Madison, WI (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of ranked rivals in the Big Ten Conference do battle on Wednesday night, as No. 23 Illinois pays a visit to No. 4 Wisconsin.
The Fighting Illini found their way into the national rankings this week following a 2-0 start in conference play and a four-game winning streak overall. Illinois, which blew out visiting Penn State last Saturday in a 75-55 final, is 13-2 on the season, but has split two previous road games, winning at UNLV (61-59 on Nov. 26), while losing at Georgia Tech (67-64 on Dec. 3).
Wisconsin is one of a handful of teams still undefeated at this point in the season, the team going 15-0 to match the best start in school history. It's been a century since the feat was last accomplished however, the team turning the trick twice actually during the 1911-12 and 1913-14 campaigns. The Badgers, who are just three wins away from setting the new school mark for consecutive victories (17 straight set by the 2006-07 team), have beaten Northwestern (76-49) and nationally-ranked Iowa (75-71) in their first two Big Ten bouts.
Illinois owns a 110-79 advantage in the long-standing rivalry with Wisconsin, but the Badgers have won the last five meetings.
This game features two teams that play very well at the defensive end of the floor, which has been commonplace for Wisconsin in the past, but not as much for Illinois. Still, the Illini find themselves in the position of yielding only 61.5 ppg, with foes making good on just 39.5 percent of their field goal attempts. Those same opponents are guilty of more than a dozen turnovers per outing, while also coming up small in the rebounding department, losing out by 3.6 rpg on average. From an offensive standpoint, Illinois boasts three double-digit scorers in Rayvonte Rice (18.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Tracy Abrams (12.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.3 apg) and Joseph Bertrand (11.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg), each of whom helps the team put up 72.3 ppg behind typical shooting outputs of .439 overall and .320 from 3-point range.
Rice hit for 15 points while pulling down seven rebounds to lead the Illini to their recent win over Penn State. Additional help came from Abrams (12 points, six rebounds, five assists), Bertrand (11 points, seven rebounds) and Jon Ekey (11 points, eight rebounds), while Nnana Egwu finished with eight boards and three blocks. Illinois won the game rather easily despite shooting just 35.7 percent from the floor, thanks to a stifling defensive effort that limited the Nittany Lions to 29.8 percent field goal efficiency, which included a dismal 5-of-19 effort from beyond the arc. Penn State's potent backcourt tandem of D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier was held to 17 total points, as they went just 5- of-19 from the floor combined.
Wisconsin is permitting its enemies just 60.5 ppg, while cranking out more than 75 ppg, and the team also logs favorable margins in both rebounding (+4.5) and turnovers (+2.2). The 3-point shot has been kind to the Badgers this season, as they make good on nearly 40 percent of their attempts, and they are shooting 46.6 percent from the field overall. Sam Dekker (14.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg) leads the team in both scoring and rebounding, while Frank Kaminsky (13.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) joins him to form a powerful frontcourt presence. Guards Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson net 12.8 and 10.5 ppg, respectively, to round out the unit's double-digit scorers.
Brust scored 19 points and Josh Gasser added 14 for UW in its win over Iowa, and both efforts were paramount as the team shot just 37.7 percent from the floor, actually finishing with a better showing from long range (.455), and had to battle from a double-digit deficit at halftime. The Badgers rebounded from a .267 shooting effort in the opening half to drain 52.2 percent after intermission. Wisconsin limited Iowa to 39.1 percent accuracy for the game, while recording a 25-17 edge in points from the foul line.