Fresh off a much-needed victory over Minnesota, Wisconsin gets a chance to reclaim superiority in another border rivalry this evening. The task is tougher, though, as the Badgers (11-2, 1-0 Big Ten) take on No. 23 Illinois (11-3, 1-0) in hostile Assembly Hall down in Champaign.
Home court advantage did not mean much last season, as the Illini won two of three games, including a 63-56 win in Madison which was Bo Ryan's first home loss to an unranked Big Ten opponent. While Wisconsin rebounded to crush Illinois on its home floor, the Illini got the last laugh in the Big Ten Tournament, catapulting them to an NCAA bid.
This season, Illinois returns all its weapons from a year ago. Keeping point guard Demetri McCamey out of rhythm will be paramount if UW is to prevail. McCamey leads Illinois in scoring and assists again and is among conference leaders in both categories. And when McCamey gets loose, he also tends to find teammate Mike Tisdale in a position to do a lot of damage to the Badgers.
Illinois comes into the game shooting the lights out, hitting 42% from three-point land -- good for sixth-best in the nation. McCamey is hitting a remarkable 51% from long distance, backed up by sophomore D.J. Richardson's 46% three-point shooting and 12 points per game. With 30% of Illinois' shots coming from long distance, the Illini are scoring 77 points per game. Meanwhile, UW has struggled to defend the three-point line, allowing opponents to shoot 35.6%.
Wisconsin plays at a much slower pace, but nearly 40% of its attempts are 3-pointers, trailing only Michigan (43.9%) for the highest portion in the Big Ten. Jordan Taylor boasts similar numbers to McCamey, so this be an early battle for first-team all-league honors.
Recent history in this series says the side that hits shots will win, while the loser goes cold. Wisconsin has actually won three of its last four games at Illinois, but the rivalry has heated back up thanks to last year's results. If the Badgers can succeed today, it will extend their current winning streak to eight wins, the longest streak since UW's 31-win 2007-08 season.
Besides McCamey and Richardson, Tisdale, Brandon Paul and Bill Cole all make more than a third of their 3-pointers. Wisconsin will counter with Taylor, Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil, Mike Bruesewitz, Tim Jarmusz and Jared Berggren all doing the same. Nankivil and Jamusz in particular have stepped up their scoring of late.
With the outside shooting being such a large part of the storyline coming into the game, the team that best rebounds the misfires may win the game. Despite being the tallest team in Division I hoops, Illinois is not a great rebounding team. Similarly, the Badger big men have been accused of playing a little soft at times and hanging around the perimeter too much. Although the year-to-date stats show Wisconsin to be a good rebounding team, the Badgers just got manhandled on the boards in their first Big Ten contest.
Getting high percentage second chances around the basket off of offensive rebounds will be the trend to watch. That is why I think a player like Bruesewitz or Josh Gasser could play a key role for Wisconsin today with their scrappier style of play. Even though Berggren is coming off a nice offensive performance, there is no Colton Iverson for him to match up against here, so I think Bruesewitz or Ryan Evans will get the majority of the extra minutes in the front court.
For more stats and tidbits than you could ever need, don't miss Wisconsin's official This Week in Men's Basketball release.