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BTP Thursday Preview: Big One for the Badgers on Turkey Day

A stout test for Wisconsin highlights the B1G action on Thanksgiving Day

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten will have three team in action on Thanksgiving Day, highlighted by No. 2 Wisconsin's tilt with Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Badgers have an opportunity for a statement win, both for their program and the conference as a whole, just ahead of their hosting Duke in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Bo Ryan's squad dispatched UAB 72-43 on Wednesday night in the opening round in the Bahamas behind a 16-point, 8 rebound effort from senior Frank Kaminsky.

"No matter what the final score is, each possession to us is important, teammates cheering for teammates, it's still a game and it's still fun to compete," Ryan said after the game. "The idea is, take care of business when you can."

Michigan State and Illinois are also in action, albeit against much lesser opponents. Both the Spartans and Illini are riding winning streaks, and looking to celebrate Turkey Day with victories. Here's what to watch for.

Game of the Day

#2 Wisconsin vs. Georgetown - 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN/WatchESPN)

Wisconsin looks every bit the second-ranked team in the country and the unanimous top team in the Big Ten. Through its first four games, the team's smallest margin of victory has been 24 points. The Badgers have a balanced attack, with three players averaging double-figure scoring, and are 4th in the country defensively in points allowed.

Kaminsky, the reigning Big Ten Co-Player of the Week, is nearly averaging a double-double, leading Wisconsin in scoring (18.6 ppg), rebounding (9.8), and blocks (2.8).

"Frank just keeps playing, keeps working at it every day," Ryan said after Kaminsky's 26-point outburst against Boise State last weekend. "His all-around game just keeps getting better."

The preseason Big Ten Player of the Year is surrounded by a strong supporting cast in the frontcourt as well, as sophomore Nigel Hayes and junior Sam Dekker are also off to good starts. Hayes, the conference's reigning Sixth Man of the Year, is flourishing in an expanded role early on, leading the team in minutes and nearly averaging a double-double (14 points and 8.8 boards) himself.

"He's another year better," Ryan said of Hayes. "And look out, he's young yet."

Dekker, who turned heads all summer and received ramped-up draft buzz, is adding 12.2 points per game, while senior point guard Traevon Jackson is contributing 8.8 and leading the team in assists. The Badgers are clicking early, shooting the ball well (12th in the country in field goal percentage) and allowing just 46.6 points per game.

Wisconsin will face its most stout test of the young season on Thursday, though, as Georgetown is off to a 4-0 start after nipping 18th-ranked Florida, 66-65. The Hoyas, ranked 25th by KenPom, have a nice blend of experience and youth, shoot the ball well, and defend the rim. The Badgers will have their hands full on both ends of the court.

"The team sitting in front of us tomorrow is a monster," head coach John Thompson III said of Wisconsin after the victory over the Gators.

Junior guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who paced the Hoyas attack on Wednesday with 17 points, including the game-winner with 3.4 seconds to go in overtime, isn't intimidated by the Badgers. "We're a monster too," Smith-Rivera said.

Smith-Rivera, last season's leading scorer for Georgetown, is one of three Hoyas scoring in double-figures at 11 points per game. Senior center Joshua Smith is pacing the offense through the first four games, averaging 15 points and over 7 rebounds. Freshman L.J. Peak adds 13.3, while senior Mikael Hopkins commands the paint defensively with 8.3 boards and 3.3 blocks per contest.

The winner of this matchup will take on the winner of the Oklahoma-Butler game tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

#20 Michigan State vs. Rider - 6:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2/WatchESPN)

The Spartans have destroyed back-to-back opponents following their ten-point loss to Duke in the second game of the season. That trend figures to continue against a Rider squad that comes in ranked 202nd in the KenPom rankings. Michigan State is eighth in the country in assists per game (20.5), and has won its last two games by an average of 31 points.

"That ball is swinging around and that ball is moving," head coach Tom Izzo said after Monday's 79-52 win over Santa Clara. "Those are some staggering statistics you see in terms of percentage of baskets coming off of assists. You look at some of these other teams and we do as good of a job as anybody in the country."

The Spartans are getting production from familiar faces, as seniors Travis Trice and Branden Dawson are pacing things offensively. Trice, in particular, has stepped up his game, averaging 18 points, 4 rebounds, and 7 assists a game.

Rider, which is playing its second consecutive game against a ranked opponent after losing to Kansas on Monday, is led by the backcourt tandem of Zedric Saddler and Teddy Okereafor. The two juniors lead the team in minutes played and combine to score over 26 points, grab more than 7 rebounds, and force over 3 steals per game.

Illinois vs. Indiana State - 5 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1)

Since arriving at Illinois two seasons ago, head coach John Groce has gotten used to fast starts. In his first year at the helm, the Illini won their first twelve, and last year took nine of their first ten. So seeing Illinois off to a 4-0 start is not a huge surprise, especially considering the highest ranked team they've played according to KenPom was 217th (Brown).

What is a bit of a surprise, though is the offensive firepower the Illini has shown. After topping 100 points twice in the first four games, Illinois leads the nation in scoring at 97.5 per game. Groce has five players averaging double-figures.

After losing senior point guard Tracy Abrams for the season, it was expected that Illinois' production would take a hit, but the Illini have responded. Senior Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in scoring a season ago, is once again pacing the attack at 17.9 points per contest. A pair of transfer students in Ahmad Starks (Oregon State) and Aaron Cosby (Seton Hall) have picked up the slack on the offensive end, while youngsters Malcolm Hill and Leron Black are playing above expectations.

Indiana State is easily the toughest opponent the Illini will have seen through the early going, coming in at 151st according to KenPom. The Sycamores have had major shooting woes, hitting just 40 percent of their field goals as a team, and less than 25 percent from three-point range, but they rebound the ball effectively. Fifth-year head coach Greg Lansing's team grabs more than 10 offensive boards per game and keeps the opposition off the glass.

The Sycamores are led by junior guards Khristian Smith and Devonte Brown, the only two players on the roster averaging more than 10 points per game. Smith and Brown account for nearly half of Indiana State's scoring.