Barring an epic collapse, Wisconsin already has the Big Ten locked up. With most of their roster returning from last year’s Final Four squad, this is easily the best team in the Conference and it has shown. Illinois has looked impressive in recent weeks, but the Badgers are still on another level, especially at home.
The UW loss at Rutgers is still kind of unexplainable even without Frank Kaminsky in that Game. But outside of that, it’s been mostly smooth sailing for Wisconsin, disposing of opponents with ease at home since that Duke loss. It helps that they don’t have to play Michigan State, Indiana or Illinois on the road, although that probably wouldn’t matter anyway.
The Fighting Illini had a rough opening stretch to the Conference season with back-to-back road Games at Michigan and Maryland, but as their Schedule has eased up, they have gotten back into the March Madness race. That all culminated with a win at Michigan State without two of their regular starters, Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Cosby, due to suspension. They held the Spartans to 54 points and were in control for the entire second half.
This Game will be a little tougher. Even though Rice returned to action against Michigan on Thursday (Cosby still suspended), he didn’t do much in an overtime win (Four fouls, Four points). For them to keep up on the scoreboard, they’ll need to continue their great defense because this Illini squad won’t be putting up 70 points at Wisconsin.
It’s hard to see this Game not falling in line with previous home Games for Wisconsin, winning Four straight by double digits. The Illini won’t have the personnel to deal with both Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes, which immediately puts them at a loss. If they double team on Kaminsky, that will just open up Wisconsin’s array of knockdown shooters in Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser and Bronson Koenig. In fact, almost everyone on the Badgers roster is a threat from distance, which makes doubling anyone a major problem for the defense. And if Illinois doesn’t double team those guys, it’ll be hard to see Nnanna Egwu controlling the paint against them.
And on the other end, Rice will have to be better than he was against the Wolverines for the Illini to keep up. This isn’t Michigan State. Kaminsky will guard a player like Egwu out on the three-point line. Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn have been great in Rice and Cosby’s absence, but with Rice back in possibly a starting position, what role will those guys play? Both of them will score, there’s no doubt about that, but how will they work with Rice now?
OUtside of Hill and Nunn, Illinois doesn’t really have anyone else that can scare opposing defenses. And it’s not like Wisconsin is a bad defensive team in the first place.
Hill and Nunn could keep the Game close for a little bit, but it will need to be someone else on Illinois that steps up for them to at least cover. The Badgers are just another level above the rest of the conference.
Our Prediction – Wisconsin by 15