The Matchup: Wisconsin (13-3) @ Northwestern (12-3)
Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)
TV: Big Ten Network (7:30 PM CT Wednesday January 13th, 2010)
Radio: WGN 720 AM
Fun Fact: Wisconsin has six players on their roster of 16 players from their home state of Wisconsin. Northwestern has 7 (or 8 if you count Rowley) from their home state of Illinois.
About the Game
Wisconsin comes into this game fresh off a big upset win over then #4 Purdue. That has to give the Badgers confidence, but Welsh-Ryan hasn’t been an easy place for Bo Ryan’s teams over the years (plus NU has to feel pretty good after beating Michigan on the road). During Bo Ryan’s career as the head coach at Wisconsin, some very good Bager teams have taken an “L” or been forced to fight to the finish against the Wildcats in Evanston. Perhaps this is because Northwestern generally matches up well with Wisconsin as long as a raucous Kohl Center crowd isn’t there to intimidate the Wildcats.
Thinking about NU's matchup with Wisconsin, I think a key guy to stop will be Jason Bohannon. Bohannon has always been a great shooter, but he played one of the most impressive all around games of the season against Purdue. Not only did he shoot, but he got rebounds, got assists, and even blocked shots. A few days before against Michigan State he didn’t even seem to want to shoot. Taylor also had a great against Purdue, more than doubling his 9.3 points per game average. Part of the reason for that, though, was Wisconsin’s point guard Trevon Hughes was in foul trouble against the Boilers and spent a ton of time on the bench. Without Hughes’s 15.8 ppg, the Badgers looked more for Taylor. I’d predict that one of the two will have a good game against Northwestern. Therefore, it’ll be stopping Bohannon from getting easy looks at threes (as MSU did) which might be a defensive key for NU.
Obviously, a key issue in this game will be that Wisconsin will not have the services of Jon Leuer. Leuer is 6-10 and talented enough to score both inside (15.4 ppg) and outside (35.5% from three). Basically, he’s the player that Northwestern expects Luka Mirkovic to be. Often times teams rally after losing a star player, but Leuer going down is going to hurt Wisconsin. Fellow forward Keaton Nankivil will have to step his game for Wisconsin to continue to be successful not just vs the 'Cats, but all season.
The other major issue for NU will be handling Wisconsin’s defensive pressure. Purdue failed to do so, but they’re actually still a little weak in the backcourt without Lewis Jackson. Hopefully Juice Thompson’s two years of experience against the Badgers will make Wisconsin’s defense a non-factor against NU’s offense.
Wisconsin won with limited production from Jon Leuer on Saturday, but his presence on the court still helped the Badgers. His being on the bench will be an advantage to NU. Unfortunately, right now Wisconsin may still have something of a big crowd in Evanston as tickets remain. Hopefully a full NU student section can neutralize that advantage. I believe the two magic numbers for an NU victory will be 11 and 10. I think Northwestern needs to break the Wisconsin defense and hit 11 threes and they need to pick up 10 steals to counter the fact that even without Leuer, Wisconsin still has size. With Drew Crawford breaking out and Jeremy Nash waking up, I think NU can do both and win a close game. Northwestern, 67 Wisconsin 65