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Rutgers Basketball Game 14 Preview: Wisconsin

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NCAA Basketball: Green Bay at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Rutgers (11-2) At Wisconsin (11-2)

Where: The Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin

Tip-off: Tuesday, December 27th at 7:00 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN2 - Bob Picozzi and LaPhonso Ellis

Stream: WatchESPN

Radio: WCTC 1450 AM & WOR 710 AM - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #115; Wisconsin #10

KenPom Prediction: Wisconsin 72 Rutgers 55 ; Rutgers is given a 7% chance to win.

Series History: Wisconsin leads 4-1 all-time, but they are 1-1 as Big Ten conference foes. Wisconsin won at home last season 79-57, while Rutgers upset the then #4 Badgers in 2015 at the RAC by the score of 67-62.

About Wisconsin

The Badgers are favorites to win the Big Ten and have beaten Marquette, Syracuse, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Georgetown. Their two losses were both by double digits to ranked foes in North Carolina and Creighton. Greg Gard is in his first full season as head coach, after taking over mid-season last year for Bo Ryan. The Kohl Center is a very difficult place for opponents and will be a hostile environment for Rutgers tonight.

Wisconsin is led by All-Everything 6’8” senior forward Nigel Hayes, who is the Big Ten’s active leader in scoring and rebounding for his career, as well as second in steals and in the top ten in assists. This season he is averaging 13.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.0 steals per game. He is more of a point forward and decimated Syracuse’s once vaunted 2-3 zone earlier this season.

Hayes is joined in the frontcourt by reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ethan Happ. The 6’10” forward has picked up where he left off last season, as the big man averages 12.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals. He is also shooting 69% from the field.

The backcourt is led by 6’3” senior guard Bronson Koenig, who like Hayes, played a key role on the team that advanced to the National Championship game in 2015. Koenig actually leads the Badgers in scoring with 14.6 points per game and is shooting 35% from three-point range on 98 attempts.

Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team holding their opponents to less than 60 points per game and are allowing just 26 rebounds per contest, which is 3+ less allowed than any other conference foe. They are also an excellent shooting team, as they average 49% from the field and 36% from behind the arc for the season. Although they are led by the big three of Hayes, Happ, and Koenig, they are a deep and balanced team with ten players averaging 9+ minutes per game.

Keys To The Game

Don’t Get Dominated On The Boards

As I just reviewed, Wisconsin is excellent at limiting their opponents on the glass. While it will be an uphill battle for CJ Gettys, Deshawn Freeman, and Candido Sa tonight, they need to hold their own to some degree or this could get ugly quick. Freeman is actually tied with Happ for second in the Big Ten with 9.5 rebounds per contest. In games against Miami and Seton Hall, Freeman struggled for three halves on the boards, grabbing just 8 rebounds. He thankfully looked like himself again in the second half against the Hall, when he pulled down 7 rebounds. He leads the Big Ten with 3.6 offensive rebounds per game and needs to find a way tonight against the trees of Wisconsin. Gettys, Sa, as well as Shaq Doorson and Ibrahima Diallo, need to contribute as well for Rutgers to have any chance in this game.

Get Hot Behind The Arc

When Creighton beat Wisconsin earlier this season, the Badgers actually held a +15 rebounding margin. The way they got beat is because Creighton shot 50% from the field and 50% from three-point range, making 8 of 16 attempts. Understand that Rutgers is shooting a poor 30% from behind the arc this season, so they would need to catch lightning in a bottle tonight to catch fire. Issa Thiam is the team’s best threat from deep, but he has only played 3 minutes combined in the past two games due to being sick. He is expected to play tonight, but it’s asking a lot of the true freshman to think he can break out in this game. Mike Williams, Nigel Johnson, and Corey Sanders have the ability to knock some shots down from deep, and Wisconsin will likely dare the Rutgers backcourt to beat them from three-point range. It’s possible, but it’s a big reason the Badgers are such heavy favorites.

Play Defense For 40 Minutes

Rutgers went toe to toe with Seton Hall for 35 minutes, but their defense failed them down the stretch. We saw how effective they can be on the defensive end in the first half against the Hall, when they held them to 23 points and just 24% shooting from the field. They’ll have to bring it even more tonight against a good shooting team in Wisconsin. Defending the three is a must as well, as the Badgers will make Rutgers pay for any open looks they get on the perimeter. It’s not just about contesting shots though, as they’ll need to.....

Force Turnovers

Wisconsin committed 16 turnovers in their loss to Creighton this season and Rutgers is currently second in the Big Ten in steals, averaging 7.0 per game. Guards Corey Sanders and Nigel Johnson, second and third in the conference in steals respectively, need to cause havoc tonight with on the ball pressure. I’m not sure how much Pikiell will look to press in this game, but it’s likely he will take a shot with it at some point in the first half. Gettys, Sa, and Freeman need to keep their hands up and pressure the bigs of Wisconsin, who are adept at passing. Rutgers needs to force a sloppy game and create havoc.

In The Bonus

Rutgers is 0-18 all-time in Big Ten road games and Wisconsin is one of the toughest places to play in the conference. This is not a great combination. Just to review, Rutgers needs to shoot the lights out, hold their own against a great rebounding team, and play stifling defense for 40 minutes that forces Wisconsin into mistakes and forces them out of rhythm. Is it possible? Sure, I never say never, but the 7% KenPom is giving the Scarlet Knights in this game sounds about right. So yes, I’m telling you there is a chance, but Rutgers will need to play their best game of the season and Wisconsin will have to play one of their worst.

Full Conference Preview

Non-Conference Review