This weekend’s slate of Big Ten basketball games is highly uneventful, but one matchup to take note of involves the Northwestern Wildcats traveling to Madison to take on the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday afternoon. Northwestern, losers of eight straight Big Ten conference games, returns to the Kohl Center, where they shocked the Badgers’ Final Four squad just a season ago.
Northwestern has struggled all season long, sitting in last place in the Big Ten Conference play standing. The Wildcats won their first conference game of the season at Rutgers, but have lost the past eight, including one game in Evanston against the Badgers. This past Tuesday, Northwestern came away with a 76-60 loss at Nebraska. The Wildcats allowed Nebraska to shoot 63% from the field, and were outrebounded in this game, 26-19. Northwestern lives and dies by the three-pointer this season, and they’ve been ice cold from 3 throughout this dismal losing streak. Northwestern was led by their junior center, Alex Olah, and his 16 points against Nebraska. They also received four three-pointers, en route to 12 points, from freshman guard Scottie Lindsey.
Wisconsin comes into this game with a 20-2 overall record, including an 8-1 Big Ten Conference record. They are winners of five straight games and comfortably hold the top spot in the Big Ten standings. This past Tuesday, the Badgers took care of Indiana quite easily, winning by the final score of 92-78. This game was not nearly as close as the final score may indicate. The Badgers shot 60% from the field. Additionally, they went 28 for 31 from the free throw line (90%).
In this game, all five Badger starters finished with double digit points. Standout center Frank Kaminsky finished with 23 points to go along with six rebounds. Sophomores Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes added 15 points and 14 points, respectively. On the season, the Badgers are shooting 49% from the field and 76% from the free throw line. This team has the talent to make another Final Four run this season.
Earlier this season on Jan. 4, the Badgers blew out the Wildcats in Evanston by the final score of 81-58. This game was never close from the beginning, as Wisconsin led 43-21 at halftime. Northwestern shot a miserable 39% from the field, including a 4-14 showing from three-point land. For the Badgers, Kaminsky finished with 16 points, ten rebounds, and six assists, while junior forward Sam Dekker added 16 points and seven rebounds.
Senior forward Duje Dukan also contributed 14 points off the bench. For Northwestern, junior guard Tre Demps led the way with 17 points and six rebounds, while freshman guard Bryant McIntosh added 13 points.
As mentioned before, a season ago, Northwestern traveled to Madison on Jan. 29, 2014, and upset the Badgers in shocking fashion. The Badgers were in the middle of a six game stretch, which resulted in them losing five of six games including an unprecedented three losses at the Kohl Center. The Badgers shot only 26% from the field against Northwestern in that game and they allowed recent graduate Drew Crawford to score 30 points.
While Northwestern has been struggling mightily all season long, they play with confidence at the Kohl Center, and they will be looking to make a statement in a weaker Big Ten Conference. Look to see coach Chris Collins have his team ready to play.
Wisconsin carries a very balanced offense. All five starters are offensive weapons and teams have struggled against Wisconsin all season long when both Kaminsky and Hayes have big games together. A key for Northwestern on Saturday involves getting junior forward Alex Olah involved in the offense early. If Kaminsky and/or Hayes gets in foul trouble early in the game, the Badgers will struggle.
Northwestern will then have to capitalize on all of their opportunities, which also involves limiting turnovers. Northwestern must play a perfect game to have a chance to win this game, but their confidence in the Kohl Center will make this game a lot closer than some expect. Tip-off from the Kohl Center is Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Only one month to go until it’s March!
*Section Photo credit to Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports.