Wisconsin looks to build on the best start in school history Wednesday when the fourth-ranked Badgers host Illinois, which has opened Big Ten play with wins over Indiana and Penn State. Sophomore forward Sam Dekker heads a balanced attack for the Badgers, who lead the nation with 8.5 turnovers a game and rank second in the league in scoring defense (60.5). “This is an amazing group to this point,’’ coach Bo Ryan told the Chicago Sun-Times. “They’ve found ways. They’ve been resilient. They’ve responded to hard teaching points, to criticism, to compliments. They listen.’’
The Badgers were tested by Iowa last Sunday before outscoring the Hawkeyes by 15 points in the second half and winning 75-71. Guard Ben Brust, the team’s top 3-point shooter, scored all 19 of his points after halftime to help the Badgers match the best start in school history, tying the 1911-12 and 1913-14 teams. In order to remain unbeaten, Wisconsin will need to slow down Illinois guard Rayvonte Rice, who averaged 22 points, 7.5 rebounds and two steals in two games last week.
TV: 9 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
ABOUT ILLINOIS (13-2, 2-0 Big Ten): The backcourt of Rice, Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand have combined for nearly 67 percent of the team’s scoring the last three games, totaling 155 of the team's 232 points. Rice, averaging a team-high 18.7 points while shooting 48.7 percent, has scored at least 12 points in all 15 games. Forward Jon Ekey averages 5.9 rebounds for the Illini, who rank third in the Big Ten in scoring defense (61.5) and held Penn State to a season-low 29.8 percent shooting in a 20-point win last Saturday.
ABOUT WISCONSIN (15-0, 2-0): Illinois could struggle to contain 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky, who has been one of the most improved players in the conference while averaging 13.5 points and 5.9 rebounds. The frontcourt also has received a boost from forward Nigel Hayes, who was named Big Ten freshman of the week for the second consecutive time after averaging 13.5 points over the past four games. Guards Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson have been a study in consistency during the Badgers’ winning streak, and Gasser’s defense on Rice could be the key to the game.
1. Illinois is 23-2 when scoring at least 70 points under coach John Groce.
2. Wisconsin is 92-11 at home against Big Ten opponents under Ryan.
3. Bertrand has averaged 13.5 points in his last four games against the Badgers.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 72, Illinois 67