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The Starting 5: Wisconsin vs. Penn State basketball preview

5 things to know and a prediction about Wisconsin’s upcoming basketball game against Penn State.

On Monday night, the Wisconsin Basketball team will travel to the Bryce Jordan Center to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions. The Badgers are coming off an embarrassing 83-58 defeat at the hands of Ohio State in the Kohl Center. They currently sit at 3-5, while Penn State is 7-2 after a road win against Iowa. The game will start at 6 PM and air on ESPN2.

Penn State is favored to win this game

Yes, we currently live in a world when Penn State is favored to win a basketball game against Wisconsin. According to  BetOnline Sportsbook, the Badgers are 4.5-point underdogs. ESPN FPI gives the Badgers just a 29.1% chance to win the game. While it may seem crazy to think about, Penn State definitely deserves to be the favorite. They have been the much better team this season. In fact, at 7-2 with victories against Pittsburgh and at Iowa, the Nittany Lions have a chance to make a run to the NCAA Tournament. If the Badgers win this game, it is going to be a slight surprise.

Wisconsin needs a win

After losing to Ohio State, the Badgers fell to 3-5. All three of their wins came against teams outside of the Pomeroy Rankings Top-120. The Badgers still have a chance to make the tournament, but they are going to need quality wins. A road win against a very solid Penn State will go a long way in that regard.

But outside of helping build their resume, the Badgers really just need a win for confidence purposes. Until Saturday, the Badgers had four losses to good teams. UCLA, Baylor, Xavier, and Virginia all spent time in the Top-25 this season. Wisconsin was very much in the game against all of them except Virginia, which was on the road. They just came a little bit short. It was nothing to be ashamed of.

But on Saturday against Ohio State, they were abysmal. They left shooters wide open on defense, and the offensive execution was extremely poor. They got manhandled at home by a team that probably won’t even make the NCAA Tournament. It was embarrassing. Now the Badgers need come out and make a statement. This as must-win as a December basketball game gets.

Watch out for Tony Carr

Tony Carr is another in a long line of excellent Penn State guards. The sophomore point guard is averaging 20.6, 4.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game. He is doing it efficiently too. Carr is shooting 59% from three, 47% from the field, and 84% from the line. Quite frankly, he has been one of the best point guards in the country so far. The Badgers have had trouble with quick, shot-making guards this season. Carr can give them a lot of trouble.

Ethan Happ needs to bounce back

Blaming Happ for what has happened over the last few game is ridiculous. The burden put on him on offense is extremely high. He has limited help around him, and the opposing defense is always focused on him. It isn’t an enviable position to be in. But even so, he needs to be better than he has been over the last two games. Against Virginia, he missed multiple bunnies, struggled to pass out of double-teams, and didn’t rebound or defend as well as he usually does. The Ohio State game was even worse. He had just seven points on 2-6 shootings to go along with four turnovers. Happ has one of the most difficult jobs in the country. But he needs to get back to producing at an All-American level if Wisconsin is going to turn its season around.

Will Greg Gard make any changes?

I don’t know exactly what he can or should do to turn this season around, but he needs to try something. Khalil Iverson isn’t cutting it in the starting lineup. He has been turning the ball over at a high rate and still isn’t a threat to score from the perimeter. Inserting Kobe King or Nate Reuvers into the starting lineup may give this team the offensive boost it needs. Again, I don’t know if that is the answer. But it feels like Gard has to try something new, right?

Prediction: Wisconsin 61, Penn State 60

Maybe I’m just naive or hopelessly optimistic. I did pick the Badgers to beat Xavier, UCLA and Ohio State this season. But I think the Badgers are going to come out extremely motivated and energetic. The Badgers will completely lock down on defense. Ethan Happ is going to do what he did to Rutgers last season. All of that will be just enough for Wisconsin to edge out their first win against a major conference team this season.


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