the tournament after finishing 2nd in the Big 10 standings and getting to the Championship game in the Conference Tournament. But the fact of the matter is they didn’t. Just as Coach Gard said in a press conference earlier this week, “We need to move forward and prepare for Virginia Tech on Thursday night.”

The key to the Badgers success at the end of the season and in the Big 10 Tournament was their Seniors play. Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter, and Vitto Brown showed up to play and contributed in BIG ways. And that will be vital for the Badgers to replicate their past success that they’ve had recently in the Big Dance, especially from Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. Both Bronson and Nigel played roles on the two Final Four teams and have led this Wisconsin team for the past seasons. Give Ethan Happ all the credit he deserves, and he deserves a ton for the success of this Badgers team, but the key to success for this Badgers team this Tournament will be the leadership of the Seniors. Bronson and Nigel have to set the pace. They have to have a high impact on the game from the get-go.

My Players to Watch for the Tournament are Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. Bronson and Nigel understand that every game they take the floor from here on out could be their last. They’ve had the most success and wins in the NCAA Tournament in the past 3 seasons than anyone else in the country. They know what it takes to win, what it takes to lead a team to victory, what needs to happen for this Badgers team to move forward.

In the end we’re in the Tournament, right? Our record is 0-0 now, and so is everyone else’s. It’s a new season. It’s a new story. It’s survive and advance. It’s the NCAA Tournament.

My Prediction: Badgers 78, Hokies 71. 

As always, #OnWisconsin 

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Game 30 Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin vs. Iowa

Caleb King’s (@calebking_2) Preview: The Wisconsin Badgers return home to the Kohl Center for their final two games of their Big Ten regular season schedule; the first coming tonight against the Iowa Hawkeyes. The game is slated to begin at 8:00p.m. on ESPN.

The Iowa Hawkeyes come into tonight’s contest with a 16-13 overall record. They currently sit alone in 8th place in the Big Ten with a record of 8-8. They are on a two game winning streak, defeating Indiana at home and then Maryland on the road. Their last loss came at the hands of Illinois on their home floor. After their matchup with Wisconsin, Iowa will finish their Big Ten regular season on Sunday with a home game vs Penn State.

This year has been an up-and-down year for the Hawkeyes, as it has been for many Big Ten teams. They have some very impressive wins, one of which came against the current first place Purdue Boilermakers, a more than solid Maryland team, and even an impressive win against the Cyclones from Iowa State. The Hawkeyes lost A LOT of fire power from last year’s squad, and the only vital player from last year returning was Peter Jok. But make no mistake about it, Peter Jok has not disappointed Iowa fans.

Peter Jok averages 21.0ppg for the Hawkeyes and carries the majority load every night. If there’s one thing to say about Peter Jok it’s that the guy doesn’t quit. He doesn’t ever give up on himself or on his team and he always performs. There is one, and only one, Big 10 arena that Jok has not won at in his career at Iowa. That is the Kohl Center in Madison. Jok visits for the final time tonight to achieve something that is so difficult to do in the Big Ten. Let’s hope the Badgers put a stop to that plan really fast tonight.

The two other primary contributors for Iowa are Tyler Cook, who averages 11.8ppg, and then Jordan Bohannon, who averages 9.2ppg for the Hawkeyes.

Wait, Bohannon? That name sounds familiar. If your Wisconsin Basketball brain’s gears are sharp you’ll have fond memories of Bohannons at the Kohl Center. Jordan Bohannon is the younger brother of two former Badgers, Jason and Zach, who played under Coach Bo Ryan. Jason Bohannon was on the Badgers radar when he was in the recruitment process, but the unknown at the time of who would be in charge of the program for Wisconsin led the final Bohannon to choose his father’s alma mater, Iowa, over the Badgers. Former Badgers Jason and Zach will join their parents in rooting for Iowa and their younger brother tonight at the Kohl Center, unlike D’Mitrik Trice’s brother Travis, who still rooted for his alma mater Spartans on Sunday when Trice came to the Breslin Center with the Badgers. Am I throwing some shade? Maybe a little, but I do think it’s cool to have brotherly support in a situation like this. Either way, it will be a unique experience for all involved. Bohannon has been a great shooter for the Hawkeyes this year and just an all-around athlete to help complement Peter Jok’s consistent heroics.

Now let’s get to our Wisconsin Badgers.

The Badgers come into tonight’s contest with an overall record of 22-7, and ranked 22nd in the nation. They currently sit alone in 2nd place in the Big 10 standings with a 11-5 record looking up at Purdue. If the Badgers win out against Iowa and then Minnesota on Sunday and get some help from Northwestern to defeat Purdue in their final Big 10 game, the Badgers will have a share of the Big 10 regular season title.

The Badgers have lost 4 of their past 5 games, the lone win coming at home against Maryland on the 19th of February. The four losses came against Northwestern at home, Michigan on the road, Ohio State on the road, and Michigan State on the road.

The Badgers haven’t exactly found their rhythm yet. February was a long shortest month of the year. But now it’s March. This is where the Madness begins. This is where champions are born. This is where nothing is given, and everything is earned. And if there’s one thing this veteran Badgers team understands, it’s March.

A big key going down the stretch now is leadership for this Badgers team. Bronson Koenig has emerged as a leader in so many aspects of his life, and realizes he’s down to as few as 4 games left in a Badgers uniform. But he has no intentions of early exits in the Big 10 tourney or the Big Dance. The Senior point guard is too determined to get the Badgers back where they belong.

Sometimes all it takes is one event to really catapult you forward. For Koenig, it was missing that game at Michigan. Koenig said “This being my last year, it reminded me of how much I really love this game and how much I want to be out there with my teammates.” Koenig and Hayes understand that the end of their Wisconsin Basketball careers are coming to a close sometime in the next month. They’re hoping it’s on April 3rd in Phoenix, AZ.

Just take a quick moment to reflect on Nigel and Bronson. Remember when they were freshman coming in and began to contribute just halfway through the non-conference season? We’ve had an awesome opportunity to watch these two players grow in ways that words cannot express, on and off the court. Two great contributors on the two Final Four teams. Koenig’s huge shot against Xavier last March. There’s no quit in those two guys, and you can bet that these two guys are going to do anything in their power to keep Wisconsin dancing through March as long as possible.

The Badgers are led by Koenig (13.9ppg), Hayes (13.7ppg, 6.1rpg, 2.9apg) and Ethan Happ (14.1ppg, 9.0rpg, 2.9apg, 1.2bpg, 2.1spg).

There’s no doubt that a key to victory for the Badgers tonight to get back on track from a 2 game losing streak and losing 4 out of their last 5 is to shut down Peter Jok. I’d assume Zak Showalter will be the man to stop the top scorer in the Big 10, and I’d also assume Khalil Iverson will give his minutes as well. Last season at Carver-Hawkeye arena Iverson had a Top-10 windmill slam-dunk. We’ll see if this year will bring another Top-10 jam for the Sophomore guard. Jok’s pure athleticism will give the Badgers trouble without a doubt, it has given everyone trouble this season. The offense runs through Jok. If the Hawkeyes escape with a win tonight at the Kohl Center, it better be someone else other than Jok who gets it done for Iowa.

My Player-To-Watch tonight is Ethan Happ. Happ has had a couple of rough games in terms of scoring and getting shots off because of double and triple teams, but I think tonight Happ will be a tough matchup for the Hawkeyes down low. Look for Happ to be active on the boards and use his footwork to really dominate Iowa down on the block. Maybe this is a bold statement, but I have a hunch Happ may make a jumper tonight as well!

King’s Prediction: Badgers 76, Iowa 72 (King is 15-5 on the season)

As always, #OnWisconsin

Ben Thorson’s (@benjthorson) Prediction: BADGERS 73 Iowa 65 (Thorson is 23-3 on the season)

Game 29 Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin at Michigan State

Caleb King’s (@calebking_2) Preview:

2004…That’s the last time the Badgers visited the Breslin Center and came away with a victory. 13 years ago. The last team that walked away victorious from the Breslin Center was led by Devin Harris, Mike Wilkinson, and Clayton Hanson.

Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, and Ethan Happ want to change that today.

The Wisconsin Badgers continue their Big Ten regular season schedule as they travel to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans at the not-so-friendly Breslin Center. The game is slated to begin at 3:00p.m. on CBS.

The Spartans come into today’s contest with an overall record of 17-11, and find themselves alone at fifth place in the conference standings with a conference record of 9-6. The Spartans are unranked after beginning the season ranked 12th in the Preseason AP Rankings.

It has been quite the dismal year for the Spartans. A power-packed schedule, inexperience, and injuries for Michigan State gave way to a poor start in which it seems the Spartans have never recovered from. This year’s Spartans team has been anything but typical from a team coached by Tom Izzo. Just in their non-conference season alone they played, and lost to, Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor, and Duke. That’s a crazy schedule.

But despite the ‘anything but normal’ year for the Spartans, they’re never a team to look past on their home floor. Despite their slow and somewhat awful start, they still have a 9-6 record in the Big Ten and are just outside looking in at the top four. Izzo isn’t the type of guy that is easily left out of the top four of the conference standings come years end.

Michigan State is led by freshman Miles Bridges, without a doubt. The superstar freshman puts up 16.3ppg for the Spartans to go along with 8.3rpg, 2.0apg, and 1.7bpg. Also a big contributor for the Spartans is Nick Ward (13.1ppg). Another big contributor for the Spartans is Eron Harris, but unfortunately for Michigan State his season is over with a season-ending injury he sustained. Good news for the Badgers? Yes, Harris put up 10.7ppg, but you never want to hear about a guy having a season-ending injury, ever. Best wishes to Harris on his recovery and we hope to see him back on the court again soon!

Now let’s get to our Wisconsin Badgers.

The Badgers come into the Breslin Center today with an overall record of 22-6, and find themselves alone in 2nd place in the Big Ten with a conference record of 11-4. If the Badgers emerge victorious at the Breslin Center today, they will again be in a tie for first in the conference with Purdue due to Purdue’s loss yesterday at Michigan. The Badgers again control their destiny for at least a share of the conference regular season title. The Badgers are currently ranked 16th in the nation.

As of late, given the exception of the Maryland win at home last Sunday, the Badgers haven’t looked like a March-ready basketball team as of late. That’s just the way it is. The lack of production on a nightly basis has been a huge struggle for Gard’s Badgers, especially in the first half of games. It seems like this has possibly, hopefully, climaxed this past Thursday night where the 72nd ranked KenPom offense (Ohio State) tore apart the 7th ranked KenPom defense (Wisconsin).

This game has the opportunity to really spring the Badgers into the final games of their Big Ten schedule, the Big Ten tournament, and then the Big Dance. No Badgers side has won at the Breslin Center since ’03-04. The Badgers are undoubtedly in a slump. If you ask me, if the Badgers emerge victorious this afternoon in East Lansing, it will serve as a momentum catapult into the remainder of the season. There’s a lot riding on this game for the Badgers. If they win, they have a tie for the lead in the conference regular season chase. If they win, they break the Breslin curse. If they win, they arguably shake off their slump. Michigan State is always a team that turns it around no matter what when they get close to March, and Izzo’s side isn’t exactly who you want to play anytime around March.

The Badgers have an incredible opportunity in East Lansing this afternoon. This could turn it all around. This could be the start of a beautiful run into March.

The Badgers are led by their Big 3 in Ethan Happ, Bronson Koenig, and Nigel Hayes. Happ is averaging phenomenal numbers like always: 14.4ppg, 8.9rpg, 2.9apg, 1.1bpg, and 2.1spg. Bronson Koenig is coming off a record setting night on Thursday where he set a new record at Wisconsin for number of 3’s made with 237, and also tied a career high in points with 27. But when Bronson was asked on Thursday about the career night, he responded saying “It doesn’t matter if I have a great game and we lose. We didn’t get the win. That’s how I’ve always operated.” Koenig is putting up 13.8ppg. Nigel Hayes is scoring 13.4ppg to go along with 6.0rpg and 2.7apg.

 My Player-To-Watch tonight is Senior Nigel Hayes. The season is starting to wind down. Hayes is a Senior on this Badgers team and has been a contributor since day one in the program. Nigel’s gotta step up, and he knows it. I’m a firm believer in Hayes and what he can do, and he proved it last Sunday vs Maryland. Look for Hayes to have an aggressive game today, crashing the boards, finding teammates, and creating chances for himself. He’ll be assertive. He’ll be ready for the big stage.

My keys for victory today are pretty simple, I’m just going to go by the numbers. The Badgers have won their past six games when Nigel attempts 10 free throws. To me, I gotta see Nigel being aggressive today and getting himself to the line. Next key: The Badgers have NEVER LOST a game under Greg Gard when they’ve been leading or tied with 5:00 to go in the game. The Badgers don’t typically blow leads. If we can get a lead going into the final fivw minutes, I feel pretty confident that they’ll pull through.

A big key will be matching up with and stopping Miles Bridges. When the Spartans went through their really tough road and when their fans began to turn on them, Bridges was injured and not playing. Ever since Bridges has returned he has been a vital part of their success. We have to stop Bridges and keep him off the glass.

I believe that the Badgers will, for the first time in 13 years, escape Michigan State’s Breslin Center with a win and keep pace atop the Big Ten table with Purdue.

 King’s Prediction: BADGERS 74 Michigan State 68 (King is 15-4 on the season)

As always, #OnWisconsin

Ben Thorson’s Prediction: BADGERS 64 Michigan State 68 (Thorson is 22-3 on the season)

“Leave no box unchecked.” It was a simple reminder as Nigel Hayes returned for his senior season in Madison that he hadn’t accomplished everything he wanted yet at Wisconsin. One of those things is winning at the Breslin Center. I hate to put all the pressure on one man, but Mr. Hayes it’s on you to check that box this afternoon in East Lansing.

On Thursday night in Columbus, the Badgers frontcourt was stymied by the aggressive double team of Ohio State. Hayes finished the game with seven points on 2-for-6 shooting while going 3-for-7 from the free thrown line. Redshirt sophomore Ethan Happ finished the game with four points on 2-for-5 shooting and no trips to the line.

Happ and Hayes need to be more intelligent in the low post, get to the free throw line, avoid turnovers, and find open teammates to prevail in East Lansing.

Michigan State is coming off an impressive 88-72 victory at home vs. Nebraska, a game where they played without senior leader, Eron Harris. The Spartans were led that night by a pair of 20-point performances from freshman Miles Bridges and Nick Ward. Ward is a powerhouse down-low and has proven to be a matchup problem for many in the Big Ten. Can Ethan Happ find ways to score on the inexperienced defender and avoid foul trouble on the other end of the floor?

Recently Michigan State has been convincing, winning their last four on their home court and recently the Badgers have been unconvincing. Until things change, I have to go with the Spartans at home, prove me wrong Bucky!

Game 28 Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin at Ohio State

Caleb King’s (@calebking_2) Preview: The 15th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers travel to Columbus, Ohio to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes tonight at the Value City Arena. The game is slated to tip at 8pm.

The Ohio State Buckeyes come in to tonight’s matchup with an overall record of 15-13, and find themselves with a Big Ten record of 5-10, 13th place in the conference. The only team the Buckeyes find themselves above in conference play is Rutgers. Ohio State is also riding a current three game losing streak, having lost to Maryland, Michigan State, and Nebraska. Their last win came at home where they defeated Rutgers 70-64.

The year has been nothing but struggles thus far for the Buckeyes. Ever since the conference season has begun the Buckeyes have lost twice as many games as they’ve won. It’s been a roller coaster type of year, but right when it seems they’re going up, they seem to fall right back down. However, the Buckeyes have lost three of their ten defeats in Big Ten play by one possession, and another by just four points. IF the ball falls their way just one more time in those games, the Buckeyes look like a pretty good team and would find themselves in the top six of the Big Ten standings. But, if “ifs” and “buts” were candy and nuts we’d all have a Merry Christmas, right? My point here is that this Buckeyes team is no team to take lightly especially on their home floor. Remember, the Buckeyes haven’t lost by more than six on their home floor this season and took Purdue to a one-point game where they saw defeat at the hands of Caleb Swanigan and company. The Buckeyes worst loss this season came when they visited the Kohl Center on January 12th, where they lost to the Badgers by score of 66-89.

The Buckeyes are led in scoring by Jae-Sean Tate (14.0ppg), Marc Loving (12.6ppg), JaQuan Lyle (11.0ppg), Trevor Thompson (10.7ppg), and Kam Williams (10.1ppg). Trevor Thompson also leads the Buckeyes in rebounds with 9.3rpg, and Tate also grabs 6.1 boards per game.

It will be key for the Badgers to shut down Jae-Sean Tate and JaQuan Lyle if they’re going to be successful defensively. Tate is responsible for a majority of the Buckeye’s points and JaQuan Lyle is an assist machine. Between the two of them they are responsible for a vast majority of Ohio State scoring possessions. But the Badgers are very well versed in putting a stop to good players’ streaks.

The Badgers come into Columbus ranked number 15 in the nation and sporting a 22-5 overall record, and find themselves a half game back in the Big Ten regular season title race with a record of 11-3. Purdue is alone atop the Big Ten currently but have already played their game this week, they are 12-3 in conference play. With a ‘W’ in Columbus, the Badgers will find themselves in a tie atop the Big Ten with the Boilermakers. The Badgers have only won one of their past three games after winning 16 out of 17, with losses recently coming at home vs Northwestern and on the road vs Michigan before catching their stride again and defeating a tough Maryland team at the Kohl Center on Sunday by score of 71-60. But after this recent skid of games, these Badgers have grown and matured vastly.

One of the bigger questions for some Badgers fans is about the progress of Bronson Koenig. Koenig missed the Michigan game and then came off the bench on Sunday’s victory over Maryland. In a recent interview a reporter asked Koenig how he was feeling, Koenig responded “I’m fine. During the game I actually felt great. The rest definitely helped.” Koenig expects to be back in the starting line-up tonight at Ohio State.

Another big story-line recently has been the play of redshirt freshman Brevin Pritzl. Pritzl was a huge spark off the bench for the Badgers in their big win over Maryland on Sunday. On one series of plays he had an and-one, slam-dunk and proceeded to make a hustle play to throw the ball off of the Maryland player for the Badgers to keep possession, which sent the Badgers faithful into a frenzy.

It’s hustle plays and momentum switches like those that Pritzl displayed on Sunday that have seemed to have proven that even amidst the shooting slumps the Badgers have been seeing recently that they can use those hustle plays and momentum swings as their source of offense. Pritzl said in a recent interview regarding momentum plays, “I don’t know if it will necessarily help us shoot but I mean it will definitely give us confidence in what we’re doing and make us, I don’t want to say more energetic, but it definitely gives you a different momentum.”

The Badgers have four contributors on this year’s team from the state of Ohio. Nigel Hayes is from Toledo, Ohio; Vitto Brown from Bowling Green; D’Mitrik Trice from Huber Heights; and Khalil Iverson is from Delaware, Ohio. For Nigel, he grew up an Ohio State fan and has had consistent success against the Buckeyes throughout his career. Last year in an interview a reporter asked Hayes how he felt about Ohio State not recruiting him because of his “lack of a jump shot”. Hayes responded very confidently “They got their two stars they wanted. I’ll take my two Final Fours and my wins and go on my merry way. *drops mic*”. That’s quite the statement, and he’s held up to that standard.

For Iverson it will be a little different tonight. Since the Badgers did not travel to Columbus last season, the Sophomore has not played in his home state yet against the Buckeyes. Tonight will be the first time returning to Ohio to take on the hometown Buckeyes he grew up watching. The last time Iverson played in Columbus he recorded a triple-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists, a game his Senior year of High School. The Sophomore guard has been a versatile asset to Coach Gard’s Badgers. In the game vs Michigan Iverson came off the bench and played a huge role in keeping the game close, scoring ten points to help the Badgers keep pace. On Sunday against Maryland, Iverson guarded four different positions. That’s nuts for a kid like Iverson to be so athletic that he can guard virtually every position on the court. But that’s the joy and contributions he brings to this veteran Badgers side.

Vitto Brown is also a Ohio native, growing up and living in Bowling Green. Vitto has been having some mid-season struggles as of late but tonight I look for Vitto to be more aggressive and get a bit of his “swagger” back. If the Badgers are going to make a run late in the postseason this year I believe an essential part will need to be the production of Vitto Brown being able to contribute 8-11 points per game.

Freshman D’Mitrik Trice returns to the state where he led his high school basketball team a State Championship and also played football at Wayne High School. Trice scored 19 points in the state championship game and was named the games’ MVP.

The Badgers only made two ‘three-pointers’ in their win against Maryland. They proved that they can win against a tough opponent without shooting well from the outside, and what a big difference it was for the Badgers in the paint. Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes dominated the paint and created chances for the Badgers around them.

The Badgers are undoubtedly led by redshirt Sophomore Ethan Happ. Happ is averaging 14.7ppg, 9.0rpg, 2.9apg, 2.1spg, and 1.1bpg. As many of you have seen from BTN and ESPN, Ethan Happ is the only player in all of college basketball to lead his team in conference play in each major category. That’s INSANE. Along with Happ comes the Senior duo of Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. Hayes is averaging 13.6ppg, 6.0rpg, and 2.8apg. Hayes is coming off of a fantastic game vs Maryland where he grabbed 11 rebounds to go along with 21 points. Nigel knows that if the Badgers are going to make the run in the postseason he needs to be putting up bigger numbers and take over games. He’s the veteran, and he proved the other night that he’s capable of pulling through. Like I mentioned before, Bronson Koenig is coming off of a bit of an injury, but has said he is fine and good to go for Thursday’s matchup with the Buckeyes. I’m anxious to see how his health progresses through the game and how many minutes he’ll see.

A key to the Badgers success tonight no doubt is to not allow Ohio State to gain momentum. Right from the tip in their first meeting the Badgers put the Buckeyes through a nutcracker and it was a coasting away type of game. That’s the kind of game the Badgers need tonight to break out of this shooting slump. If they allow this Buckeyes team to hang around for any extended length of time and allow them to believe they have a chance to win, that’s when things can get dicey in Columbus. Purdue barely escaped with a win because they let them stick around. The Badgers have to put the throttle down right away tonight at 8pm.

My Player-To-Watch is a combination of the Ohio natives: Nigel Hayes, Khalil Iverson, D’Mitrik Trice, and Vitto Brown. I think this stage and this type of game presents the four with a big opportunity to really have break-out games against the Buckeyes, for many of the reasons I’ve stated in each of their sections of the preview.

My Prediction: BADGERS 84 Ohio State 68 (King is 15-3 on the season)

As always, #OnWisconsin

Ben Thorson’s (@benjthorson) Prediction: BADGERS 69 Ohio State 63 (Thorson is 22-2 on the season)

Game 24 Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin at Nebraska

Caleb King’s (@calebking_2) Preview: The Wisconsin Badgers continue their Big Ten conference season and travel to Lincoln, Nebraska tonight for a matchup with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The game is slated to begin at 8pm at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Coming into tonight’s game, Nebraska is 11-13 overall and 4-7 in Big Ten play after their impressive 3-0 start to the conference season.

The year has been a roller coaster year for the Huskers, and most of that has been downhill. They started off their Big Ten season beating Indiana, Maryland, and Iowa, who all have impressive victories thus far this season. Since then, they’ve fallen in each of their conference contests except for a very impressive victory over the Purdue Boilermakers by a margin of three points at home. They now sit 12th out of 14 teams in the conference. If there’s anything to note about this Nebraska team, it is that they’re a much better team at home than on the road. Remember the Huskers upset the Badgers last season in the Big Ten tournament’s first round. Nebraska is as unpredictable as they come this year, and there’s no easy game on the road in the Big Ten, so you can bet tonight will be interesting in one way or another.

Nebraska only has two players that have started every game for them this season, so we can see right there that there is a lot of inconsistency from the start with this team. The two that have started every game thus far are no doubt their two leaders in Tai Webster and Michael Jacobsen. Tai Webster and Glynn Watson Jr. lead the charge offensively as they average 18.0ppg and 13.9ppg respectively. Webster also leads his team in assists as he averages 4.1apg. The Huskers are also a very active team on the boards as they have three players who average at least 5 boards per game (Tai Webster 5, Ed Morrow Jr 7.9, and Michael Jacobsen 6.8). Ed Morrow Jr also averages 10.1 ppg for the Huskers.

The Badgers come into tonight’s contest ranked #7 in the nation, and sit atop the Big Ten standings with a 20-3 record overall, 9-1 in Big Ten contests with their only blemish coming at the hands of the Purdue Boilermakers on January 8th.

If I had to choose one word to describe this Badgers team, I’d say “HOT”. This Badgers side under Coach Greg Gard has only lost one game since Thanksgiving, and that was to a sharp-shooting, inside-dominating Purdue Boilermaker side in West Lafayette. Since then, the Badgers have taken care of business, no matter how ugly it might’ve been, they have found a way to win. A big part of that has been due to the outstanding performances of redshirt Sophomore Ethan Happ.

Happ has emerged as the star of this Badgers team, hands down, no questions asked. 

When Happ arrived on campus for his freshman year, which he redshirted, Vitto Brown was quoted saying that “Ethan was one of the softest guys we’d ever met.” In that recent interview Vitto said he and his fellow housemates with Happ sat him down and, for lack of a better way to put it, told him to “Man-Up” because sooner or later all the stars would be gone and it would be his program to lead.

This same Ethan Happ, just two years later, is leading the 7th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers in points (14.7ppg), rebounds (9.1rpg), blocks (1.1bpg), and steals (2.0spg) and is ANYTHING but soft. Happ recently said “It’s awesome to come from a small school, have dreams of playing in college, just getting on the court, and now I’m one of the like top three or four people on a team that’s first in the Big Ten. I think that’s amazing. I really do.”

Well Ethan, I think we can all agree you’re the top guy so far on this top-tem Wisconsin Badgers team this season.

Jay Bilas recently tweeted that, in his mind, Happ is the leading candidate for National Defensive Player of the Year, and that nobody is as good of a defender as he is. In another recent interview, Happ reveals why he seems to be particularly strong on the defensive side of the ball: Football. His prevailing strategy: ‘bat the quarterback and pounce on mistakes.’

“I would try to make him think, if he throws it over here, it’s open,” Ethan says. “Then all of a sudden I jump the route. And then pick-six.”

This is something Happ continues to use defending players today. He’ll try to position himself so that passers believe they have a chance to feed the post; then he watches and times his attack. The 6’10” Sophomore is pretty good at it. Brown said that earlier it used to be “Oh, Ethan’s on me, time to attack.” But now he’s a “master thief out there. He’s got a knack for reaching at the right time and knowing how to make guys uncomfortable. It’s amazing.” Yes, yes it is Vitto.

As clutch as Ethan has been for the Badgers thus far, he isn’t the only guy out there for this tenacious, dangerous Wisconsin team. Alongside Happ, are two of college basketball’s most accomplished players so far in their careers in Seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. The luxury of being able to say that Bronson and Nigel are arguably your 2nd and 3rd best players is coveted by many, many teams in the nation.

Bronson has been having himself quite the spurt of games. He’s been hitting deep daggers late in games to seal victories for the Badgers, particularly at Minnesota and at Rutgers, but also getting hot in the other games as well. There isn’t another guy in the nation I’d rather have taking the last shot than Bronson, there’s ice in his veins and if you can get him in a catch-and-shoot situation, watch out. Bronson is putting up some impressive numbers on a successful Badgers team that has only three losses so far this season. He’s averaging 14.0ppg and shooting .392 from the 3-point line to go along with 2.2apg and 2.3rpg.

Nigel has also had himself a nice Senior campaign so far. The Senior forward is the Badgers key to dicing up a zone defense. It is a wonder to me why any teams try a zone defense against the Badgers. Each and every time a team has showed zone, Nigel goes to the high post and either gets a high quality look himself or more often he will facilitate from the dangerous high post area to his open teammates who find pockets in the zone. It’s a glorious thing to watch. When Nigel isn’t living on the 3-point line he is thriving in the lane and driving into defenders and getting to the line. As of late, Ethan and Nigel have been doing a phenomenal job of getting the opposing team into foul trouble and getting to the line. Their free throws still aren’t as good as we would like them to be, but they’re starting to pay dividends as a game wears on.

Tonight the Badgers take on a very inconsistent Huskers side, and you can bet that a theme for Coach Gard tonight will be consistency. If the Badgers stick to their game plan and run their offense efficiently, along with keeping Tai Webster at bay on the defensive side of the ball, you can bet that this game will be no challenge for the Badgers in Lincoln. I’d imagine that Zak Showalter will have Webster for a majority of the game tonight, and Nigel and Bronson will also take their turns as well I’m sure. Webster is great at scoring and facilitating, and a majority of Nebraska’s points come from him either scoring or facilitating. I’m anxious to see how Wisconsin will defend him tonight, because that will no doubt be a crucial aspect to this game. Like I said before, no Big Ten road game is easy, so the Badgers will have to be on their “A” game tonight to knock off a streaky Nebraska side.

My Player-To-Watch tonight is Junior forward Vitto Brown. Vitto has struggled a bit the past couple of games and tonight I see a prime opportunity for Vitto to get back on track and play some quality minutes and hit some big shots. The Huskers are very active defensively, but Vitto could be a huge key to opening up the Badgers offense tonight if he can get going from the 3-point line. When Vitto is dangerous from the outside, the Badgers are incredibly dangerous all over the court.

King’s Prediction: BADGERS 72 Nebraska 57 (King is 14-3 on the season)

As Always, #OnWisconsin

Ben Thorson’s (@benjthorson) Prediction: BADGERS 66 Nebraska 57 (Thorson is 20-2 on the season)

Game 22 Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin at Illinois

Caleb King’s (@calebking_2) Preview: The Badgers continue their Big Ten conference schedule tonight as they visit Champaign, IL to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini for a game scheduled to begin at 8pm on Big Ten Network.

The Fighting Illini come into the game with an overall record of 13-9, 3-6 in conference play; having lost four out of their last five. The Illini have had themselves quite the roller coaster of a season thus far. Their most impressive win, in my opinion, came at home against North Carolina State in the ACC/B1G Challenge by score of 88-74. NC State has some impressive wins this season and that looks very good on the Illini’s resumé. The Illini have fallen to ranked opponents West Virginia and Florida State, and tonight’s game against Wisconsin will be their highest ranked opponent they’ve faced thus far this season at the time of the game. They have a decisive win over Michigan at home by score of 85-69, but then went on to lose in Ann Arbor a little over a week later by score of 57-66; quite the different game. Their only other wins in the Big Ten Conference have come against Ohio State by a margin of five and Iowa by a margin of 12.

The Illini have been an impressive team when they’re playing on their home floor this season. They’re putting up drastically different quantities of points and holding their opponents on the defensive side of the ball. They are 10-2 when playing on their home floor, and 3-7 when away from Champaign. This is the only game the Badgers get against the Illini this season so they need to make sure they take care of business tonight.

The Illini are led by standout Malcolm Hill, who averages 17.5ppg, 5.9rpg, and 2.7apg. Hill will be the primary concern for the Badgers tonight as he has the ability to take over the game for a weaker Illini team and put his teammates in positions to make plays. He makes everyone around him better, and you can bet Coach Gard and the Wisconsin staff will have a lot of ideas and tactics to throw at Hill to get him out of his fluidity and out of his game.

Now let’s get to our Top-10 ranked Wisconsin Badgers.

The Badgers come into Tuesday night’s contest in Champaign back in the top-10 of the nation, as they’ve been ranked 10th in the latest AP Poll for this week. The Badgers come in with a record of 18-3 overall which is their third best start in school history, and 7-1 in conference play as they are tied atop the table with the Maryland Terrapins. (The Terrapins have the edge on overall record as they are 19-2 overall). The Badgers also ride a five game winning streak into the game as they’ve defeated Rutgers, Penn State, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio State all in that stretch since their fall to Purdue on the 8th of January.

There is no doubt that the story as of late for the Badgers has been Sophomore superstar Ethan Happ. Happ just received his 2nd straight Big 10 Player of the Week honor, only the second Badger to win back-to-back in the programs history. (And no, the other Badger is not Alando Tucker, Frank Kaminsky, or Jordan Taylor, it was Mike Wilkinson). Ethan has carried the Badgers as of late. In the game at Minnesota Happ put up a career high (at the time) of 28 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, five blocks, and one steal. Then comes the Badgers win at Madison Square Garden where Happ carried Wisconsin with a new career high of 32 points to go along with six rebounds, four steals, three assists, and two blocks. Happ is now the only Big Ten player to lead his team in points (17.7), rebounds (8.1), assists (3.1), steals (2.8), and blocks (1.5) in conference games. Overall Happ’s numbers aren’t much worse (14.5ppg, 9.0rpg, 2.9apg, 1.0bpg, 2.0spg).

But Happ isn’t the only asset the Badgers have had recently. Bronson Koenig has decisively taken over games in the last six minutes of play and he’s been ‘fire’ late in the game. A commentator said this past weekend that they weren’t surprised Koenig missed a shot in the first half because it wasn’t with less than five minutes left in the game yet. Koenig has come up with some huge shots as of late and there is no doubt in my mind that he is the one player in the entire country that I want with the ball either late in the shot clock or without a doubt at the end of a game. Once ‘Klutch Koenig’ gets that ‘Koenig Kounter’ going, watch out! Because this man has ice in his veins and you’re in for a long night of trying to guard him. He’ll take you off the dribble and pull up on a dime. (Koenig is averaging 14.4ppg this season).

Hayes has also been playing solid as of late. Hayes’ court vision has really proved to be vital as of late, he’s always finding Happ or other Badgers shooters getting open and has been hitting the boards hard. The more Hayes keeps his game inside the three point line the better, and he’s proven as of late that he can and will get to the rim when he wants to. Hayes and Happ have done a phenomenal job getting opponents into foul trouble early as they’ve attacked the rim relentlessly and forced opponents to either foul or concede a bucket down low. That’s the kind of production we need from those two, to impose their will on the block. But that also means that they need to hit their free throws, which has been a struggle as of late for the both of them. (Hayes is averaging 13.4ppg, 5.8rpg, and 3.2apg).

A key for the Badgers tonight will be containing Malcolm Hill and not allowing him to get going early on. We’ll need to get in his face early and often and not let him have any space in pulling up. We need to make the rest of the Illini beat us, if we let Malcolm Hill beat us tonight it will be a failed assignment on everyone’s part.

My Player-To-Watch tonight is Ethan Happ. It goes without saying from what I said before that this kid is special and the reason he’s my player to watch is because he’s an Illinois kid. Back in the home state, and I’m sure a lot of family will be there to watch him and old friends as well. I look for Ethan to have another breakout game and to dominate in every area as he has as of late.

No Big Ten game on the road is easy. Nothing will be given to the Badgers tonight. They’ll have to work for everything they get if they want to escape Champaign tonight with the victory. Atop the Big Ten are the Badgers along with Maryland as I mentioned before, and they’ll need to keep winning to keep up with Maryland. We don’t want the matchup with Maryland at the Kohl Center on February 19th to be a catch-up game. These are the kinds of games you need to win to silence doubters and make the nation believe you are capable of winning the games you’re supposed to.

King’s Prediction: BADGERS 83 Illinois 68 (King is 13-3 on the season)

As always, #OnWisconsin

Ben Thorson’s (@benjthorson) Prediction: The Illinois are a completely different team on their home floor, it is a gym they are comfortable in and have experience winning big games in. But I’m not going to pick against the Badgers unless I’m over 50% confident they  are going to lose; like I was in our early season meeting with North Carolina. I happen to believe the Badgers are the best team in the Big Ten, despite what we saw Saturday against Rutgers. And if you are the best team in the Big Ten, then you find ways to win on the road against middle-tier conference teams. Wisconsin has to get back to their high efficiency on offense and play with the lead throughout to avoid disaster in Champaign. BADGERS 71 Illinois 65 (Thorson is 19-2 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)