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The Starting 5: Wisconsin vs. Chicago State preview

That crazy time between Christmas and New Year’s is here, and if you’re like most of us here at talking10 chances are you only count your days in bowl games and basketball games.

Luckily for you, the Badger fans out there, there are three games between the two sports to go between those two big holidays. Up first is Badger basketball playing host to Chicago State tonight from the Kohl Center.

Chicago State comes in just 2-13 on the season and is one of the worst teams in D1 basketball by just about every metric. So, as bad as you may think things are in Madison, it could really be worse.

With a mismatch in the making, what are the 5 things we’ll be watching?

Will Disparity in Talent Matter?

There’s no question who the better team is heading in to this game. But, Wisconsin has a crazy history of playing down to its level of competition. We’ll be looking to see if the Badgers can avoid complacency and avoid the trap.

Ethan Happ is a massive advantage for the Badgers and young point guard Brad Davison is taking full advantage of his increased role. He scored a game-high 18 points in the blowout win over Green Bay last time out, and he’s had double digits in 8 of the last 11 games. It’s been impressive considering the pressure he’s been under.

But, let’s see if Davison and UW as a whole doesn’t let down against the Cougars.

Can Wisconsin Get Bench Experience?

On paper, this is a massive mismatch between the Badgers and Cougars. That in theory should mean plenty of playing time for some of the younger players on the UW bench. Those minutes could be really important going forward.

With Kobe King out for the rest of the season and D’Mitrick Trice likely not back until the middle of January at the absolute earliest, there is a desperate need for help in the backcourt. So far we’ve seen former walk-on T.J. Schlundt and walk-on Walt McGrory get some bigger minutes in relief.

Getting both of them good minutes is going to be helpful, with just one other game coming before Big Ten play starts in earnest.

Can the Hot Shooting Badgers Continue to Stay Hot?

Disappointment may be the word most fans think of when it comes to the Badgers non-conference results. However, what is getting very little publicity is the fact ever since the Marquette game, the Badgers have found their shooting stroke in a major way.

Over the last two games, Wisconsin is shooting a very healthy 52.4 percent from the field. Combine that with the fact that opponents are shooting 49.4 percent from the field against Chicago State and this one could really get ugly.

Brevin Pritzl has gotten better, Aleem Ford has also stepped up his shooting game and it has been a big help to the two workhorses in Ethan Happ and Brad Davison.

More importantly, a third straight game of quality shooting could be just the confidence boost this team needs to make a crazy run in the Big Ten.

What Changes has Gard Implemented?

Greg Gard went back to the coaching board after an embarrassing loss to Marquette earlier this month, and it paid off in a major way. UW clearly came out as a different team in wins over Western Kentucky and Green Bay.

Scoring 81 points in two game combined might have been expected of the Badgers after the previous few weeks. Instead, Wisconsin poured in 81 points in each of the last two games thanks to the tweaking done by Gard.

UW hasn’t played in five days and there likely wasn’t a whole lot of practice being done around the holidays. Still, with a chance to reflect on what has taken place, will we see some more tweaks or attempts to iron out the rotation even more? A game like this is great to experiment in.

Can Wisconsin break the 90-point mark for the 1st time this season?

Coming in to the Chicago State game, the Badgers best point total was 89 in a 89-61 win over Yale in game two of the season. However, three other Big Ten teams have set the expectation for results against the Cougars — as Iowa, Northwestern and Purdue have each put up at least 90 points a piece on Chicago State.

Those wins where 95-62 for Iowa, 111-42 for Purdue and 96-31 for Northwestern. KenPom has the Cougars ranked No. 346 in the country out of 351 teams. Simply put, this may be the worst team we’ve ever seen come in to the Kohl Center.

If the Badgers don’t break 90 points I’d be kind of upset with the performance to be honest.

Prediction:

Wisconsin 92, Chicago State 55

Ethan Happ cleans up the boards, dominates down low on the other end. Brad Davison is hot early from beyond the arc and Aleem Ford shows he may be a true third scoring option. It all adds up to Wisconsin just crushing the visiting Cougars.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what guys like Nate Reuvers, T.J. Schlundt, Aaron Moesch and Walt McGrory can do with a lot of playing time. Those minutes are going to be invaluable to their learning experience heading in to Big Ten play.

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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