A look at today's game between Illinois and Wisconsin at the Assembly Hall (2:30 p.m., BTN), courtesy beat writer Marcus Jackson:
Illinois (15-7, 2-7 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams So. 6-1 11.5
G D.J. Richardson Sr. 6-3 11.9
G Brandon Paul Sr. 6-4 17.6
F Sam McLaurin Sr. 6-8 4.1
C Nnanna Egwu So. 6-11 6.3
FYI: Since entering the starting lineup four games ago, McLaurin is averaging 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds, up from 3.6 and 3.4, respectively.
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Jr. 6-6 8.4
F Tyler Griffey Sr. 6-9 7.0
F Myke Henry So. 6-6 3.5
Wisconsin (14-7, 5-3 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Ben Brust Jr. 6-1 10.3
G Traevon Jackson So. 6-2 6.0
F Ryan Evans Sr. 6-6 10.4
F Mike Bruesewitz Sr. 6-6 7.2
C Jared Berggren Sr. 6-10 11.9
FYI: In each of his last three games against Illinois, Berggren has scored in double figures and is averaging 15 points and 7.3 rebounds per outing.
OFF THE BENCH
G George Marshall Fr. 5-11 5.6
F Sam Dekker Fr. 6-7 9.0
F Frank Kaminsky So. 6-11 4.4
Site: The Assembly Hall (16,618), Champaign
TV: BTN — Eric Collins (play-by-play) and Shonn Morris (analyst) have the call.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: Illinois leads 68-22. Last meeting — Wisconsin 74, Illinois 51, Jan. 12, 2013.
FYI: Today’s game will mark the first meeting between the Illini and Badgers since 1998 where neither team is ranked in the Top 25 at the time, snapping a streak of 29 games.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1 Illinois’ 80-75 loss to Michigan State on Thursday wasn’t all bad. John Groce said offensively it might have been as good a performance as his team has put together all season. The other end of the floor, however, was a different story. The Spartans scored 53 points in the second half while shooting 87.5 percent. “We’ve got to clean up some things defensively, that was the emphasis in practice yesterday was making more of a commitment on that end of the floor,” Groce said. “(Friday) was a tough day here as well, I wanted to make a little statement about our defense. I don’t know how many times in my career we’ve had an opponent shoot 88 percent in the second half and put them on the line 32 times. I think the last time an opponent shot 32 free throws in a half against Illinois was 11 years ago. We can’t do that. I wasn’t very happy about that point.”
2 The last time these two teams met, Myke Henry was partly responsible for allowing a handful of Wisconsin points in a short amount of time in the first half and was soon relegated to the bench. Thursday against Michigan State, he looked the part of a guy who was a regular in the Illinois rotation for the early part of the season, scoring a season-high 11 points in 21 minutes. But it was more than his scoring that impressed Groce, and the staff wants to see those things today and going forward. “The blocked shot, he deflected two post-entry passes that led to steals on the stat sheet for other guys. No question he did some things that didn’t show up on the box score,” Groce said. “He had more of a physical nature about him. He got on the floor, he blocked a shot, I thought he was more active, I thought he ran harder, I thought he cut harder offensively that allowed him to get open a couple of times and he’s got to have that edge to him all the time.”
3 The Illini are playing on Super Bowl Sunday for the ninth time in program history and enter today with a 5-3 mark on the day of the NFL’s big game. They lost last year to Northwestern 74-70 at home on Super Sunday. The only affect, they say, might be in attendance. The team won’t be distracted. “These guys are used to it. When you’re at Illinois at a place like this, if you want distractions to be a part of what you’re going through on a daily basis, there’s a lot of them out there,” Groce said. “We try to lock in on what we can control and keep very focused on what we’re doing and the game plan. At the same time, I want them to be loose and be aggressive, have fun, compete, trying to keep that all in perspective. ”
Prediction: Illinois 64, Wisconsin 61
Despite losing seven of the last 10, Illinois hasn’t lost faith. “We still practice hard, I think we have a good attitude and we give good effort for the most part most of the time and guys have kept their head up and plowed away and kept swinging the hammer. That’s what we do and that’s how we want to do it,” Groce said. “We can’t get any of them back at this point. Our focus is on getting better. Can we get better? Can we control the things that are controllable?” The opportunity is still there for the Illini to reach its goal of playing in the NCAA tournament. A win against the Badgers would provide some momentum heading into the second half of the Big ten schedule. Winning at home is important, too, as the Illini are looking to avoid their first four-game losing streak at the Assembly Hall in five years. (N-G record: 13-9).