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Penn State vs Wisconsin Preview: Lions Look to Stay Atop the Big Ten

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Wisconsin is a hot mess right now.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Wisconsin
Greg Gard is not Bo Ryan, allegedly
Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin has managed to do something it hadn’t done in a very long time. The Badgers have a losing record right now, looking to inch closer to .500 as they travel to the Bryce Jordan Center to face Penn State. The last time the Badgers had a losing record at any point in the season was back in 2001, when they also started 3-5 (and lost their opener). That was, as many of you may recall, Bo Ryan’s first season as the Wisconsin head coach. The closest they’ve come to that was a few years ago, when Ryan announced his retirement shortly after losing to Marquette. It would give Wisconsin a 6-5 record at that point.

Not all of it is bad news for the Badgers. The only game so far that has been out of character happened on Saturday against Ohio State. Before that, they’d lost close games to Xavier, Baylor, and UCLA, all ranked teams. The proverbial bottom fell out against Virginia, where they scored a mere 37 points in the loss, and the aforementioned Ohio State, who blew them out by 25 points at the Kohl Center.

Many of us figured Wisconsin would struggle with the loss of four starters, but nobody expected them to be this dysfunctional at this point. That’s the bad side of relying on starters as much as the badgers do. Talent may have been waiting in the wings, but when said talent only got a few minutes per game in favor of the starters, and when the schedule was as ambitious as it was, something had to give.

Scouting the opposition

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Ethan Happ is the heart and soul of this Badger squad. The big man facilitates almost as much as point guard D'Mitrik Trice, which is probably why they’re struggling so much right now. When your starting center has an assist rate of 26.4, but your starting at the point has a rate of 13.1, something isn’t right.

Wisconsin’s style of play hasn’t changed much since last year, so expect a heavy dose of three pointers. Brad Davison is making them at a 45% rate this season, but Trice and Brevin Pritzl will chip in as well. Their rates are a much more manageable 31.4 and 25 percent, respectively. 40% of Wisconsin’s field goal attempts are from the three-point line, and it’s all facilitated via Happ’s play inside.

What to watch for

Wounded animal, part 2 - Penn State gets a chance to finish off another team in desperation mode. This time it’s the Wisconsin Badgers. Can the Nittany Lions show the same resolve they showed against Iowa and get their second Big Ten win?

Mike Watkins vs Ethan Happ - This matchup will likely determine the outcome of the game. Wisconsin relies heavily on Happ for nearly everything they do, so if Watkins is able to slow down the big man, maybe force a few fouls early. Wisconsin could find itself in a heap of trouble early.

Keep the mask on - Shep Garner is shooting over 50% with the mask on. Please keep it there, thanks.


I am way too uncomfortable with how everything is setting up for the Nittany Lions right now. Wisconsin looks like a shell of its former self, but doesn’t really lack the talent or ability to compete. Penn State looks better and better, but isn’t immune to dropping a game they shouldn’t, as last week showed. Wisconsin 68, Penn State 66