Tonight, in Madison at the Kohls Center, the Illinois Fighting Illini (10-9, 0-6 B1G) are on the road against the Wisconsin Badgers (9-10, 2-4 B1G). The Illini are currently the only team in the Big Ten without a conference win, though they are coming off of a harsh streak of heartbreaking losses in Big Ten play. The young team is led by red-shirt junior Leron Black (14.5 points per game) and starlet Trent Frazier who is currently averaging around 11 points per game in his freshmen campaign.
The Illini are still waiting on breakout performances in this season from graduate transfer Mark Alstork, and reigning Mr. Illinois Basketball Mark Smith. Both of whom have shown glimpses of their abilities, and have been looking to complete their game. The Illini will also be boosted by the return of sophomore guard Te’Jon Lucas, who was on a team-ordered suspension for the past two games. The Illini will also be hoping for red-shirt junior Michael Finke to continue his upward trend, after hitting a big three towards the end of the Illini’s last game.
Finke has had a rough start this season in terms of his shooting, and the excitement of both Finke, and Illinois coach Brad Underwood, was tangible to anyone watching. The Illini ultimately lost the game in the final seconds, but fans will be hoping that shot signaled an up-turn for Finke, one of the few Illini big-men.
Wisconsin is currently falling on a streak of 3 straight losses to Rutgers, Nebraska, and Purdue. They have scored less than 60 points in each of these games. The Badgers have struggled to score after injuries to D’Mitrik Trice and Kobe King earlier in the season have landed them in trouble with finding scorers behind their current top point-getters in junior Ethan Happ (16.7 ppg), and freshman Brad Davison (11.7 ppg). Trice had surgery on his right foot last month, and hasn’t returned yet. King is out for the season after a knee injury required surgery.
Wisconsin will be looking to rebound from their scoring struggles through a consistent performance from their current top two scorers, who struggled in their loss against Purdue, committing 14 of the team’s 20 turnovers. They’ll also be looking for a bounce back game from sophomore sharpshooter Bevin Pritzl, who has made just 3 of his 16 shots from behind the arc in the Badger’s three game losing streak.
The key for the Illini to win this game will rely heavily on guards like Mark Alstork, and DaMonte Williams containing the Badger’s top scoring guards, and holding them to a low percentage of shooting in the Badger’s return to the Kohl’s Center.
The Badgers, on the other hand, will be looking to capitalize on an Illinois team coming off of a stretch of close, contested losses, and to take advantage of the Illini’s lack of depth at the four and five positions, getting team-leading scorer Leron Black into foul trouble, while shutting down the young trio of freshman Illinois guards.
This game could prove to be another hotly-contested matchup in a game where both sides are desperately seeking a win: The Illini, to stop their slump of losing close games, and the Badgers, to stop their three-game skid and get back to .500 on the season.
Prediction: I think the Badgers recover their scoring abilities back on their home turf to give the Illini a good fight, but the young Illini finally put together a full-game, and Leron Black fights through to edge the Badgers to get their first B1G win, and B1G road win, of the season. (Side Prediction: Bevin Pritzl will make at least 3 threes point shots.)