Author: Max Stapleton
MADISON- The No. 5 Illinois Fighting Illini come into Madison, Wis. to take on the No. 23 Badgers. Although these teams are both ranked, Wisconsin haven’t proven they should be. Sure they handled Northwestern on Feb. 21, but the Wildcats haven’t won a game since… well since 2020. So even though they are coming off a good win, what can the Badgers do to beat Illinois on Saturday?
Well, let’s start with what worked against Northwestern. Not surprisingly, it was their defense that propelled them to the win. They forced 14 turnovers (2.1 more than their 11.9 per game), while only giving up the ball nine times. Wisconsin is one of the best defensive teams in the country, propelled by the gritty play of their big men Micah Potter and Nate Reuvers. They only give up 62.7 points per game, which makes them the 18th best team in the country in that category.
Another thing that worked for Wisconsin against the Wildcats was their rebounding. The Badgers out-rebounded Northwestern 35-30, which is a big difference from their last two games against Iowa and Michigan. Especially in their game against Michigan, Potter and Reuvers couldn’t keep center Hunter Dickinson off the boards, who led the Wolverines to a second-half 14 point comeback.
Individually, Micah Potter played a great game his last time out. He scored 19 points on 7-8 from the field (3-3 from behind the arc), as well as 8 rebounds to go along with it. They need to see more of this play from Potter, who is only averaging 12 points per game for the season. Point guard D’Mitrik Trice also played a decent game his last time out, scoring 13 points, on 83% shooting from the field. Trice hasn’t shot above 40% in his previous three games, so hopefully this is a sign he will get himself on track again. Both of these players absolutely need to show up on Saturday if the Badgers want to have a chance against Illinois.
But what hasn’t been working for Wisconsin? Put simply, their offense is abysmal. With one of the most lethargic schemes in all of college basketball, Wisconsin will go on stretches of aggressive scoring, only to be followed by hucking up three-point attempt after three-point attempt. The Badgers rely on their three-ball to get out of sticky situations offensively, but they don’t crack the top 50 teams when it comes to their three-point percentage as a team. In my (albeit biased) opinion, they need to stop settling for threes and start being more aggressive to the rim. They have a size advantage over most teams and can force them into foul trouble if they just utilized their size in the paint more.
So what does Wisconsin need to do in order to finally beat a ranked team this season? To start, it looks like they’ll get a huge break with possible Naismith Award winner Ayo Dosunmu out indefinitely with a facial injury. His injury opens the door for D’mitrik Trice to try to carry the team. Last time against Illinois, Trice dropped 22 points on 50% shooting. Between his last games against Northwestern and Illinois, expect head coach Greg Gard to run his gameplan through the fifth-year point guard.
The Badgers have underperformed against ranked teams all season long, but with Dosunmu out, the door has been opened for Gard and his team. Expect big performances out of Trice and Potter, or don’t expect a win at all.