Big Ten Conference play opens Wednesday with a matchup between Wisconsin and Penn State.

Preview: Penn State @ (6) Wisconsin

1pm EST on New Years Eve in Madison, Wisconsin will be this season’s first sight of Big Ten Basketball for the Wisconsin Badgers and Penn State Nittany Lions. The Badgers, coming off of a hard-fought 68-56 victory against Buffalo this past Sunday night, look to get off to a positive start in their conference schedule against a team in which they have struggled against in the past. A season ago, these two teams played each other only one time, in State College, where Wisconsin narrowly defeated Penn State by the final score of 71-66. Wisconsin has struggled against Penn State the past few games, so this will be no easy game for the No. 6 team in the country.

A season ago, on March 2, 2014, the Badgers defeated Penn State 71-66 in State College. The Badgers were actually out-shot and out-rebounded in the game, but executed on some clutch free throws, primarily from Traevon Jackson, to close out the game. The Badgers were led offensively in that game by Josh Gasser, who drilled three three-pointers, en route to 15 points. Jackson ended up finishing with 14 points. The Badgers won the game using a balanced offense, something that has been lacking over the first 13 games of this young season. For Penn State, DJ Newbill contributed 23 points, but the team shot a combined 1 for 13 from three point land.

One key for Penn State in this game is to get senior DJ Newbill involved early on. Newbill is leading the team in scoring this season, averaging 21.4 points per game, along with nearly five rebounds. Penn State is a hard-working team, with a lot of sneaky athleticism. They will need to limit their turnovers, along with getting Wisconsin’s key players into early foul trouble. After finishing with a 6-12 conference record a season ago, Penn State comes back this season as a much improved and seasoned team, in a weaker Big Ten conference. They could surprise their conference foes this season.

For Wisconsin, the biggest key going forward this season is to get a balanced offensive attack. The Badgers knew going into this season that they would need to rely heavily on Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Kaminsky has done his part this season, averaging 16.5 points per game along with nearly 8 rebounds a game. However, Dekker has been injury prone and inconsistent, and the Badgers are struggling to get production from their bench. A season ago, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig were keys to the Badgers improbable Final Four run. Hayes has been inserted into the starting lineup this year, which leaves the Badgers bench more narrow than Bo Ryan had intended. Duje Dukan needs to contribute more consistently on both ends of the floor, and Koenig is shooting a mere 39% from the field, including only 28% from three-point land.

These two teams will meet again on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 in State College. The excitement is palpable with B1G play finally beginning. Happy New Year to everyone!

*Section Photo credit to Andy Lyons, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Robert Hanashiro, USA Today Sports.