Jan 4, 2014; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach John Groce holds back his team during a skirmish during the second half against the Penn State Nittany Lions at State Farm Center. Illinois defeated Penn State 75-55. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Fighting Illini Basketball: #4 Wisconsin Badgers Preview and Live Thread


The newly ranked #23 Illinois Fighting Illini are simply getting the job done on the court right now after knocking off the Indiana Hoosiers and the Penn State Nittany Lions to start the conference season. Beating the Hoosiers and Nittany Lions to get to 2-0 in the conference is nothing to scoff at, but the Illini face a much stiffer test on Wednesday night when they travel to Madison, Wisconsin to face the undefeated #4 Wisconsin Badgers. Unlike the picture above, John Groce won’t be looking to hold the Illini back in any facet of their game as they try to hand the Badgers their first loss of the season.

Bo Ryan’s Badgers are a fundamentally sound veteran squad led by a trio of upper classmen guards in senior Ben Brust and juniors Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson. Each of them average over 30 minutes per game and collectively average a mere 3.7 turnovers per game. As a team, Wisconsin values the basketball, averaging a grand total of 8 turnovers per game. The Illinois guards are going to have their work cut out for them defensively if they hope to create the turnovers that have helped Illinois to their fast start thus far this season.

Surprisingly, none of the 4 upper classmen who log major minutes lead Wisconsin in scoring. Instead, it’s sophomore Sam Dekker who leads the way (14.1 ppg). Dekker has only been held to single digits in 3 of the Badgers 15 games this season, and he is shooting 50.3% from the floor across those 15 games. It appears Jon Ekey may end up with one of the tougher assignments defensively this game, as Dekker checks in at 6’7″.

Things won’t be any easier for Nnanna Egwu, who will undoubtedly have to guard Wisconsin’s second leading scorer, 7’0″ Lisle, IL native Frank Kaminsky (13.5 ppg). Kaminsky’s average is slightly misleading in that it’s buoyed by a 43 point outburst against North Dakota, but that still doesn’t change the fact that he has registered double figures in 10 of 15 games and shoots 54.7% from the floor, including 46.3% from 3 point range.

In all, Wisconsin comes into this game with 4 players averaging double figures, and they shoot 46.6% from the floor as a team, including 39.6% from 3 point land. Looking deeper, the 5 primary minutes eaters (Brust, Gasser, Jackson, Kaminsky, and Dekker) shoot a collective 46.1% from the floor, including 40.6% from 3 point land. Clearly, the Illinois defense is going to have to be aggressive in guarding the 3 point line because all 5 of their main players have the ability to hit the deep ball if given the chance.

Three Things I’d Like To See Against Wisconsin

1. Hold them below their season average for FG % - This means defensive intensity from the opening tip, just like they brought against Penn State. This time, they’ll be on the road in a hostile environment, but the Illini can’t get caught up in all that if they want to be successful. Play with an edge, and don’t allow this good shooting Badger team too many open looks.

2. Control the glass - The teams that have nearly beaten the Badgers this season have done so by keeping the battle close, if not winning the battle outright. We’ve learned that Illinois has no single rebounding force on this team. Against Penn State, everyone did their part, and the Illini won the rebounding battle. They need to do the same this game if they want to knock the Badgers from the ranks of the unbeatens.

3. Take advantage of our guards size advantage - It seems really odd to say this, considering the Illini are going up against Wisconsin, a team that’s usually filled with size, but the Illini guards actually have a slight size advantage. They need to utilize their attacking style and take it to the Badgers from the opening tip. At this point, we know that Illinois is most effective when they are attacking the basket. They can’t afford to get into a 3 point shooting battle and expect to win this game. Move the ball, get high percentage looks, be active on the offensive boards and good things will happen.

The Skinny:

When: Wednesday, Jan. 8th @ 8 pm CST

Where: Kohl Center – Madison, WI

TV: BTN (Directv 610 / DISH Network 439)

Announcers: Brian Anderson (Play by Play) & Mike Kelley (Analyst)

Feel free to drop back in during the game and chat with me in the comments section below with any observations you may have! I-L-L!

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.

Tags: Illinois Fighting Illini John Groce Jon Ekey Nnanna Egwu

  • @RPKraemer

    We are inside of an hour. Does anyone have any predictions on tonight’s game?

  • @RPKraemer

    In typical fashion, the game ahead of the Illini game is going to run into the projected start of the Illini game. Always.

  • @RPKraemer

    Still 2:08 to play in the PSU/Minnesota tilt and we have a TO on the floor for a player experiencing cramps.

  • @RPKraemer

    Tip will actually occur at 8:06. Still hope that we go there in time.

  • @RPKraemer

    4-3 Wiscy early. Will the basketball gods please end this Minnesota game already?

  • @RPKraemer

    Make that 6-3. Illinois is 1-5 from the floor – a Rice 3 the only points.

  • @RPKraemer

    Bertrand 3. Illinois trails 8-6.

  • @RPKraemer

    We are at the under 16 timeout already. Meanwhile this Gopher/Nittany Lion tilt crawls at a snails pace to finish 1:40. This is downright ridiculous.

  • @RPKraemer

    Illinois has taken 7 shots and connected on 2 of them. The bad news, and a trend that better change? 5 of the 7 have been from 3. This plays in to Wiscy’s hands.

  • @RPKraemer

    Mercifully, the game ends – now switch!!!

  • @RPKraemer

    Just in time to see Joe take it to the rack. 13-10 Wisconsin. Terrible shot by Rice. He can get that any time. Doesn’t need to happen right at the beginning of the clock. Whoops, make that 16-10 with Dekker converting the 3 point play.

  • @RPKraemer

    Wow. Nunn has to finish that layup. 21-10 as the Badgers are on an 8-0 run.

  • @RPKraemer

    Rice with yet another long 3 for no reason and Egwu misses a chippy follow that has to be converted. 23-10 Wisconsin.

  • @RPKraemer

    Sorry – 11:08 left in the half and a TV TO.

  • @RPKraemer

    29-10 Wisconsin. Rice keeps jacking 3s and Wisconsin keeps scoring. 16-0 run.

  • @RPKraemer

    Illinois missing point blank on multiple occasions. Just UGLY for the Illini right now.

  • @RPKraemer

    20-0 run for the Badgers and finally Bertrand gets a short one to fall. There’s the Rice we love. Take it to the rack and stop jacking 3s!

  • @RPKraemer

    35-15 Badgers. Wisconsin 0 turnovers. 6:14 left

  • @RPKraemer

    It’s going to require a herculean effort to get back into this one. 37-16 with Jackson headed to the line to attempt to convert the 3 point play.

  • @RPKraemer

    Clang. Another long 3 early in the shot clock. 39-16 Badgers

  • @RPKraemer

    41-18 Badgers with 3:50 on the clock.

  • @RPKraemer

    Egwu picks up his 2nd foul.

  • @RPKraemer

    43-18 Wiscy 3:19 to play. This ugly. They have 11 made free throws. Illinois 2.

  • @RPKraemer

    43-20. Egwu finally gets a putback to fall.

  • @RPKraemer

    Dekker splits a pair. 44-20 2:30 left.

  • Ricky Widmer

    How do you get you bench some good experience? Send them in to help the starters in a game like this.

  • @RPKraemer

    50-25 at the half. Wisconsin did anything and everything they wanted. Illinois doesn’t look like the same team at all.

  • @RPKraemer

    Time to reboot at the half. There is really nothing left to do but come out like it’s a brand new game. Tall mountain to climb.

    • Ricky Widmer

      I know it’s different teams, but if OSU can come back after trailing MSU by 17 in Lansing then why can’t we come back down 25 in Madison? I-L-L!!!!

  • @RPKraemer

    Illinois is actually winning the rebounding battle 22-20 at the half. Too bad they are shooting so poorly.

  • @RPKraemer

    4-0 run to start the half.

  • @RPKraemer

    Abrams picks up his 3rd and that’s not good news.

  • Ricky Widmer

    With this young bench we have, I need to see Rice “put the team on his back do,”

  • @RPKraemer

    Replay clearly showed Dekker hook Bertrand. No call, naturally.

  • @RPKraemer

    Physical take. That’s his game. Not the jump shooting BS we watched in the first half.

    • Ricky Widmer

      Talkin’ bout Rice?

      • @RPKraemer

        Yes, sorry.

        • Ricky Widmer

          He doesn’t need to shoot the three’s when he can draw the And-1′s.

  • @RPKraemer

    55-38 Badgers. Illinois on a 13-5 run to start the half.

  • @RPKraemer

    57-38 with 15 to play. Tate blows another layup getting cute on the fast break.

    • Ricky Widmer

      Sometimes I feel Tate thinks he’s playing back in HS with drives like that. College is a different game Young Blood.

  • @RPKraemer

    Wisconsin so heady. They immediately go inside on Tate and draw the foul.

  • @RPKraemer

    Damn! Another long 3 for no reason. C’mon Ray! Take it to the rack.

    • Ricky Widmer

      I hold my breath every time Rice takes an open three.

      • @RPKraemer

        Rightfully so. I told everyone a long time ago he was a 20% 3 point shooter at Drake and that type of thing does not change in one transfer year.

        • Ricky Widmer

          Well it’s also different because BP3 would hit open three’s. Different team this year.

  • @RPKraemer

    Sweet lefty stroke by KNunn.

  • @RPKraemer

    66-44 Wiscy after Nunn splits a pair. 11:16 to play in the game.

  • @RPKraemer

    All the sudden a flurry of activity. 73-49 Wiscy with 9:40 to play.

  • @RPKraemer

    Wisconsin leads 79-49 at the under 8 TO.

  • @RPKraemer

    83-53 with 6:09 to play. They are playing out the string at this point. There will be no comeback tonight.

  • @RPKraemer

    Mav Morgan with a nice jump shot. 83-59 Wiscy with 4 to play.

  • @RPKraemer

    The bench is completely empty. Five Freshman are on the floor, most likely the rest of the way.

  • @RPKraemer

    Wisconsin just hit 90 points in Big Ten play for the first time since Bo Ryan’s first year. Awesome.