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 27 Preview and Prediction: Wisconsin vs. Maryland

Ben Thorson’s (@benjthorson) Preview: The Wisconsin Badgers Men’s Basketball team returns to action Sunday afternoon as they host the 23rd-ranked Maryland Terrapins at the Kohl Center. The game is scheduled to tip-off at 12:00p.m. on CBS.

After losses to Northwestern and Michigan, the Badgers will look to avoid falling out of first place in the Big Ten Standings. Entering play on Saturday, Wisconsin is in a 3-way tie with Purdue and Maryland with a 10-3 conference record. Purdue takes on Michigan State at 3:00p.m. on Saturday.

Maryland comes into Madison off back-to-back wins against Ohio State and Northwestern as the Terrapins boast an overall record of 22-4. Maryland is currently ranked 17th in the RPI rankings with their top wins coming against Minnesota, Oklahoma State, and Northwestern. The Terps are 3-1 against RPI Top-50 opponents; their only loss was a 72-73 defeat to Purdue on February 4th. Maryland does have some questionable losses this season as they have fallen to three teams outside the RPI Top-50: Pittsburgh, Nebraska, and Penn State.

The Terps are led by guard, Melo Trimble; who leads Maryland with 17.2 points per game and 1.2 steals per game. The junior also posts 3.5 rpg, 3.5 apg and 44.4% shooting from the field. Trimble isn’t doing it alone however, as he is getting help from a trio of freshman led by forward Justin Jackson. Jackson leads the Terps with 6.3rpg to go along with 11.0ppg. The freshman can also spread the floor as he has connected on 36 three-pointers this season on 80 attempts (45.0%).

The other two freshman of note are guards Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter. Cowan is averaging 10.7ppg, 4.0rpg, 3.7apg. and 1.2spg. While Huerter contributes 9.0ppg and 5.0rpg.

After previewing this Maryland squad, what do the Badgers need to do Sunday to end their two-game skid?

  1. Nigel Hayes needs to be more assertive: In the absence of Bronson Koenig against Michigan on Thursday, the Badgers were looking for major production from their other three senior starters. Hayes, Vitto Brown, and Zak Showalter combined for 14 points on 5-for-19 shooting. The Badgers need more production from Hayes, who didn’t attempt a single free throw in Thursday’s loss. Hayes has proven unstoppable in spurts this season when he drives to the basket and works in the low post; as defenders are left a step-behind resulting in an easy finish for Nigel or a foul. Look for Hayes to be more assertive Sunday in what may be the biggest game of his senior campaign to date.
  2. Play with the lead in the final 10 minutes: We all understand the Badgers offensive struggles recently; these struggles have allowed opponents to go on runs and ultimately force the Badgers to play from behind late in games. This will prove even more important on Sunday as Melo Trimble has proven to be one of the most ‘clutch’ players in the conference and one of the most consistent free-throw shooters late in games. If the Badgers trail late, they most likely will be trading buckets with a pair of made free throws from Trimble.
  3. Play a Badgers brand of basketball: Wisconsin returns to their home floor in need of a big victory. We know the Kohl Center will be rockin’ but will we see the same sluggish, turnover-prone offense from the Badgers on Sunday? Wisconsin has to take more pride in protecting the basketball and getting to the free throw line. The play of Ethan Happ has proven consistent over Big Ten play, but who will step up Sunday to help keep the Badgers on top of the Big Ten conference; in my opinion it needs to be a complete team effort.

Thorson’s Prediction: BADGERS 63 Maryland 60 (Thorson is 21-2 on the season) At the time of writing this article, the status of senior guard Bronson Koenig is still undetermined, but my prediction holds true in either situation, here’s why…Koenig has been relatively ineffective ever since this calf injury came about sometime between the Penn State and Rutgers games, as result the Badgers offense has become sluggish and doesn’t have a ‘go-to’ scoring option down the stretch. But this stretch has now gone on for too long for Greg Gard and his staff to not have an answer. And the answer hinges on playing ‘elite’ defense, taking care of the basketball, and Nigel Hayes playing like a member of the All Big-Ten Conference First Team.

According to Kenpom rankings, the Badgers have the most efficient defense in the Big Ten conference and are currently ranked 7th in the country on this end of the floor. This defense has allowed 61.8 ppg in Big Ten play, which includes three overtime periods; in regulation time they have allowed 59.5ppg. I expect this stout defense to continue Sunday on their home floor with an understanding that Melo Trimble is going to get his points but don’t allow him to get consistent production from his trio of freshman who have never seen a defensive unit as solid as the Badgers.

This carries on to many Badgers fans concern over the play of Koenig’s replacement D’Mitrik Trice. The freshman guard was 2-for-15 from the floor Thursday night as Trice recorded nine points in his first career start. First of all, Trice should have never been in a position to take this many shots, Hayes was non-existent on the offensive end and Brown stopped shooting after an 0-for-5 start. If anything I am actually encouraged that Trice was willing to take that many shots, because if he’s in that position again Sunday, D’Mitrik is too good of a shooter to only make two. Second, Trice had four assists, four free throw attempts, and two turnovers in his first ever road start against a much-improved Wolverines team. Trice proved to be the most assertive Badger behind Ethan Happ on Thursday night and I think he’s in for a better performance Sunday if called upon to start again.

There are many concerns and questions leading into Sundays game with Maryland but the Badgers have always proven to me that they have a response; and I expect that response to come Sunday afternoon with a top-25 victory!

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)

Game 15 Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin at Indiana

Caleb King (@calebking_2) Preview: The Wisconsin Badgers continue their Big Ten conference schedule on Tuesday night as they travel to Indiana to take on the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall for a game that is scheduled to begin at 6pm on ESPN.

The Hoosiers come into the game with an overall record of 10-4 and an unexpected conference record of 0-1. Indiana’s opening B1G game saw the Hoosiers fall surprisingly at Assembly Hall by a score of 83-87 to Nebraska. Indiana is currently on a 2-game losing streak, with their most recent loss coming against #6 Louisville in Indianapolis by score of 62-77. After starting the season at 10-2, including impressive wins over #2 Kansas and #3 North Carolina, the Hoosiers now find themselves unranked in many polls or ranked 25th in others after being ranked 16th to begin last week.

No matter how things have been going as of late for the Hoosiers, this is not a team any program in the nation can overlook. Indiana has a high powered offense which is led by a lot of experience and success. The Hoosiers are led by their “Big 4” in James Blackmon Jr (17.3ppg, 5.8rpg), Robert Johnson (13.8ppg, 4.1rpg, 2.4apg), OG Anunoby (12.2ppg, 6.2rpg), and big man Thomas Bryant (12.1ppg, 7.6rpg). There are a total of six Hoosiers that are currently averaging over seven points per game.

The Badgers come into the game with an overall record of 12-2 and a 1-0 record in the B1G following their opening conference contest where they defeated Rutgers handily, 72-52 at the Kohl Center in Madison. The Badgers are ranked nationally at #13 and are currently on an 8-game winning streak, including wins over Oklahoma, Syracuse, Marquette, and Rutgers over that stretch.

Wisconsin is led as of late by their “Big 3” in Bronson Koenig (14.1ppg), Nigel Hayes (14.0ppg, 5.8rpg, 3.3apg), and Ethan Happ (12.7ppg, 9.6rpg, 1.6spg). Zak Showalter is coming off a big game against Rutgers where he scored his season-high point total of 18, to go along with four steals in 30 minutes. Showalter is averaging 8.1ppg and fellow senior, Vitto Brown is also contributing 7.8ppg and 4.0rpg. D’Mitrik Trice continues to impress and is proving to be an effective sixth man for the Badgers. The Freshman guard is putting up 6.5ppg and sometimes shares the court with Bronson Koenig, to allow Koenig more scoring opportunities at the 2-guard.

In comparison to Indiana’s 9-1 record when scoring 80 points, the Badgers have only allowed 80 points in one contest this season, and in that contest they defeated Marquette on the road by score of 93-84. The Badgers are 4-0 when they score 80 points or more in a game. Putting that all in perspective, on paper it seems that the winner of this game will be the first to 80, but it will be much more than that.

A key matchup for the Badgers tonight will be the play of Happ, Brown, and Charlie Thomas vs. Indiana center, Thomas Bryant. If the Badgers bigs can dominate the boards and keep Bryant off the glass it will open up the game for Wisconsin to move their offense through the post with Happ and Nigel Hayes. Ethan Happ’s footwork will be critical against the very physical Bryant, but after two games last season vs Bryant, the Badgers sophomore forward knows what it takes to match up with the Indiana big man and will hopefully stay out of foul trouble defending him.

It’s no secret either that the backcourt game is vital for success tonight as well. The Hoosiers love to run their guys off of a lot of screens and get open from the outside and hit open jumpers. The Badgers will have to keep their defensive rotations on lockdown as they look to limit the Hoosiers from getting easy looks from the outside. OG Anunoby will take you anywhere on the floor and prove his athleticism both outside and around the rim. Anunoby has the ability to cause a lot of problems for the Badgers if they are unable to communicate on defense against the 6’8” forward for Indiana.

Despite Indiana being on the edge of or out of the national top-25 rankings; this Hoosiers team has all the pieces to be a top-15, even a top-10 team in the country. Don’t forget, Indiana has two of the most impressive victories in the conference to this point. It will take nothing short of the Badgers best effort to take down the Hoosiers in Bloomington at the historic Assembly Hall. Coaches Tom Crean and Greg Gard will have their teams ready for a March-like showdown tonight.

My Player-To-Watch is Nigel Hayes: Last year at Assembly Hall the Badgers fell by score of 58-59 and Hayes had a quiet 15 points on 3-13 shooting, and three of those points were on account of a half-court shot to end the game. Later in the season the Badgers took down the Hoosiers in Madison by score of 82-79 and Hayes led the Badgers with 31 points on 7-12 shooting as the forward also connected on 17-22 shooting from the charity stripe. Purely from last season’s outcomes and Hayes’ influence on the Badgers offense; I consider him the player-to-watch tonight. If the Badgers are able to work their offense through Hayes and get him the ball in the high and low post, then Nigel should be able to facilitate and score from their effectively.

King’s Prediction: BADGERS 79 Indiana 75 (King is 9-2 on the season)

As always, #OnWisconsin

Ben Thorson’s Prediction (@benjthorson): Since I’m picking a loss Sunday at Purdue, I’m going to bet on the Badgers not losing both road games this week. Wisconsin escapes with a huge road win in Bloomington, and maybe they can even change my mind for Sunday!

BADGERS 73 Indiana 68 (Thorson is 13-1 on the season)

Game 14 Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin vs. Rutgers

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)