Wisconsin and Western Kentucky are wrapping up non-conference play on Saturday with the Badgers and the Hilltoppers facing off as their seasons have gone a little bit different so far.
TV Schedule: Saturday, Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET CBSSN
Arena: E.A. Diddle Arena, Bowling Green, KY
Wisconsin is back to playing typical Badger basketball. They have been ranked ever since late November. Guys are healthy and there are multiple different scorers. Western Kentucky had similar plans. The Hilltoppers landed a top-10 recruit and Rick Stansbury was entering his third season as he hoped to bring what he had at Mississippi State. Western Kentucky lost a guy and is sitting at 6-6.
The Badgers have two true road wins under their belt. Going 2-1 in the Bahamas was nice since its only loss was to Virginia. They also started 2-0 in Big Ten play. Thanks to Oklahoma and North Carolina State only losing to the Badgers so far this season, those are two good wins. Iowa also helped Wisconsin by winning the 2K Sports Classic way back when.
Western Kentucky began the season on the road and fell to Washington. They also went 2-1 in their non-conference Tournament with wins over Valparaiso and West Virginia while losing to UCF. That’s not bad. But losing to Indiana State, Missouri State and Tory isn’t good. The Hilltoppers fell on the road to Belmont. The Bruins are the favorite to win the Ohio Valley, but that loss put them under .500. Western Kentucky recently beat Saint Mary’s to put them back at .500.
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Wisconsin was certainly hoping that Western Kentucky would be as good as the hype was making them out to be. It would’ve been an excellent true road victory to close out non-conference play. It could still be good if the Hilltoppers find life in Conference USA play, but the chances of Western Kentucky landing an at-large bid is all but gone.
The guy that left for Western Kentucky was double-transfer DeSean Murray. He averaged over 18 points per game for Presbyterian in two seasons. Murray sat out a year after transferring to Auburn and averaged 10 points per game. He then went to Western Kentucky, played eight games, averaged over 9 points and then left the program to explore professional opportunities.
The Hilltoppers big time recruit Charles Bassey is averaging over 14 points per game, nine boards and has blocked almost 30 shots this season. Those aren’t bad numbers at all, but one guy doesn’t automatically make you contenders for an at-large in a conference that usually only sends one team. The top recruit last season, Josh Anderson is averaging under 10 points per game. Taveion Hollingsworth is Western Kentucky’s leading scorer at 15 points per game, five boards and not quite three assists. The Hilltoppers are lacking a consistent distributor.
Wisconsin is led by All-American Ethan Happ. He has a double-double in all but two games this season. Happ is averaging over 19 points per game, 10 boards and five assists. He’s continuing to stuff the stat sheet, but unlike last season, the big man has reliable teammates.
D’Mitrik Trice is healthy and is shooting out of his mind. He’s just under 16 points per game, averaging a solid 2.8 assists and has 36 made triples. Brad Davison is no longer the lead guard. His scoring numbers are down, but he’s still a key piece in the back court, making 17 three-pointers, averaging nine points per game and leading the team in steals with 14.
Western Kentucky has just two guys who are capable of being consistent three-point shooters. Hollingsworth who has made 17 and Jared Savage who has 30. They are hoping to get Lamonte Bearden to get going. He was suspended for the fall semester and then hurt his ankle. He’s averaged over 11 points per game in his last two seasons with Buffalo and the Hilltoppers.
The Badgers have Nate Reuvers who has added weight and is helping Happ as much as he can in just under 20 minutes per game being able to stretch the defense. Khalil Iverson is a nice defender in the starting lineup while scorers like Brevin Pritzl and Kobe King come off the bench. Aleem Ford is proving to be a three-point threat in his second season. Wisconsin is putting it all together this season with their potential while Western Kentucky seems to be having issues winning winnable ball games.
Prediction: Wisconsin 76, Western Kentucky 70