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Rutgers Men’s Basketball Game #17 Preview vs. Wisconsin

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Includes thoughts from coach Pikiell, how to watch, stats & keys to victory

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

Wisconsin (9-7; 2-1)At Rutgers (10-6; 0-3)

Where: The RAC (capacity 8,000)

Tip-off: Friday, January 5th at 7:00 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN2 - Mike Corey and Jay Williams

Stream: ESPN App

Radio: WCTC 1450 AM & WOR 710 AM, XM 195, Sirius 137 - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #127; Wisconsin #70

(Note: Rutgers dropped 6 spots since the 31 point loss to #13 Purdue)

KenPom Prediction: Wisconsin 62 Rutgers 61; Rutgers has an 49% chance to win

Vegas Line: Wisconsin -3

Series History: Wisconsin leads 6-1 all-time, including the past three meetings.

SB Nation Wisconsin site: Bucky’s 5th Quarter

About Wisconsin

The Badgers began the season with a 4-7 record, struggling to gel after the departures of program staples Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, among others. However, they've begun to find their footing and come to Piscataway riding a five game winning streak.

Wisconsin is battle tested, as they are 3-7 against teams ranked in the KenPom top 100. They've played a challenging non-conference schedule, but have lost to all of the marquee games on it, including defeats to UCLA, Xavier, Baylor, Virginia, Temple, and Marquette. In Big Ten play, the Badgers opened with a 25 point blowout loss to Ohio State, but have since beaten Penn State by 1 point on the road, which is it’s best win to date. This past Tuesday, Wisconsin beat Indiana by 10 points at home.

Head coach Greg Gard features a guard heavy lineup around centerpiece Ethan Happ, a contender for Big Ten Player of the Year. Wisconsin takes care of the basketball and is a solid shooting team (46.6% FG, 36.1% 3-point range). Due to a smaller lineup and their style of play, they are not a strong rebounding team, only averaging 3 blocks per game and opponents are shooting 50.1% against them from two-point range. However, they are a fundamentally sound team that is very productive in limiting its opponents on the offensive glass, as they are ranked 26th in Division I in this area. They play mostly man to man defense and hold its opponents to just 65 points per game. They have been susceptible against three-pointers, as opponents are shooting 36.1% against them this season.

One note, starting guard Brevin Pretzl is day to day after hitting his head in the shoot around before the Indiana game on Tuesday, causing him to sit out that contest.

Here are per game statistical averages for key players on Wisconsin:

6’10” junior forward Ethan Happ - 17.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.8 blocks

6’3” freshman guard Brad Davison - 11.9 points, 2.0 assists, 1.9 rebounds, 1.5 steals

6’0” sophomore guard D’Mitrick Trice - 9.4 points, 2.3 assists, 2.0 rebounds

6’5” junior guard Khalil Iverson - 8.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.9 blocks

6’3” sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl - 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists

6’8” freshman forward Aleem Ford - 6.6. points, 3.2 rebounds

Know Your Three-Point Shooters:

Aleem Ford - 24 of 50 for 48.0%

Brad Davison - 29 of 74 for 39.2%

Brevin Pritzl - 21 of 57 for 36.8%

D’Mitrick Trice - 12 of 40 for 30.0%

Rutgers Notes:

Rutgers is ranked third in Division I in offensive rebounding (15.3) and fifth in overall rebounding (43.5). They are also ninth in scoring defense (60.9 ppg) and ninth in FG% defense (37.6%). Geo Baker is tied with Wisconsin guard Brad Davison for a Big Ten best in scoring with 11.9 points for freshman.

Quotes From Steve Pikiell

On The Quick Turnaround In Between Games

“It’s always one of those things. You look at the schedule at the beginning of the year and you think ‘wow, we’re playing ranked teams and we’re playing the teams that are picked in the top three in the league.’ Then you got a one-day turnaround prep for Wisconsin, then you head out to Michigan State. I looked at that early and thought ‘wow, what a stretch.’ And you physically have to get through it too. Purdue is a tremendously physical basketball team. Every box out, every screen they set, they’re a veteran team so it was a physical war. Getting on that plane last night, that’s what I was most worried about. Our trainer does a really good job. How much of the game plan can we implement? We did a good job of just stressing a few things. When you have more days to prepare, you can stress more things. We’ll get back to shootaround tomorrow and review those … there’s always tough stretches during the season. This would be a tough stretch for any team — a veteran team, a ranked team — but we’re a team that’s still a work in progress and finding ourselves in a lot of ways. So it’s a tough stretch for us, but hopefully it makes us tougher.”

Thoughts On Wisconsin

“Honestly, I think this program … they seem to move these other pieces in and they don’t miss a beat. They still play the same way. Brad Davison, the point guard, is having an unbelievable year, maybe Rookie of the Year type year. (Khalil) Iverson is a problem, played a ton of minutes last year. I love (Brevin) Pritzl. (Aleem) Ford can shoot it with anyone in the league. So they just replaced great shooters (like Bronson) Koenig with Aleem Ford. They just move the pieces around. Ethan Happ is doing even more now and probably could’ve done it last year, they just had more pieces around him … they’re going to play that great, tough team defense, they’re going to space the floor, they’re going to post you up at every position. They got great size. I think it’s more of the same Wisconsin — they just change the numbers, change the names on the back of the jersey but a lot of the pieces look the same on the floor.”

On Ethan Happ

“He’s kind of unique, he really is. This year, he’s handling the ball a ton. He’s a matchup nightmare for everybody, but especially for us with one day to prepare. He’s just unique and what I tell you he doesn’t get enough credit for — he’s an unbelievable defender. Plays with tremendous energy and obviously he’s a veteran guy who has been through a lot of wins. We’ve got to play a lot of different guys on him but he can post you up, he can handle the ball, he’s a terrific passer, he’s really crafty around the basket. He had 32 (points) last year against us and I actually thought at times we did a good job on him. How scary is it to say that? He’s a really good player and he plays with a tremendous amount of energy on both ends of the floor, most improved on the defensive end of the floor.”

Keys To Victory

Guard Play

As I mentioned, Wisconsin plays a guard heavy lineup, which will allow Pikiell to play Corey Sanders, Geo Baker, and Mike Williams a lot together on the floor tonight. That small ball lineup was extremely effective down the stretch in the win over Seton Hall and will be a major factor in tonight’s game. Sanders needs to get back on track after being less effective with defenses pressuring him a lot in the past three games. With Geo Baker handling the basketball more often now, Rutgers will likely try to get Sanders open on the perimeter off of screens in order to get him better opportunities to attack the rim. Mike Williams needs to continue his solid play and has a chance to be a major factor on the boards tonight. If Baker can get his shot going tonight, it will be a big boost for the offense. How these three play will have a big impact on the outcome in this game.

Own The Glass

Wisconsin only averages 32 boards a game and no one other player than Happ is consistent on the glass. Rutgers needs to be extremely active on both ends of the floor rebounding the basketball. It’s the core of their identity and something that has been sorely missing during this three game losing streak. Tonight is an opportunity to dominate on the boards and generate offense on second chance points. Basically, Rutgers needs to get their mojo back and crashing the glass as a team is the way to do it.

Contain Ethan Happ

Junior center Ethan Happ is the star of this team and gave Rutgers fits last season, carrying Wisconsin down the stretch in a come from behind, overtime victory at Madison Square Garden. He scored 32 points in that game and was dominant in the paint and Rutgers had no answer for him. Mamadou Doucoure is foul prone and it will be interesting to see how he handles the matchup. Expect a lot of Shaq Doorson tonight off of the bench, who has played well defensively in Big Ten play this season. Rutgers won’t be able to stop Happ, but if they can limit easy looks at the basket, it will make it harder on him inside. They also need to get a body on him to limit his effectiveness on the offensive glass.

Transition Offense

Getting quicker looks tonight is key, as Wisconsin has no problem playing a slow down, walk it up pace. Rutgers has the ability to be effective in transition and need to look to run as often as possible. That’s why rebounding is so key, as Baker and Sanders can get out on the break quickly and push the pace if Rutgers is owning the glass. The less the Scarlet Knights have to operate out of the halfcourt on offense, the better. Energy and execution on the break are keys as well. Make the close looks at the rim count.

Gut Check Time

This is a crucial juncture of the season and Rutgers needs to respond in a big way tonight. It’s a mental test as much as a physical one with the 48 hour turnaround from the loss at Purdue. Wisconsin is a solid team playing well, but if Rutgers can play near its potential, they can win this game. Coming out focused and energized is so important to setting the tone tonight Rutgers also needs strong efforts from multiple guys and bench production will be key as well. How they respond in this game will tell us a lot about the rest of the season. Lose badly and it’s fair to question the spirit of the team and their prospects the rest of the way. A win would do wonders during this difficult stretch in Big Ten play, as #1 Michigan State on the road looms next. Avoiding an 0-5 start or worse in conference play would be a confidence boost that would help to get this team back on track.

In The Bonus

With the students on break and the winter storm from yesterday, it’s tough to expect a raucous crowd tonight. However, the fans that are there will surely be into the game and hopefully help to bolster the play of Rutgers on the court. Ultimately, it’s up to the players to come out ready and make this game a battle from the opening tip. As the second half of the season opens up, Rutgers needs to make a statement tonight that the past few games were simply bumps in the road and not a complete detour down the road of progress.