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Rutgers Men's Basketball Game Preview: Wisconsin

Rutgers looks to shock the Badgers for the second season in a row!

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

TV: 2 pm on BTN

Radio: Rutgers IMG Radio Network WOR (710 AM) & WCTC (1450 AM); WRSU (88.7 FM); Sirius Radio channel 84; XM Radio channel84

Injury Update

Deshawn Freeman, Shaq Doorson, and Ibrahima Diallo all remain out indefinitely, leaving Rutgers with just eight scholarship players.

About Wisconsin

The Badgers have experienced a lot of adversity since losing in the national championship game last season.  They opened the season with a loss to Western Illinois and later lost to Milwaukee and Marquette in back to back games, falling to 6-5 for the year.  After beating Texas A&M-CC, coach Bo Ryan announced his retirement, effective immediately after the game.  It had been in the works for months but the timing put the Badgers in an interesting spot.  With longtime Ryan assistant Greg Gard taking over as interim coach, Wisconsin has gone 2-1, losing their Big Ten opener to Purdue.

Despite a atypical 8-6 start for Wisconsin, they can be dangerous, owning wins over VCU, Syracuse and Temple. Key returnees from last season are Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, the Badgers best players. Hayes leads the team in scoring and assists with 16.3 points and 4.1 assists per game.  He also averages 6.5 rebounds and 1 steal per game, though he has struggled shooting, averaging just 38.8% from the field. Koenig averages 13.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. While he is only shooting 40.2% from the field, he has done well from long range, averaging 36.8% and 2+ three's per game.

Freshman forward Ethan Happ is their best post-up player, averaging 10.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game and shoots 51.3% from the field. Juniors Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter compliment the other three starters, combining to average close to 18 points, 12 rebounds and 3 assists per game. Overall, Wisconsin averages just 69.4 points per game, ranking only 13th in the Big Ten in scoring.  Rutgers ranks just above the Badgers with 70 points per game. Wisconsin is right behind Rutgers in shooting percentage from the field and three-point range as well.

Keys To The Game

Points in the Paint

With just Greg Lewis and D.J. Foreman as the only two natural frontcourt players on the active roster, Rutgers actually outscored Indiana in the paint on Wednesday.  Lewis started conference play with one of his best games of the season, scoring 13 points and grabbing 9 rebounds in 30 minutes of action.  Foreman scored 6 points for the fifth game in a row and added 6 rebounds.  Jonathan Laurent continued to play well with more time down low, adding 8 points and 3 boards off the bench. Wisconsin is not one of the bigger conference teams and was outscored by the trees of Purdue.  For Rutgers to win today, Lewis, Foreman, and Laurent need to score in the paint to open up the perimeter for the guards.

Make Layups

With that being said, Rutgers missed a ton of layups against Indiana, with Keith Sargeant counting 16 in total.  Rutgers had Indiana for the taking and if they make half of those misses, they would have won that game going away. While their long distance shooting has improved of late, Rutgers must take advantage of high percentage shots near the rim to have a chance at winning games in conference play. Rutgers needs to continue to drive the lane and attack the rim like they did against the Hoosiers, but they need to finish as well.

Make someone else other than Hayes & Koenig beat you

Hayes and Koenig combine to score 43% of Wisconsin's points.  Only Happ, Brown and Showalter average over 5 points a game after them.  Wisconsin doesn't have much of a bench so depth shouldn't be a disadvantage today for Rutgers.  They need to focus on limiting Hayes and Koenig and force Happ, Brown and Showalter to have big games.  They are capable, but Wisconsin has lost games this season when Hayes and Koenig have off nights.  Neither is shooting for a high percentage and Rutgers needs to make them work for every shot.  Expect Foreman to guard Hayes and Mike Williams to guard Koenig.  Of course, Eddie Jordan will probably mix in some zone as well. Keeping the Badgers two stars in check will go a long way in pulling off Rutgers first road win ever in Big Ten play.

Get Mike Williams Going

The sophomore guard continues to be mired in a shooting slump, shooting 0-6 from the field and not scoring against Indiana. While he averaged 13 points in his previous three games, he shot just 12-35 from the field.  He needs to get his confidence back and start making shots.  With Omari Grier shooting lights out the past two games, and Corey Sanders continuing to get better with each game, Rutgers needs Williams as a third steady scorer out of the backcourt.

Free Throws

When Rutgers is focused, they have been shooting a high percentage from the charity stripe, hitting 10 of 11 against Indiana. They had similar strong efforts against Monmouth and Fairleigh Dickinson.  Wisconsin is a very strong free throw shooting team, averaging 72% from the line.  Rutgers needs to attack the rim and draw fouls on the Badgers, trying to get their frontcourt in foul trouble.  Sanders, Williams and Bishop Daniels need to make a concerted effort to get to the line, all averaging 75% or better.  Hitting free throws are a key to winning games on the road.