Wisconsin is 2-0 to open up Big Ten play and there was much rejoicing… Or not, once you realize that the 2-0 start is thanks to playing the two worst teams in the conference right now, that's not to slight Penn State and Nebraska as they are competitive teams, just not Big Ten competitive at this point in time. However, the Badgers are staring an 11 game stretch that will test their manhood and their ability to make the NCAA tournament right in the face.
Up first is a date with the 12th ranked Illini of Illinois on Saturday at the Kohl Center from 1:15pm Central on the Big Ten Network. No doubt about it, if Wisconsin wants to make it's mark on the conference and the national level they need to take care of business at home and prove they can beat an actual ranked opponent, something they haven't done all season long so far.
Can they do that on Saturday, or do the Illini continue to be the only thorn in the side of Bo Ryan at home?
Illinois comes in to this one with a 14-3 record and are 1-2 early in Big Ten play. Their two losses tell us a lot about what this team is made up of and frankly it's all about the guards for the Illini and that means it's all about Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams.
They are a trio that can be very dangerous, however, they are also a trio that can be off to say the least. In the two Illini loses in the conference season they are shooting just 38.3% (28-73) as a trio. It's as simple as that for the Illini and they've got a major advantage over Ben Brust and the Traevon Jackson/George Marshall combo.
So, can they go off against the Badgers? You bet, but it's a road game at the Kohl Center and we all know how difficult that can be, but if there's one team that has solved the KC, it's the Ilini…. sorta. They've won three times at the Kohl Center since the start of the Bo Ryan era.
This game is really hard to predict because each team has an advantage in two big areas – the Illini have the backcourt advantage and the Badgers have the frontcourt advantage. That's where this game will hinge for us, look for the matchup between Nnanna Egwu and Jared Berggren. Both are good defensively, how good? Egwu (25) is 3rd in the conference in blocks and Berggren (31) leads the conference. However, Berggren is the more complete player on the offensive end of the court, but it will be fun to see these two mirror images of size and athleticism going up against each other. If UW wants to win it's got to have Berggren winning that matchup.
Prediction: Illinois 68, Wisconsin 67 – Here's the deal for me with this game – I can see it going either way really. Wisconsin plays amazing defense and that's what the Illini have struggled against so far in Big Ten play, but it's also hard to believe that a Badger team that hasn't shot well in what seems like months can beat a team with three, possibly four offensive weapons even if it's at home. If Wisconsin stops operating it's offense through Ryan Evans and starts pounding the ball to Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren inside that's a gameplan that can win this ball game. There is nothing wrong at all with inverting your offense and making your weapons down low the catalysts if it opens up things for Ben Brust and Co. on the outside. If that happens watch Wisconsin win, if not, it'll be the Badgers losing.
Cole's Predition: Wisconsin 61, Illinois 57