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Badgers Basketball Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini edition

The Basics

Where: Champaign, Ill.; State Farm Center (15,500)
When: Tuesday, Jan. 31; 8pm CT
Channel: BTN
Spread: Wisconsin -5.5
All-Time Series: Illinois leads, 110-85
Last Meeting: UW won, 72-52, on Dec. 27, 2016 (in Madison, Wis.)

Projected Starting Lineups

Illinois Fighting Illini (13-9, 3-6)

G Te’Jon Lucas — Fr. 6-0, 170 (4.1 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 2.4 apg)
G Jalen Coleman-Lands — So. 6-3, 190 (8.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.1 apg)
F Malcolm Hill — Sr. 6-6, 225 (17.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.7 apg)
F Leron Black — So. 6-7, 220 (9.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 0.4 apg)
C Makerick Morgan — Sr. 6-10, 245 (10.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.7 apg)

No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers (18-3, 7-1)

G Bronson Koenig- Sr. 6-3, 190 (1443 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.1 apg)
G Zak Showalter- Sr. 6-3, 185 (7.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.2 apg)
F Nigel Hayes- Sr. 6-8, 240 (13.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.2 apg)
F Vitto Brown- Sr. 6-8, 235 (7.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.0 apg)
C Ethan Happ- So. 6-10, 280 (14.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.9 apg)

Players to Watch: Nigel Hayes vs. Malcolm Hill

Two of the premier players in the history of the Big Ten, let alone their respective schools will go at it one last time on Tuesday night. Hayes and Hill are inextricably linked to one another on the state sheet.

Hill comes in to this game as the conference’s active leading scorer with 1,628 points, and Hayes is just seven points off that mark. Meanwhile Hayes is the active leading career rebounder in the Big Ten with 678 to Hill’s second place of 596. The two could also end up being members of the 1,500 points, 600 rebounds club, with Hill needing just four of them tonight to join Hayes.

However, the Badgers forward has been more helpful to his teammates. In fact, he is the only player in the country with 1,500 points, 600 rebounds and 250 assists.

With a wild matchup between one player who loves to score in bunches against a team full of all-around players, it will be interesting to see what role Hayes will have to play for the Badgers to be successful.

Is is the banger inside to get easy buckets, or the man playing on the perimeter to get his defender off the dribble? Or will it be the defense leading Hayes to success at the other end of the court? Either way, Wisconsin is going to need Hayes to be on his game to keep Hill from crushing UW on the offensive end of the court.


3 Numbers to Know

— 52-19: That is Wisconsin’s record in road/neutral games over the last four seasons. It happens to be the fifth-best mark in the country as well. However, things have been a bit tougher on the Badgers when traveling under Greg Gard, as they own jus an 8-5 mark in true road games in his year-and-a-half at the helm. Just two of those five losses have come this season though. Also, Wisconsin has taken the last four contests played in Champaign.

— 10: That is the number of wins in the last 12 homes games for Illinois. Couple that with Wisconsin’s incredible streak on the road and we have a case of something is going to have to give. One of Illinois’ two losses in those 12 games was to fellow Big Ten-leaders, Maryland.

— 18.1: That is the average winning margin as the Badgers have won 14 of their last 15. It would suggest that UW is more likely to blow an opponent out then play a close game. However, the margin of victory is a bit different when you look at Big Ten play alone, with Wisconsin winning by an average of 11.3 point per game. Three of the last four games have also been single-digit wins for the Badgers.


Wisconsin 78, Illinois 62

Malcolm Hill is perhaps the best individual player Wisconsin has left on its schedule. The problem for the Illini is that he is the only player who can do something against good defenses. The Badgers happen to possess one of those.

UW also happens to have a bevy of options on the scoring front. That also brings us to the mismatch that is Ethan Happ vs. Maverick Morgan up front. Look for UW’s ultra hot-shooting center to take advantage of a slower and less defensively inclined defender. This has Badgers big written all over it.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball


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