As the Northwestern students rushed onto the court Saturday afternoon and Gus Johnson in his typical enthusiastic manner said, “Chicago’s…Big…Ten…Team!” (BTW, I’d have Johnson’s call on that in every NU promo from now until the Sun burns out). Wildcat Nation had to break out into a collective grin. The two losses the Wildcats suffered to Illinois and Michigan had left me (and I assume most of you) just sad. Not even upset. Just so sad. On Thursday after the Michigan loss I had people ask if I felt sick and I really think it was because I was just so depressed after seeing the Wildcats fail in what seemed like a defining game for this season that I simply didn’t look well. I know I’m way too invested in what happens with the ‘Cats and sincerely wish I had something else in my life with which to replace them as a priority, but I don’t and so I’m hoping that my depression from the Michigan loss can be totally replaced after a win Wednesday in Madison. Sure, the Michigan State win was great, but the losses to Illinois and Michigan right now are still haunting defeats. However, that can change. NU has a great chance to beat Wisconsin at the Kohl Center for the first time ever this week. In addition, Minnesota is an inconsistent team that I could see the Wildcats being able to play with when they travel up to the Twin Cities on Sunday.
For now though let’s keep focused on what’s going on in Madison. This is a talented Wisconsin team, but they’re underachieving right now. Especially on offense. Rumors are even circulating that star guard Jordan Taylor is playing hurt and that’s the reason for his only shooting 39% overall and only 31% from three point range. Whatever the case, Taylor has looked far more mortal this season than in the last two and his struggles have turned into team struggles as the Badgers have failed to score. When the Badgers have scored they’ve done so by supporting Taylor’s 13.8ppg with Jared Breggren (10.9ppg) inside and two recruits who chose Wisconsin over Northwestern Josh Gasser (48.9% 3PT) and Ben Brust (40.2% 3PT) from the outside. Gasser’s probably been the most consistent of the guards as Brust has had some big games such as seven threes versus UNLV and had some days where he seriously struggled. Honestly, though, I think NU can out shoot Wisconsin if it comes down to that. My bigger concern is on the offensive glass. Davide Curletti played the game his life on Saturday getting NU some second chance points and helping contain Michigan State’s front court from getting easy putbacks. However, I question the reality of getting the same game out of Curletti again. I think NU will need something good out of Luka Mirkovic and Davide as they battle the rebounding of Breggren, Ryan Evans, and the aptly named Mike Bruesewitz who pull down five-plus boards. Also, don’t discount Gasser as a rebounder. He’s very active around the glass. I have to say that although Josh Gasser obviously isn’t the dominate player that Andrew Luck is that as much as the Wildcats might lament losing out on Luck to Stanford in football, losing Gasser was just as bad for basketball. Based on who the ‘Cats had on the team these last two years and Gasser’s shooting and active play I truly think he might have been the missing piece to NU making the tournament. Of course, he’s a Badger there is nothing that can be done about it. I can tell you, though, I’m going to be really really pissed if he’s the difference in this game.
Looking at the game, NU used the 1-3-1 all game vs MSU, but Wisconsin is a different type of team. They’re a little better at taking care of the ball and have the potential to shoot better. However, if the Badgers continue to slump shooting then perhaps the 1-3-1 could be the key to a win. One thing we know for sure is that taking care of the ball will be key as this should be a low scoring game. I know Northwestern can win this game. However, with Bill Carmody’s 0-12 record in Madison and the way NU get hammered by Wisconsin last year I can’t really honestly predict an NU victory. Plus, Wisconsin is by far the most physical team in the Big Ten and NU seems to basically have six players right now with Alex Marcotullio likely out, JerShon Cobb at something like 70%, and Nick Fruendt as the primary sub at guard and Luka Mirkovic as the primary sub in the front court. That’s tough. I think this is a close game and I think NU can win, but they’ll need a lot of breaks which might not happen in Mad Town. I Predict: Wisconsin, 55 Northwestern, 50