Wisconsin took a small break from it's in-state swing with a win over UNLV this past Saturday, but will finish off the in-state games tonight as they take on the Milwaukee Panthers at the U.S. Cellular Arena in Milwaukee. This game features two teams that come into tonight's game at 8-2. Wisconsin is looking to finish the in-state games 2-1 having started it off with a loss to Marquette and a win against Green Bay to start their newest 2 game winning streak.
This isn't a long standing series overall, but has been played every single year since the 1992-93 season with Wisconsin holding a 27-1 record in the series. Under Bo Ryan the Badgers are 10-0 against his former team, winning last year 61-40 at the Kohl Center. The last time these two teams met in Milwaukee was the 2007-08 season with Wisconsin winning 61-39.
Milwaukee comes in as defending Horizon League Champions and are off to an 8-2 start this season, with their two losses to Michigan State and Northern Iowa, both on the road and to teams that are ranked 24th and 4th in terms of RPI (by RealTimeRPI.com). On the bad side the Panthers have a terrible strength of schedule overall, ranking 294th. So, it's a bit misleading to say this team is very good at this point in the season, as their RPI ranking is 92nd despite a very good record.
The Badgers two losses are also to top rated RPI teams in UNC (13th) and Marquette (5th). However, unlike the Panthers Wisconsin has played some highly competitive teams, giving them a S.O.S. of 21st and an RPI ranking of 15th.
To the match up at hand, the Badgers will be tasked with holding down a team that puts up 64.7 points per game. Milwaukee has yet to field what was expected to be their full starting 5 this season thanks to injuries that kept out preseason 2nd team All-Horizon pick Tony Meier (missed 1st 6 games) and Ja'Rob McCallum. McCallum won't play tonight, making it 5 straight games missed due to a wrist injury, but expect Meier to continue to see increased action as he works his way back into starting shape. Meier is averaging 8.5 points per game since his return to action.
Leading the way for the Panthers is senior and preseason 1st team All-Horizon League pick Kaylon Williams. He's averaging 12.8ppg, 4.8rpg, 5.7apg and is easily their most complete player. Joining him in scoring at a double digit clip is junior forward James Haarsma with 10.9ppg and 7.9rpg.
Thankfully, coming into this game Wisconsin has become a dominate team on the defensive end of things, ranking 1st in the nation in points allowed at 44.9 a game. Taking on Haarsma down low will be a vastly improving Jared Berggren who has really stepped up his game as of late on both ends of the court. Over the past 4 games Berggren is averaging 11ppg, 2.25 steals, and just over a block per game. We've seen vast improvements from Berggren, but the player that really sticks out as of late has been Ryan Evans. He's totally stepped up his game offensively to match his effort on the defensive side of floor. He's averaging 9.6ppg to go with his team leading 6.7rpg for the year.
On the other end of the court Wisconsin has been pretty consistent, hitting 44.8% from the field while also hitting 40.2% from behind the arc and averaging 68.1ppg. The Badgers are led of course by Jordan Taylor and his steady hand at the point guard position. He doesn't turn the ball over much, in fact that's a statement you can make about this team in general as they lead the country in fewest turnovers, averaging only 8.5 turnovers a game.
Taylor may not lead the team in scoring, but he is averaging 11.6ppg, 4.4rpg, and 5.7apg from his point guard role. Leading the way in terms of scoring for Wisconsin is 6th man Ben Brust, averaging 12.6ppg on just under 50% 3 point shooting.
Overall this game will come down to the guard play and Taylor needs to snap out of his offensive funk, going 0 for 10 against UNLV on Saturday and only scoring 4 points for the game. Thankfully the cast of characters around him has really stepped up and made it happen.
I say they need Taylor because under Bo Ryan's leadership the Badgers are an average at best team away from the Kohl Center, well at least in non-conference play with a record of 13-13 in those games. Wisconsin needs to avoid a let down in this one as the Panthers will pounce on mistakes that you make. I see this one being another Badgers victory as they hold the Panthers under 50.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 77 Milwaukee 46
*** This game may be a bit tricky to find for tonights 7pm Central tip off but if you are a Time Warner subscriber inside Wisconsin you'll find it on TWC Sports 32 or on TVW 14 for those of you who have Charter Cable or DirecTV. For the rest of us it's internet time as you'll find a full live stream for FREE at HorizonLeague.org.