Though Wisconsin might have enough offensive talent to dominate the rest of the Big Ten, coach Bo Ryan and his players understand that grinding out games might be the key to their success in the league.
Coming off a hard-fought home victory, the fourth-ranked Badgers could be in for another workmanlike effort while trying for a ninth straight victory Sunday night at Rutgers.
After averaging 73.5 points while reaching the Final Four in 2013-14, Wisconsin’s 74.3 scoring average is the highest in Ryan’s 14 seasons in Madison. His team is shooting 49.2 percent, good for second in the Big Ten.
The Badgers (15-1, 3-0) shot a combined 57.7 percent while scoring 80 or more points in back-to-back conference games for the first time since 1992 before gutting out a 62-55 victory over Purdue on Wednesday. Wisconsin shot 43.6 percent while the Boilermakers hit for 51.0 percent, but Purdue committed 12 more fouls than the Badgers, who went 25 of 31 from the free-throw line.
"Who said basketball had to be pretty? Nobody," Ryan said. "I think there’s going to be more of those (types of games) in the league this year, too and it’s not like it’s the first."
As the only Big Ten team ranked in the top 10, Wisconsin expects every opponent to bring its best. The Badgers feel their latest victory was a good overall experience.
"Every team is good," said guard Josh Gasser, who had a season-high 15 points. "Even though a lot of teams are a little younger or not necessarily ranked as high as they usually are, they’re still tough.
"It was good to grind out a win like this, low-scoring. We had to fight the adversity, stay mentally tough. That’s what we needed.”
Facing a Wisconsin team that ranks among the national leaders in scoring defense (54.1), Rutgers (9-7, 1-2) will be in for a difficult challenge since it ranks last in the league in points per game (58.3) and field-goal percentage (38.1).
It also must find a way to contain Wisconsin’s preseason All-American forward Frank Kaminsky (16.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg), who has averaged 20.0 points in four games and posted three straight double-doubles before recording 21 points and four rebounds versus Purdue.
However, the Scarlet Knights’ initial Big Ten victory came at home over Penn State last Saturday. Though they are 5-4 there, they’ve held visitors to 37.0 percent shooting and haven’t yielded more than 54 points in their last three at home.
This is the first meeting since Wisconsin won 70-62 at Rutgers on Dec. 4, 2004.
"It’s great for us, great for our fans for that type of team to come in here," Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said. "Great coach in Bo Ryan. He’s from (the northeast) so I’m hoping he goes out and has too many beers (Saturday night) and he won’t call the plays the right way.
"(Wisconsin is a) measuring stick, but we want to concern ourselves with us. Make sure we are executing what we have to execute."
For Rutgers to have a serious shot at an upset, it must significantly improve after committing 19 turnovers and allowing Nebraska to shoot 49.1 percent in Thursday’s 65-49 road defeat.
Guard Myles Mack averages a team-leading 13.3 points but has totaled 18 on 6-of-18 shooting in the last two games.
Rutgers has dropped 17 straight against ranked opponents since a 67-62 win over then-No. 24 Pittsburgh on Jan. 5, 2013.