Ethan Happ is no Drake, but the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team’s redshirt sophomore forward can now say he’s gone “back-to-back.”
Happ was named Big Ten Player of the Week for the second week in a row Monday, making him the first Wisconsin player to accomplish that since Mike Wilkinson in 2005.
Happ powered No. 10 Wisconsin (18-3, 7-1 Big Ten) to an overtime win over Rutgers Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York. It was a dominant performance, in which he scored a career-high 32 points, grabbed six rebounds and recorded four steals inside one of basketball’s meccas.
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Illini proves formidable opponent on their home turf
A little more than 72 hours later, Happ — a Milan, Illinois native — will find himself at State Farm Center in Champaign, where Wisconsin will be looking for its sixth consecutive win and 11th straight over Illinois (13-9, 3-6).
According to UW, Happ is the lone player in the Big Ten to lead his team in points (17.7), rebounds (8.1), assists (3.1), steals (2.8) and blocks (1.5) during conference play. He is shooting 61 percent from the field in his last three games (28-for-46). Happ also now leads UW in scoring at 14.5 points per game on the season.
Illinois is led by Malcolm Hill, who averages 10 more minutes per game than any of his teammates, and it shows on the stat sheet. Hill, a senior guard and second-team All-Big Ten a season ago, leads Illinois in scoring (17.5 ppg), assists (2.7) and is second in rebounding (5.9).
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At home, the Illini have only failed to score less than 75 points once. Yet, conversely they’ve only broken the 70-point mark on the road once. For whatever reason, Gard said, the Illini light it up at State Farm Center.
“[They’re] a much more potent team for whatever reason at home,” Gard said. “Very comfortable there. We’ll have to play very well, specifically defensively, to be able to contain them.”
The last time the two teams squared off, UW was down 13 with 12 minutes remaining, but used a 17-0 run to come back and escape with a 69-60 victory. Happ finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and six steals, and if recent history serves as any indicator, he is primed to put up similar numbers Tuesday night.
Wisconsin will have practice Monday night in Champaign, Gard said, and a shoot-around tomorrow to make any adjustments before the 8 p.m. tip on Big Ten Network.
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Gard’s take on committee releasing rankings
The NCAA’s Tournament Selection Committee, following in the footsteps of the College Football Playoff Committee, will release the projected top 16 seeds — four teams in each region — of the tournament weekly beginning Feb. 11. In football, the committee ranks the top 25 teams.
Gard said he understands the purpose of announcing the projections, but he said it won’t affect the way he or his team approaches the task at hand.
“It’s great for fans and it probably stirs conversations, but in terms of our approach, it doesn’t change,” he said. “We don’t watch the rankings or talk about the rankings. We just try to move forward one at a time.”
Gard also said those rankings will be somewhat unreliable because teams play multiple games in a week compared to college football, when there is one game per week.
“Because we play two or three times a week in basketball, it could change tomorrow,” he said.
Maryland time set
Wisconsin’s home game against Maryland on Feb. 19 will tip off at noon and will be televised on CBS.
Currently, the Badgers and Terrapins are tied atop the Big Ten standings, each boasting a 7-1 conference record through eight.