MBB: Wisconsin Game Preview
The Big Ten is as wide open as ever. In past years the conference has been labeled as the preeminent league of college basketball. This year, however, it has been difficult to find even one team that is destined for a deep postseason run. Only three Big Ten teams were ranked in the latest AP poll, the highest being Wisconsin at No. 15. Every team, however, has lost a conference game, and it is almost impossible to tell where each team will land at the end of the regular season.
Wisconsin is tied for first in the Big Ten at 5-1 (16-3 overall), while Penn State currently sits in the middle of the pack at 3-4 (11-9 overall). At times the Badgers have played like an elite team, but they’ve also gone through numerous stretches of mediocrity. Penn State, on the other hand, got off to a poor start, but the young Nittany Lions have begun to settle down, and they look much improved.
The Badgers this year are reminiscent of the typical Wisconsin teams that Bo Ryan coached for so many years during his long tenure. They play a slow, half-court pace offensively, and while they won’t outscore many teams, they rank 20th nationally in offensive efficiency and don’t commit turnovers frequently. Wisconsin is also excellent defensively, allowing the 9th fewest points in the NCAA.
Penn State prefers to play an up-tempo style, as they have a lot of athleticism on the perimeter. They do not have much size at all, which is a big reason rebounding has been their Achilles heel. Mike Watkins, one of their touted freshmen, has been their only consistent big man this season. He’s an outstanding rim protector and is averaging 9.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in just 22 minutes per game.
The Lions also are not a great shooting team, with few reliable threats from the outside. Peyton Banks (38.5%) and Shep Garner (34.6%), their leading scorer, are their top options. Freshman point guard Tony Carr shoots 35.5% from downtown, but he’s much better attacking the paint at this stage in his career.
Lamar Stevens has probably been their best all around offensive player, as he’s showcased his ability to play multiple positions on the court. Josh Reaves is their best athlete and best defender, but then there is a significant drop off in quality reserves.
Wisconsin is led by their rock solid trio of seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, and sophomore Ethan Happ. Koenig is their leading scorer at 14.3 points per game and is a terrific shooter. Hayes is one of the most versatile forwards in the conference and he has scored double figures in every game since the start of conference play. Happ is their best rebounder and, although a bit raw, has shown flashes of adept footwork and post skills.
Two more seniors, Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter, round out the starting five for the Badgers. Showalter has a lot of experience and rarely makes mistakes. He is probably Wisconsin’s best perimeter defender and is another good shooter from the outside.
Wisconsin and Penn State play very different styles. Wisconsin will try to slow the game down as much as possible, so Penn State will need to take advantage on the few opportunities they’ll get in transition.
Penn State collected a couple of surprising wins against Minnesota and Michigan State a couple of weeks ago, but their losses to Indiana and Purdue were no surprise. Although they've improved, they'll have a tough time against the Badgers at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin is probably the best overall team in the conference as of now. They have a lot more size than Penn State and will control the tempo of the game on their way to an easy win at home.
Prediction: Wisconsin 78, Penn State 63
Will Desautelle is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.