Not ready for prime time.
It was the “men against the boys” in Champaign on Wednesday and the Illinois Fighting Illini need to get back on track. They won’t have to wait much longer though as they visit Madison to take on the Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center. A place the Illini have have surprisingly found success over the years.
There’s an old saying that “styles make fights”, well if that’s true this one should be fun. Illinois wants to push the pace and spread the floor. Meanwhile, Wisconsin wants to be deliberate and grind you out. The difference though this year is they don’t really have a point guard. Last year, Jordan Taylor continuously bailed out Bucky with his one-on-one abilities. He’s graduated and Josh Gasser was supposed to take over. While he isn’t the ball handler and shooter that Taylor was, he could be a “caretaker”. Sadly, he tore his ACL and is lost for the season.
Ben Brust has taken that role over now and he’s trying to do a bit of everything. Bo Ryan would probably prefer to have freshman George Marshall take the reigns but he’s just not ready. That’s severely hampered the Badgers productivity.
Jared Berggren really hasn’t had the dominate year we expected while stud freshman Sam Dekker has yet to really find his role. I don’t see that changing much this year. They have to play with what they have because right now this isn’t an NCAA tournament team. There’s no time to experiment.
Defensively is where the Badgers have saved their season from being a total disaster. They are still outstanding at getting into the passing lanes and will get physical (overly so at times) with ball handlers This is a team that is really dependent on how a game is called. If the refs want to blow their whistle a lot, Wisconsin fans know it’s probably going to be a long day.
I want to see the Illini try and push the pace from the start. If Wisconsin can control tempo, the Illini will lose. They still don’t get to the rack enough. The 5-8 minute stretch we saw in the 2nd half of the Minnesota Golden Gophers game was a mirage. However you can’t pass up easy buckets nearly as much while “on the break”, Purdue Boilermakers game aside.
It will be interesting to see if John Groce uses the zone at all in this one. The lack of flow in the Badgers offense right now makes me think he won’t. Force Berggren to dominate you on the block. As I mentioned before, outside of the Creighton Blue Jays game, his post presence hasn’t been on display. Brust and Dekker have the ability to get hot from 3 so I’d see what Egwu can do one-on-one. This isn’t some hyper athletic big ala Trevor Mbakwe. He should be able to contain him.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 60-57. The Illini are just too reliant on the three ball and that tends not to travel. You know Bo’s Badgers won’t tank this early in the season, especially when you look at their upcoming slate.
Like my article? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter (@tmichaelcronin). I look forward to your thoughts.