HQ men's hoops prediction: Wisconsin 69, UI 66
No. 23 Illinois at No. 4 Wisconsin, 8 p.m. Wednesday
Illinois (13-2, 2-0 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 12.9
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 18.7
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 11.0
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 8.4
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 7.9
FYI: Bertrand has scored in double figures in each of his last four games against the Badgers, averaging 13.5 points.
OFF THE BENCH
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 2.7
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 3.3
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 3.3
Wisconsin (15-0, 2-0 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Traevon Jackson Jr. 6-2 10.5
G Ben Brust Sr. 6-1 12.8
G Josh Gasser Jr. 6-3 8.7
F Sam Dekker So. 6-7 14.1
F Frank Kaminsky Jr. 7-0 13.5
FYI: Kaminsky, a native of west suburban Lisle, tied his career high in blocked shots with four in his last outing against Iowa.
OFF THE BENCH
F Nigel Hayes Fr. 6-7 6.5
G Bronson Koenig Fr. 6-3 3.7
F Duje Dukan Jr. 6-9 4.1
Site: Kohl Center (17,249), Madison, Wis.
TV: BTN — Brian Anderson (play-by-play) and Mike Kelley (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 110-79. Last meeting: Wisconsin 74, Illinois 68, Feb. 3, 2013 (Champaign).
FYI: The last time an Illinois team defeated a Top 5 team on the road was 25 years ago, when the Flyin’ Illini defeated No. 3 Indiana in Bloomington on Nick Anderson’s 35-foot shot at the buzzer.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
When thinking of Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin basketball teams, particularly at the offensive end, the phrase “quick strike” doesn’t immediately come to mind. But these Badgers play at a different pace than in years past. This season’s team is on pace to become just the fourth Ryan team to average more than 70 points per game in his 13th season, and at 75.1 points per game, they’re five points per game better than the previous best. “They shoot it a little quicker than they did in the past, give them more freedom in transition,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “Individual guys have some offensive skill sets that allow them to play a little more isolation basketball because they’re gifted.”
One of those gifted guys is Dekker, the sophomore who was a five-star recruit coming out of Sheboygan Lutheran. He’s one of the few blue-chippers Ryan has brought into the program, and he’ll provide a matchup mismatch for Illinois on Wednesday night because of his versatility. Groce compared Dekker’s versatility to Rayvonte Rice. “He can shoot threes, he moves well without the ball, he can play off the deck, he can drive it, he can get to the free throw line, he can get you on the glass, he posts you up,” Groce said. “He’s just so versatile. I don’t know if he has a weak area in his offensive game. That makes him very unique.”
When talking about the Wisconsin program under Ryan, adjectives such as “tough” and “together” and “disciplined” are thrown around frequently, and they all fit. Ryan, in discussing Illinois this week, talked about Groce’s squad in the same way folks talk about his program. “They’re playing well together; they’ve found another scorer in Rice. There’s a lot of talent on that team, and Coach Groce has them playing,” Ryan said. “They’re working together and doing some things; we know what we’re in store for. Whether or not we can answer all their challenges will remain to be seen. They are one of the better teams in the league.”
Prediction: Wisconsin 69, Illinois 66
When the Illini traveled to the Kohl Center last year, they weren’t ready when the ball was tipped and fell behind by double figures early and never recovered in a blowout loss. Truth is, even if Illinois brings its ‘A’ game from the start on Wednesday night, it’s going to take an extraordinary effort to beat the Badgers in their home building. “They continue to be that team that’s not going to beat itself. You have to beat Wisconsin if you’re going to beat them,” Groce said. “They do all of the little things that give you a chance to be successful night in and night out.” (N-G record: 13-2)