Following a break due to a Covid-19 outbreak within the program, Wisconsin basketball is back. The Badgers are set to face off against Illinois State rounding out their non-conference play schedule.
After trailing by nine points at half, the 24th ranked Badgers found a way once again. They defeated Nicholls State 71-68 led by senior guard Brad Davison with 19 points. Along with Davison, junior forward Tyler Wahl finished with 12 points and center Chris Vogt with nine points and seven rebounds.
Although Wisconsin walked victorious, it was another disappointing night without star sophomore guard Johnny Davis. Davis was scratched from the game due to a non-covid illness. Along with Davis, many players were affected previously by the cold. With trailing for most of the game, the Badgers showed once again Davis is the heart of the offense.
For the Illinois State Redbirds, they’re coming off a 81-64 victory over the University of Texas San Antonio. With their victory the Redbirds have won six of their last seven games. Leading the way for Illinois State was junior guard Antonio Reeves with 21 points. Senior Sy Chatman also provided 17 points respectfully.
Tipoff for the game is set for 7:00pm central time at the Kohl Center. Fans can catch the game on the Big Ten Network.
Find Fluidity on Offense
Although Wisconsin will be nice and rested, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding this game. After cancelling their matchup with George Mason, the Badgers had to shut down due to a Covid-19 outbreak. Much like most of the country, Wisconsin had to shut it down leading up to this game. With this, we have no indication as to who the Badgers could be missing come game time. Other than a post from freshman guard Lorne Bowman, it’s unclear who Wisconsin could be without.
Even though we may not who’s available, Wisconsin has to come out finding fluidity on offense. With or without guard Johnny Davis, the Badgers can not afford slow starts moving forward this season. Wisconsin shot just 35.5% from the field in the first half. After a 16-0 run in the second half, the Badgers were able to come away victorious.
It’s clear the Badgers aren’t the strongest team offensively. With Big Ten play on the rise, Wisconsin can’t continue to have slow starts. Other than guards Johnny Davis and Brad Davison, the offense is still lacking consistent contribution.
I’m not saying the Badgers have to shoot lights out in this game. It’s hard to put too many expectations heading into this game following such a long break. However if they can find ways to get others involved other than Davis and Davison, it’d be encouraging moving forward.
Defense Needs to be More Consistent
Along with a slow-starting offense, Wisconsin’s defense has been more concerning of late. For the majority of the season, the Badgers have come out victorious due to their defense. Allowing just 61.2 points per game, Wisconsin ranks 45th in the nation in this category.
The biggest culprit for their defensive lapses seems to be ball screens on pick and roll situations. It’s one of two situations. Either the Badgers big men struggle to cutoff the lane for drivers to the hoop or guards unable to fight over the initial screen. Both instances are what Wisconsin teaches on the defensive end. Because of these lapses, opposing guards have an easier time getting to the hoop or passing to an open ruler.
Although lapses happen, it seems to be happening a lot more as of late. With Wisconsin’s younger core, this could be what we have to deal with throughout the season. Vogt is also a transfer big that had to learn all new defensive schemes. It’s not always going to be pretty. However with a matchup against Purdue on the horizon, things need to be corrected. Come out flat defensively against a stellar Purdue offense, it could be over quicker than it starts.
Limit Illinois State’s Top Scorer Reeves
Once again the Badgers face off against another talented offense. The Redbirds currently average 80.7 points per game, ranking 37th in the nation. Illinois State is powered by stellar three point shooting, averaging 38.7% from beyond the arc averaging just under nine made three’s per game.
Powering their offense is talented junior guard Antonio Reeves. The Chicago native is averaging 20.8 points per game, currently 16th in nation for individual scorers. Throw in shooting 46.7% from distance and the Redbirds have quite the player. Reeves previously declared for the NBA draft after a strong sophomore season but opted to return. Once again the talented scorer is showing why he is one of the top players in the nation.
However, how will he show against a talented defense like Wisconsin? Ideally the likely matchup would be sticking him with Johnny Davis. Davis never backs down from facing off against top players and with his strong defense, he’d be the ideal choice. With the uncertainty of the lineup, it’s hard to gauge. The next likely choice would be Davison or potentially Hepburn. Both would be viable options and both can lock down players as needed.
Although locking down Reeves would be beneficial, the Badgers also know he’s likely to get the points he usually gets. The important part will be limiting the points in the big moments. Limit what Reeves can do as a scorer and Wisconsin will likely walk away victorious.
Given what we know about Wisconsin’s status for the game, it’s likely they won’t be a full 100% roster wise. Like Gard has mentioned previously, this team hasn’t even practiced all together for a few weeks now.
To me, it comes down to defense. With the Badgers ability on defense, a lower scoring game only benefits them. For the Redbirds, they give up over 76 points per game. That doesn’t mean Wisconsin will go off offensively but could help the Badgers put together a stronger game offensively.
The offensive glass will be an important stat to keep an eye on. Illinois State average over ten offensive rebounds per game and are a solid rebounding team as a whole. Much like Illinois State, the Badgers are equally as productive in the rebounding category. If shots don’t fall, the Badgers must find ways to capitalize on second chances.
Another problem Wisconsin had with finishing off Nicholls State was free throw shooting. The Badgers made just 17 of their 27 attempts and what made the game so close. Much like the loss against Ohio State, free throw shooting was a problem. Averaging 76.6% on the season, free throw shooting can only help a struggling offense.
Although it won’t be pretty, I think it’s still a game Wisconsin walks away with a victory. It will be closer than the 16 point favorite indicates but I expect the Badgers to finish their non-conference schedule with a win.
Finals Score: Wisconsin 72, Illinois State 63.