Although only separated by one game in the Big Ten standings, the 25th ranked
Illinois Fighting Illini (4-2 in conference play) and Wisconsin Badgers (3-3)
couldn't be heading further in opposite directions as they head into Saturday's
showdown in Champaign (4 pm EST, ESPN).
Illinois (16-3 overall) has been hot as of late. After a near upset of Michigan
State in Lansing, the Illini jumped on Ohio State, going on a 22-9 second-half
run to secure a 67-49 victory.
Much-maligned, yet talented guard, Demetri McCamey played perhaps his most
complete game of the season, scoring 13 while dishing out seven assists. Forward
Dominique Keller provided an early spark off the bench, adding 12 points and six
Most importantly though, the Illini turned in their most impressive defensive
effort of the season, holding the Buckeyes to 41 percent shooting and forcing 20 Ohio
State turnovers. OSU's Evan Turner, the fifth-leading scorer in the Big Ten, was
held to only four points on only 2-7 shooting.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin has followed its 3-0 Big Ten start with three straight
losses, most recently a 73-69 road upset at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes.
It's difficult to pinpoint one factor that has led to the three-game losing streak.
Offensively, in the games against Purdue and Minnesota, the Badgers struggled
to put the ball in the basket, shooting only 38 percent in both games.
Point guard Travon Hughes has also struggled in all three games, committing 14
turnovers, including five against Purdue and six against Minnesota.
Wisconsin's normally stiff defense has also not been as effective, allowing big
games to individuals on all three teams.
Purdue's JaJuan Johnson scored 20, on 8-10 shooting.
Minnesota's Lawrence Westbrook exploded for 29.
And Iowa's David Palmer went for 21, 16 points above his per-game scoring
Against the Badgers, the key for the Illini will be too start out fast. If they jump
on the Badgers, and build a substantial first-half lead, the Badgers may start to
question themselves. If that happens, it could be a long night for coach Bo
For Wisconsin, the key will be to control the tempo. Hughes needs to limit his
turnovers and get the ball inside to forward Marcus Landry, whose combination
of agility and strength on the inside could prove a mismatch against Illinois'
skinnier post players Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale.
And the Badgers would serve well in containing McCamey, the one player for
the can easily have the type of big game Johnson, Westbrook and
Palmer had against the Badgers if he gets hot early.
It's the easy pick to go with the streaking Illini over the slumping Badgers. I will
take the easy road and do just that.
Not only are the Illini the hotter team, but they are at home and have revenge on
their minds after being beat by the Badgers three time last year, including a loss
in the Big Ten Championship game.
That being said, it will be a close and low scoring defensive struggle. But in the
end, the home crowd, and their balanced offense (5 players average between 11-15 points/per game) will help the Illini slide past the Badgers 56-48.