Sunday, Jan 22nd, 11:30 CT
Welsh-Ryan Arena It may not be Sunday's biggest game between an Illinois and Wisconsin team, but the game between Northwestern and Wisconsin will be huge. With a win, the Wildcats can earn a quality win against a top-25 opponent, and get back to .500 in conference. A lot is on the line.
The Wildcats have recovered from their 0-3 start to conference place by taking four of their last five games, including the last two wins against Michigan and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
During Thursday's blowout win over SIU-Edwardsville, the Wildcats were able to rest their five starters for the majority of the game, and Northwestern leading scorer John Shurna sat out the entire game, to rest his injured ankle. The Wildcats enter the game well-rested, in search of a quality victory.
However, a win against the 18th ranked Badgers will not come easy. Wisconsin is led by senior forward Jon Leuer (19.2 ppg) and junior guard Jordan Taylor (17.6) ppg. The thing that makes Wisconsin so tough to beat is their defense. The Badgers surrender an average of just 56.5 ppg.
Northwestern needs to bring their A+ game to take down the Badgers, in what could be a huge win for the Wildcats.
Northwestern gave Wisconsin all they could handle in both matchups last season. The Badgers won the first matchup in Evanston, 60-50, and squeaked out a seven-point win in Madison.
PLAYER TO WATCH FOR THE WILDCATS: John Shurna
On Thursday, Shurna missed his first game of his career. The junior forward had played and started in all 94 games of his career until Thursday, when he was held out for precautions to rest his ankle.
Shurna will play on Sunday, with his ankle nearing full-strength. Northwestern needs their leading scorer to bring a strong performance against the Badgers' tough defense. Shurna is undoubtedly the key for a Wildcat win. Shurna's strong play is usually enough to ignite the rest of the team. The Wildcats are 0-4 when Shurna scores fewer than 13 points. However, if Shurna has an off night, then the advantage goes to Wisconsin.
PLAYER TO WATCH FOR THE BADGERS: Jon Leuer
The key for the Badgers is senior forward Jon Leuer. The 6'10 Leuer creates major matchup problems for opponents. Averaging 19.2 ppg, opposing teams have had a tough challenge facing Leuer. The Wildcats will counter with 6'11 senior center Luka Mirkovic, who has played much better on defense in the Wildcats' last few games. Mirkovic will need another stellar performance to slow down Wisconsin's leading scorer.
KEY TO A WILDCAT WIN: Shooting
The Wildcats need to shoot lights out. It takes a hot shooting to beat the Badgers. Northwestern should hope to shoot well over 50%. The only way to beat Wisconsin is with a great offensive effort. The Wildcats have three players- John Shurna, Drew Crawford, and Michael Thompson- averaging in double-figure scoring. The ‘Cats need these three players to continue their torrent pace. If this happens, then Sunday could be a great day for the Wildcats.