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MVSU-Wisconsin Preview

AP - Sports

Wisconsin continues to roll behind what's looking like the best defense in the nation.

In their final tune up before opening Big Ten play, the 13th-ranked Badgers seem likely to give visiting Mississippi Valley State all it can handle Friday.

While Wisconsin (10-2) ranks near the bottom of the conference with 67.3 points per game, it's made things pretty difficult on its opposition. The Badgers lead the nation with an average of 44.7 points allowed and are holding teams to a Division I-low 33.8 percent shooting.

"We try to force teams into tough shots, and shots that they don't really want to take," sophomore Josh Gasser said. "Early in the shot clock, teams are looking to get to the hoop, and I think we do a good job of cutting that off, forcing them to work clock a little bit and maybe get a shot they don't really want to take.

"I think our defensive principles have been working well so far, and we're looking to keep that going looking forward."

Coach Bo Ryan's team, which has posted 45 straight home wins over unranked non-conference opponents by an average of 26.0 points, will look to do just that against the Delta Devils (1-9).

Aside from a 90-89 double overtime victory over Tennessee State on Nov. 25, Mississippi Valley State has been outscored by an average of 20.0 points while shooting 37.0 percent in its losses.

Wisconsin continued its defensive prowess Dec. 15, allowing 14 points in the first half and holding Savannah State to 32.6 percent shooting overall in a 66-33 win.

"I thought we did a pretty good job of taking away what they posed as their threats," Ryan said. "Every game you're trying to do that."

The Badgers, though, came out with a lackadaisical effort in the second half.

"Those are lapses we're not going to be able to afford against other teams," preseason All-American Jordan Taylor said.

While Mississippi Valley State isn't likely to pose a challenge, Wisconsin could be tested in Tuesday's Big Ten opener at Nebraska. The Badgers follow that contest with matchups against Iowa and No. 19 Michigan State before visiting No. 20 Michigan on Jan. 8.

With what could be an upcoming difficult slate of games, the Badgers would surely love to see Taylor pick up the pace. The senior guard, who scored 18.1 points per game last season, is averaging 11.8 and shooting 37.3 percent.

Taylor's struggles, though, have opened the door for others to step up - most notably Jared Berggren. The 6-foot-10 junior, recording a team-best 12.3 points per game, has scored 30 on 9-of-14 shooting over the last two.

"He's getting better, he's learning during each and every game how to read the defenses, are they doubling down, are they doubling from behind, what kind of looks he's going to get," Ryan said. "He's also finding people at times. He's getting better as a player, and that's what we like to see."

Wisconsin won 115-79 in its only previous meeting with Mississippi Valley State on Dec. 23, 1993. The Badgers are 8-0 all-time against teams from the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

In its two matchups versus ranked foes this season, the Delta Devils fell 101-75 at then-No. 1 North Carolina on Nov. 20 and 82-54 at No. 11 Florida on Monday.

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