Wisconsin already has clinched a bye in the upcoming Big Ten tournament and can't win the conference's regular-season title, making Sunday's home matchup with Illinois little more than a postseason tune-up.
There's much more on the line for the Fighting Illini.
Unlike Illinois, the 14th-ranked Badgers (22-8, 11-6) are a lock for the NCAA tournament. They can do no better than a second-place tie in the final Big Ten standings, though they ensured a first-round bye in the conference tournament with a 52-45 win over Minnesota on Tuesday.
"Anytime you can play to win less games to get to your ultimate goal, it's always a good thing," senior Jordan Taylor said after scoring 22 points. "Playing three instead of four will definitely help."
Wisconsin avoided a letdown following a 63-60 win at then-No. 8 Ohio State last Sunday. The Badgers had to overcome shooting a season-low 30.8 percent and a seven-point halftime deficit, but they refused to blame their performance on being tired while playing their second game in three days.
"At this point of the season I think everyone is at the same level. You can't say you're tired, because everybody is tired," forward Mike Bruesewitz said. "We have played the same amount of games. Playoffs are just around the corner so we have to be excited about that."
Taylor, who will be playing his final home game, said the Badgers won't overlook a desperate Illinois team Sunday.
"They have been struggling but they have a lot of talent over there," he said. "It is a game we have to go in and play with more energy."
The Illini (17-13, 6-11) should be able to match Wisconsin's intensity given their current situation.
Illinois was ranked in early January but has since lost 10 of 12, possibly needing a win Sunday and an impressive run in the conference tournament to convince the selection committee it's worthy of an NCAA bid.
"If you want to go to the tournament, you need to win games," coach Bruce Weber said. We'll need to win at Wisconsin, and we'll have to win at the Big Ten tournament."
The Illini's NCAA tournament hopes took another hit Thursday, never leading in a 72-61 home loss to No. 13 Michigan.
Meyers Leonard scored a team-high 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
"They just kind of controlled the game and took it away from us," Leonard said.
The Illini have wins over three ranked teams but have gone 0-4 against them since beating then-No. 9 Michigan State on Jan. 31. Their resume also includes a 23-point loss at conference-worst Nebraska on Feb. 18.
Illinois was 15-4 and ranked No. 22 entering the first meeting with the Badgers on Jan. 22, but a then-unranked Wisconsin team went on a late run to win 67-63.
Taylor scored a game-high 19 points and Jared Berggren added 18 in the victory, while Leonard scored a team-high 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Taylor had 22 points in Wisconsin's 76-66 win Jan. 15, 2011, in the most recent meeting in Madison.
- Fighting Illini