Illinois-Wisconsin Preview

Illinois-Wisconsin Preview

Published Feb. 14, 2015 7:15 p.m. ET

With one of the nation's best players and most formidable home-court advantages, Wisconsin seems to be rolling its way to a Big Ten title.

Illinois hasn't been too shabby itself lately.

The fifth-ranked Badgers will look to maintain a sizable lead atop the conference Sunday when they host the Illini in a matchup of the Big Ten's hottest teams.

Wisconsin (22-2, 10-1) suffered its only conference loss away from home and without Wooden Award finalist Frank Kaminsky, 67-62 to Rutgers on Jan. 11.


Since then, the Badgers have won seven straight while re-establishing their dominance, especially in Madison. They've won their six home conference games this season by a 16.7 point average to move to 103-14 at home in Big Ten play under Bo Ryan.

Illinois (17-8, 7-5) has accounted for three of those 14 losses - tied for the most by any conference opponent - but has lost its last four games at the Kohl Center by double digits. The Badgers have won seven straight in the series overall, their longest ever win streak against the Illini.

This is the teams' only scheduled meeting after Sam Dekker led the Badgers to an easy two-game sweep last season, averaging 16.5 points on 64.7 percent shooting.

While Dekker has played well lately with averages of 19.0 points and 7.5 rebounds over the past two games, Kaminsky has been dominant all season.

The 7-foot senior has scored in double figures in 22 of his 23 games, ranking fourth in the Big Ten with 17.3 points per game, and his average of 8.3 rebounds ranks second behind only Michigan State's Branden Dawson. Kaminsky recorded his ninth double-double of the season in a 65-55 win at Nebraska on Tuesday.

"Kaminsky is a mismatch nightmare," Illini coach John Groce said. "He's got great size, he can dribble, pass and shoot, he's very unselfish ... There's a reason he's a Wooden Award finalist and All-American. He's a terrific player."

Kaminsky will square off against former AAU teammate Nnanna Egwu. The 6-11 Egwu has emerged as one of the top defensive stoppers in the conference with 1.8 blocks per game, and he's played a major role in Illinois' current hot spell.

"A lot of (Egwu's) big plays come on the defensive end and on the glass," Kaminsky told the Badgers' official site. "He understands how to play the game. Being on a team with a lot of good players, some people might forget about him but I'm definitely not going to be one of those people.

"They're a pretty confident team right now."

The Fighting Illini have forced 13.8 turnovers and surrendered 54.5 points per game over their current four-game winning streak, and they ended Thursday's 64-52 overtime win over Michigan on a 21-2 run. Egwu had a season-high 12 rebounds and four blocks.

Another victory Sunday would match Illinois' longest conference winning streak since Jan. 5-March 3, 2005, when the Illini won 15 straight.

Kendrick Nunn had 21 points Thursday while leading scorer Rayvonte Rice managed four points, five rebounds and three steals in his return to the lineup. Rice had missed six games with a broken hand, then three more due to a suspension for violating team rules.

"I thought he played the right way," Groce said. "I thought he tried to fit in and help us win, and boy did he do that."

Rice averaged 21.5 points in last season's two losses to the Badgers.

Illinois has not defeated a top-five team on the road since downing No. 3 Indiana on March 5, 1989. Wisconsin has won 14 straight at home over unranked foes.