Wisconsin Basketball heads to Evanston to take on Northwestern in a prime time Saturday night affair. Which squad comes out on top, and why?
It wasn’t so long ago that the Northwestern basketball program was on top of the world.
In 2017, the Wildcats enjoyed a 24-12 campaign and both made their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history and won their first-ever tournament game in the first round over Vanderbilt before bowing out to No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the second.
Fast forward a couple of years, and Chris Collins’ squad is in a different place entirely. Northwestern is currently sitting at 12-14 on the season has lost seven straight games dating back to their 63-49 defeat to the Badgers in the first matchup of the season between these teams back on January 26. The Wildcats have only won three Big Ten games, beating Indiana, Rutgers, and Illinois (before the Illini started getting hot).
While Northwestern seems due for a win and will have the advantage of playing on their home court, Wisconsin has been one of the country’s best teams on the road this season. The Badgers are one of only nine high-major teams with six true road wins, and only Michigan State has more such victories (seven) than them in the conference.
Will the Badgers hold true to their reputation as road warriors and pick up their first regular-season sweep of the Wildcats since 2015 on Saturday night, or will they be on the wrong side of an upset?
No. 22 WISCONSIN (18-8)
G – D’Mitrik Trice – SO (12.5 ppg)
G – Brad Davison- SO (11.3 ppg)
F – Khalil Iverson – SR (5.1 ppg)
F – Nathan Reuvers – SO (8.5 ppg)
C – Ethan Happ – SR (17.9 ppg)
G – Anthony Gaines – SO (6.7 ppg)
G – Ryan Taylor – SR (10.8 ppg)
F – Vic Law – SR (15.2 ppg)
C – Barrett Benson – JR (2.3 ppg)
C – Dererk Pardon – SR (13.4 ppg)
Keys to the game and prediction
In searching for the root cause of Northwestern’s recent struggles over its losing streak, look no further than the Wildcats’ woeful performances on offense.
In the first loss of their seven-game slide against Wisconsin in January, Northwestern was ultimately doomed by a 30 percent overall shooting clip from the field, including an abysmal 23 percent in the second half. The Wildcats have continued to struggle to put the ball in the basket ever since, with their 31.6 percent outing against Ohio State on Wednesday serving as the most recent example.
Nonetheless, this is not some new development: on the season, Northwestern ranks No. 333 in the nation in field goal percentage and No. 320 in points per game. Unfortunately, as the Wildcats already are all too aware, the Badgers are one of the nation’s elite defensive squads, so the odds of them turning their offense around on Saturday do not appear to be too high.
Instead, Northwestern’s key to taking down Wisconsin lies on the other end of the court.
In the last matchup between these squads, Collins opted to slow Ethan Happ by sending double teams, as many other opposing coaches have done this season. Though the All-American center notched a triple-double (13 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists), the Wildcats did succeed in making life difficult for him, as he went just 6-15 from the field. However, the Badgers were able to win comfortably because they knocked down the open looks from the perimeter that Happ created for them, going 9-19 from beyond the arc. Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice poured in 18 points apiece to pace Wisconsin, and when those two are that productive, the Badgers are going to win nine times out of ten.
That performance aside, the Wildcats have been one of the Big Ten’s best at defending the three-point line throughout conference play, ranking No. 1 in opponent threes made, No. 2 in attempts, and No. 2 in percentage. If they play at that level and make the game a defensive battle against a Wisconsin team that is prone to cold spells and is coming off of a 5-18 performance from long range against Illinois, then they stand a real chance at getting the win.
I am a bit concerned that this could be a trap game for the Badgers, as Northwestern is desperate for a win and should have a large crowd behind them for a prime time battle with a Top 25 team. However, the fact remains that the Wildcats are simply a below-average basketball team, and they are facing an opponent that has beaten far better opponents than them on the road this season. I expect Northwestern to put up a spirited fight, but, in the end, I like Wisconsin to come away with a 69-56 win
All stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com