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.
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.