Illini basketball looking for upset against Wisconsin


Austin Yattoni

Illinois head coach John Groce watches his team from the sidelines during the game against Ohio State at State Farm Center on Sunday, January 1.

By Lucas Wright , Staff writer

The Illinois men’s basketball team will return home Tuesday to face Wisconsin.

The Illini are 3-6 in conference play and are in a three-way tie for 11th place in the Big Ten. They’ve lost four of their last five games.

At 7-1, the Badgers are tied with Maryland atop the Big Ten standings and bring a five-game win streak to Champaign. Illinois head coach John Groce has not fared well in the past against Wisconsin, going 0-7 since taking the reigns at Illinois in 2012.

The Illini will face a star-studded and experienced Badger lineup.

Wisconsin’s rotation features four seniors, but a sophomore might have the most impact on the game: Ethan Happ.

Happ has played well in conference play this season, averaging just over 17 points and eight rebounds in conference play. Happ, a 6-foot-9 forward, also manages just fewer than three steals a game in conference play, ranking him first in the Big Ten.

“When you start to prepare for (Happ), and you play against him, you realize that defensively he brings a lot to their team, just as much as offensively,” Groce said. “He’s a very well-rounded player and certainly one of the better players in our league.”

Even if Illinois contains Happ, the other members of Wisconsin’s big three can be just as deadly.

Seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes round out the upper tier of the Badgers’ talent. Koenig has been at the top of the Big Ten for three-point percentage this year, shooting 50 percent, while Hayes has averaged about 13 points and six rebounds a game while leading the team in minutes played.

The chemistry on the court between the Wisconsin big three and their supporting cast could be difficult to overcome for Illinois.

“(Wisconsin) have continued to do what they do for a long time. With this group of guys, they don’t just have ‘junior’ or ‘senior’ tagged beside their name; they’ve been playing together that long,” Groce said. “Those guys have logged a lot of minutes together, and I think that connection allows them to be even more consistent.”

With a victory, the Badgers would gain a half-game advantage over Maryland, who also boasts a 7-1 conference record. Illinois, with a win on Tuesday, would take over as the No. 10 team in the conference with Minnesota not playing until Saturday.

[email protected]