Riding a three-game win streak, Wisconsin (4-4 Big Ten, 12-9 overall) looks to increase its NCAA Tournament hopes with a matchup in Urbana-Champaign against Illinois (2-6, 10-11) Sunday.
After beating No. 5 Michigan State, Penn State and No. 19 Indiana, the Badgers have looked promising as of late and will enter an easier stretch of conference games beginning with the Fighting Illini. After losing six of its past eight games, Illinois comes into Sunday’s matchup with little momentum and could be throttled by a hot UW squad.
During its three-game streak, junior Nigel Hayes and redshirt freshman Ethan Happ have boosted Wisconsin’s offense, as they have averaged 23.7 points and 19.6 points per game, respectively.
With its offense rolling, the Badgers will take full advantage of Illinois’ porous defense. The Fighting Illini give up 75.7 points per game, the second-worst mark in the Big Ten.
Offensively, Illinois won’t present Wisconsin with much trouble either. With his 18.3 points per game, guard Malcolm Hill will be the Fighting Illini’s most prolific offensive weapon the Badgers have to defend. When defending high-scoring guards like Hill, though, UW has had mixed results. The Badgers held Georgetown’s D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield to 12 points each, but gave up 21 points to Maryland’s Melo Trimble and 30 to Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell this season.
However, Hill will need help from his offense, as it has struggled making field goals this season. They rank 10th in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage and rely heavily on free throws. The Fighting Illini rank first in free-throw percentage at 73.7 percent and average nearly 15 points per game from the charity stripe. UW must learn to play disciplined and not get into foul trouble early to pull away with their fourth straight win.
After having a horrendous game against Indiana, junior Bronson Koenig will have a perfect opportunity to reveal why he can be one of the nation’s best guards. In their win against Michigan State, Koenig shredded the Spartans with 27 points, but in their recent win against Indiana, Koenig finished with just four points on 1-of-9 shooting. If there is a chance for a bounce-back game for him, it will be Sunday.
With a great chance to keep their momentum running, UW must win Sunday against one of the Big Ten’s lowly teams.