Sunday, February 27th, 5 p.m. CT.
The road portion of Northwestern's Big Ten schedule comes to an end on Sunday, but it won't be an easy task. The Wildcats head up to Madison to take on the 12th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center.
In the 2010-11 season, Wisconsin is 15-0 at the Kohl Center, and 151-11 under head coach Bo Ryan.
But this Wisconsin team may be one of the best that Bo Ryan has seen in his 10 seasons as head coach. The Badgers are led by junior point guard Jordan Taylor, who enters Sunday's game averaging 19.9 points per game. However, Sunday will be all about Wisconsin's seniors, including forward Jon Leuer. It will be Leuer's last game at the Kohl Center, and he will want to exit with a big game. The senior averages 18.5 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game. Leuer showed the Wildcats in their first matchup how good he can be, finishing with 19 points on 8-10 shooting, all coming in just 21 minutes. That entire game was a total disaster for the Wildcats, who would lose by 32 points.
Northwestern enters Sunday's game coming off a loss to Penn State. The only bright side for the Wildcats is the play of senior point guard Michael Thompson, who enters Sunday averaging 15 points per game. Thompson has been red hot of late, finishing with 22 points in his last two games.
It takes an extraordinary effort to beat the Badgers in the Kohl Center, and that effort starts with Michael ‘Juice Thompson. The senior is hoping to exit with a bang, and this is his opportunity. To beat Wisconsin, the Wildcats will need to get the best out of their whole team. If that doesn't happen, it could be a long day.
G: #22 Michael Thompson (5-10, 190) 15.0 PPG
G: #23 Jershon Cobb (6'5, 180) 8.0 PPG
F: #1 Drew Crawford (6'5, 205) 12.4 PPG
F: #24 John Shurna (6'8, 215) 17.0 PPG
C: #12 Luka Mirkovic (6'11, 248) 8.2 PPG
LAST TIME OUT:
On Thursday, Penn State started off on an 18-2 run, and didn't let up the lead. Northwestern got within three points multiple times, but could not complete the comeback and even the score. In the end, Penn State won their eighth-straight game against the Wildcats. Juice Thompson finished with 22 points.
LAST NU-WISCONSIN MATCHUP:
In their first matchup of the season, Northwestern was absolutely humiliated on their home court. Wisconsin led by as much as 39 points, and would pull a 78-46 win. The Badgers finished with five scorers in double-figures, and freshman guard Josh Gasser finished with a triple-double.
KEY PLAYER FOR THE WILDCATS: John Shurna
As the season has progressed, Wildcat fans have been searching for junior forward John Shurna. Once the leading scorer of the Big Ten, Shurna has been nowhere near his old self as of late. Shurna's point per game average has dipped down to just 17 ppg, which is the lowest that it's reached this season. To add to that, Shurna has scored more than 20 points just twice in Big Ten play.
It's unfair to bash Shurna for his play early in the Big Ten play, because he was clearly not at 100% health. However, Bill Carmody said after Thursday's game that his forward is "fine", and that his ankle injury and concussion are not an issue anymore.
If Northwestern wants to win, they absolutely need the old John Shurna to come to play. If Shurna can join in with Thompson's hot play, the Wildcats will be tough to beat. If Shurna isn't a factor, then the Wildcats don't stand a chance.
KEY PLAYER FOR THE BADGERS: Jon Leuer
Wisconsin's 6'10 small forward presents a giant (no pun intended) matchup problem for any opponent, and that was evident in the first matchup between these two teams. Leuer is a big man with the ability to shoot, meaning you simply can't back down defensively.
The Wildcats will have to drape Leuer for the entire game to keep him controlled. While the Badgers don't need to rely on Leuer, their offense isn't the same when he faces tight defense.
KEY FOR A WILDCAT WIN: Tempo
The only way Northwestern can pull off an upset is if they dictate the tempo of the game. That starts at the opening tipoff. When on offense, the Wildcats need to run down the entire shot clock and setup good shots. On defense, the ‘Cats need to lockdown and force Wisconsin into uncomfortable shots.
This gameplan was run in Northwestern's upset over Illinois and near-upset over #1 Ohio State. This game is different—Northwestern is playing in a hostile road environment. If the Wildcats control the tempo, they can take the crowd out of the game.
The Wildcats will need to control the tempo and dictate the pace of the game. That's the gameplan that has made NU such a tough matchup this season. If they run it perfectly, they can pull off an upset. If not, Wisconsin will show why they're s tough to beat.