The Matchup: Wisconsin (12-8) @ Northwestern (11-7)
Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)
TV: Big Ten Network (7:00 PM CT)
Radio: WGN 720 AM
Fun Fact: This will be the second sellout of Welsh-Ryan Arena this year. Two of the last three have featured Wisconsin as the opponent.
About the Game
Both teams enter this Saturday night contest with 3-5 conference records, however, their method of archiving those records have been dramatically different. Northwestern has won three of four, including wins over two ranked teams. Wisconsin has dropped five straight games since defeating Northwestern 74-45 on January 7th. Despite the lopsided score of that contest, a much closer game is expected this time around. Wisconsin’s five straight losses have been close, only one by more than 10 points and two in overtime, but the fact is they have lost. Northwestern barely edged last place Indiana, but the fact is they won.
Much like when NU played at Wisconsin, they will need to stop the Badgers front court players. NU’s young front court struggled mightily against Jon Leuer in that contest. Although he doesn’t start, Leuer still averages 9.0 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Another Wisconsin big man who has stepped up recently is Keaton Nankivil. Nankivil, who averages 5.2 points per game, hit four threes in the Badgers 64-63 loss to Purdue. It is the ability of the Badgers to step out and hit threes which might cause NU problems. The ability of Michigan to find open shots against the 1-3-1 allowed the Wolverines to beat the ‘Cats and Indiana hit 12 threes in their narrow loss to NU Wednesday. As a team Wisconsin hits 36.5% of their threes. Jason Bohannon is regarded as the Badgers top shooter, but his fellow guard Travon Hughes actually leads the team with a 43.5% shooting percentage from behind the arc. Also of note is the Badgers top scorer Marcus Landry, who generally scores more inside, actually shoots 38.8% from three. The Wildcats collection of young centers will need to be on their game to stop this versatile big man and his front court teammates. Kyle Rowley will have a distinct size advantage, but Wisconsin is more athletic. If Luka Mirkovic can come back from his sprained ankle it would help give the Wildcats added options.
Players and coaches from both teams remarked how intense the game between Indiana and Northwestern was. This game between Northwestern and Wisconsin will be even more intense. Both teams need a win if they want to have any chance to making the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately for Northwestern, the invasion of the red clad fans from north of the boarder could make Welsh-Ryan a hostile place for Northwestern to play. How the Wildcats respond could make the difference. It seems in recent years the number of visiting fans has increased inside Welsh-Ryan Arena. When only 6,000 fans showed up in 2006, Northwestern won. Last year when Welsh-Ryan was sold out with 75% Badger fans, Wisconsin won. Sadly, I expect at least 65% Badger fans this year, so my initial reaction is to pick a Badger win. However, a good showing by Northwestern’s student section could counter the Badger fans as NU’s students are much closer to the floor and can make an ever bigger difference on the outcome. As a result, I have two predictions.
If NU’s student sections (note both sections) are full: Northwestern, 67 Wisconsin, 60
If NU’s student sections are relatively empty: Wisconsin, 66 Northwestern, 61
Bottom line, either way, I think we're in for a hell of a game.