Preview: Northwestern at Wisconsin

Although the Badgers have won four straight in the series by an average of 16.0 points per game, Wisconsin knows it's going to be in a physical and mental test when a talented Northwestern team comes to the Kohl Center for a Wednesday night matchup.

Northwestern (12-5, 2-3 Big Ten) vs. Wisconsin (14-5, 3-3 Big Ten) vs.

Date/Time - Wednesday, January 18, 8:00 p.m. Central

Arena – Kohl Center (17,230)

Television - Big Ten Network (Eric Collins & Shon Morris)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Wisconsin leads 108-61 (UW leads 63-20 in Madison)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 78-63, on February 27, 2011 in Madison

Wisconsin Probable Starters

5 Ryan Evans (6-6 Junior Forward, 9.5 ppg)

11 Jordan Taylor (6-1 Senior Guard, 13.8 ppg)

21 Josh Gasser (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 7.7 ppg)

31 Mike Bruesewitz (6-6 Junior Forward, 6.2 ppg)

40 Jared Berggren (6-10 Junior Forward, 10.9 ppg)

Off the Bench

1 Ben Brust (6-1 Sophomore Guard, 9.6 ppg)

12 Traevon Jackson (6-2 Freshman Guard, 1.7 ppg)

33 Rob Wilson (6-4 Senior Guard, 2.5 ppg)

44 Frank Kaminsky (6-11 Freshman Forward, 2.5 ppg)

Northwestern Probable Starters

1 Drew Crawford (6-5 Junior Forward, 17.6 ppg)

3 Dave Sobolewski (6-1 Freshman Guard, 8.2 ppg)

11 Reggie Hearn (6-4 Junior Guard, 5.6 ppg)

24 John Shurna (6-9 Senior Forward, 19.1 ppg)

30 Davide Curletti (6-9 Senior Forward, 4.5 ppg)

Off the Bench

12 Luka Mirkovic (6-11 Senior Center, 6.6 ppg)

15 Nick Fruendt (6-5 Senior Guard, 2.3 ppg)

Last Time Out

After an impressive shooting performance at Purdue Thursday, the Badgers reverted back to their old offensive woes Sunday, but kept clicking defensively to shutdown Nebraska's offense in a 50-45 victory.

The victory gets Wisconsin (14-5, 3-3 Big Ten) back to .500 in the conference and erases some of the sting of the three-game losing streak that hung over its heads for two agonizing weeks.

"We found a way to win, which is important in the Big Ten," said Taylor, who led the team with 19 points (11 coming on free throws) but didn't have an assist or a turnover. "It's a marathon, not a sprint and we're happy to have the win."

The Badgers shot only 31.3 percent (including only six made buckets in the second half for a season-low 21.4 field goal percentage), but limited Nebraska (9-8, 1-5) to just 35.2 percent shooting, outrebounded the Huskers 42-28 (including 17-9 on the offensive glass) and went 18 of 24 from the free throw compared to the 2-2 performance from the visitors.

"You're not going to win on the road very many games with the discrepancy of 22 free throws," said Nebraska coach Doc Sadler. "We've got to do much better than that … Obviously they are just an unbelievable defense team to not foul. We've just got to be tougher with the ball."

Tough could be the best word to describe what transpired late, as hustle play after hustle play seemed to find its way into the hands of Wisconsin. Trailing by as many as 11 in the second half, Nebraska, which lost to UW by 24 in the conference opener Dec.27, pulled within 47-45 with 17.5 seconds left.

Taylor was fouled with 17 seconds left and made the first free throw. He missed the second, but Bruesewitz tipped the ball out and Taylor retrieved it by ripping it out of the arms of guard Dylan Talley.

Taylor was fouled again and made both free throws to close the scoring, as Wisconsin – which made its final eight free throws Thursday to ice its win over Purdue – went 6-for-7 from the free throw line in the final 80 seconds.

The Badgers also converted their 17 offensive rebounds into 17 second chance points and improved their nation's best scoring defense to 48.5 points per game.

- By Benjamin Worgull, Badgernation.com

Last Meeting

The Badgers' big men did their damage, including a game-high 26 points from senior Jon Leuer, but the guards controlled the pace and the production to help Wisconsin finish off its third undefeated home season in 10 years with a 78-63 victory over Northwestern.

When the Wildcats – who got a team-high 19 points from Michael Thompson - cut the lead to nine in the second half, Taylor again penetrating in to the lane, kicked the ball out to a wide-open Keaton Nankivil (15 points), who buried the wide-open 3-pointer at the elbow to extend the lead back to 12.

But much like the way Wisconsin had buried the opposition at home all season, Northwestern (16-12, 6-11) got a big pick-me-up from its perimeter shooting, finished the game 11 of 21 from three (52.4 percent) and eventually cut the lead to five with eight minutes left.

"When you prepare for them, you talk about those kinds of runs," UW coach Bo Ryan. "I've seen them do that to other teams and the other team gets down, maybe a little disjointed. There are going to go through those streaks and be ready to not concede."

Leuer showed no quit in the second half, especially when he was matched up junior Davide Curletti (18 points). Seemingly able to drive, post and shoot at will, Leuer's 26 points were a combination of jumper, dunks, layups and converting from the free throw line, scoring 15 of his points in the second half and setting a season high in free throw makes (8) and attempts (11).

They were timely, too. After John Shurna (14 points) hit Northwestern's 11th 3-pointer, cutting the lead to three with 7:14 left, Leuer posted Curletti and beat him with a right-handed hook shot, extended the lead back to five.

"My teammates did a great job of finding me in the post and once they got it in there, I just wanted to make a strong move toward the basket," Leuer said. "For the most part, I felt I did a pretty good job of that."

After two missed Wildcats threes, Taylor hit a triple and saw Nankivil rebound his difficult lay in for a 3-point play, extending the lead to 66-57 with 4:13 left. The Wildcats cut the lead back to seven once more, but Taylor, who connected on a deep three the possession before, found Nankivil for another open look to give Wisconsin a 73-63 edge with 1:43 remaining.

Northwestern never got closer the rest of the way, as the Wildcats only scored four points in the last four minutes.

- By Benjamin Worgull, Badgernation.com

Series Notes:

UW has won 13 straight home games in this series, by an average of 17.5 ppg. NW hasn't won in Madison since 1996 at the UW Field House.

The Badgers and Wildcats played in the first-ever contest at the Kohl Center with Wisconsin winning 56-33 on Jan. 17, 1998. NU is 0-12 all-time in the Kohl Center.

UW's streak of 13 straight home wins over NU is the 4th-longest active home win streak in the Big Ten. Ohio State has won 31 straight at home against Northwestern that is the longest.

The Badgers have won nine of the last 10 match-ups overall against the Wildcats.

Bill Carmody (12th season) and Bo Ryan (11th season) are two of the three longest-tenured coaches in the Big Ten (behind MSU's Tom Izzo, 17th season).

Ryan is 14-4 all-time vs. NU, with one of those losses coming as the head coach at UW-Milwaukee.

UW has out-rebounded NU in 10 straight games, by an average of 12.1 per game.

As a freshman last season, Josh Gasser registered the first triple-double in UW history with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists at NU (1/23/11).

In his last four games against Northwestern, Jordan Taylor has averaged 14.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and a 4.4 assist-to-turnover ratio.

UW freshman Frank Kaminsky and NU freshman Dave Sobolewski were high school teammates at Benet Academy in the Chicago area.

Wisconsin Notes

The Badgers are on a record-setting pace at the defensive end, allowing opponents a nation's-low 48.5 points per game. Virginia ranks a distant 2nd, allowing 51.1 points per game. UW also leads the NCAA in opposing field goal shooting, limiting foes to just 35.1 percent.

Wisconsin is a perfect 12-0 this season when posting a higher shooting percentage than its opponent. In fact, the Badgers have won 51 consecutive games when outshooting the other team. UW's last loss when recording a higher FG percentage was a 73-69 overtime loss at Iowa on Jan. 21, 2009.

Wisconsin leads the nation, allowing a mere 0.81 points per possession on defense. On the offensive end, the Badgers are averaging 1.09 points per possession, which ranks 45th in the NCAA.

Taylor ranks 16th on UW's all-time scoring ledger with 1,263 career points. He needs just 2 more to pass Tracy Webster (1,264) for 15th place and 146 more points to crack the school's top 10. Taylor is 2nd in UW annals with 398 career assists, trailing just Webster (501).

Northwestern Notes:

The Wildcats are in the midst of a challenging stretch of their schedule. Wednesday's night's game concludes a span during which Northwestern will have played six teams over a seven-game stretch against teams that are either currently ranked or have been ranked within the last month. This is the fourth consecutive season that NU has played three ranked teams among its first five conference games. Northwestern has the nation's fifth-highest strength of schedule to date.

Through 17 games, all starts, Sobolewski is averaging 8.2 points and 3.9 assists per game and has committed just 16 turnovers in 595 minutes of action to go along with 60 assists. He scored a collegiate-best 20 points in a victory over Penn State Jan. 1.

This year's senior class has posted a school-record 69 victories to day. Its 66th career win against Central Connecticut State Dec. 17 to set a program record, topping the class of 2010-11.

Northwestern is ranked No. 25 nationally in the RPI through games played Sunday. The Wildcats have already played four teams in the top 7 in the rankings: Baylor (3), Seton Hall (5), Michigan State (6) and Ohio State (7). The team has won two of those games, defeating both Michigan State and Seton Hall. NU has the fifth-best ranked RPI in the Big Ten, trailing Michigan State (6), Ohio State (7), Indiana (12) and Illinois (16).

Prediction

Northwestern's Carmody didn't know what to do with his starting lineup against No.6 Michigan State so, on a whim, he decided to give Davide Curletti his second career start. Curletti made Carmody look pretty good.

The senior scored 13 of his season-high 17 points in the first half of the Wildcats' victory. He made five of seven field goals attempts and also tied a career high with six rebounds to go along with four assists, a blocked shot and two steals. The point total was one shy of his career high of 18 achieved at Wisconsin Feb. 27, 2011.

"He brings energy to the team," Carmody said. "He came in and energized us. He's productive with that energy. He had a couple offensive rebounds where he picked it off the floor and finished off a couple. He played a terrific game. He always plays hard and tries."

The production from Curletti added to what NU has gotten all season from Shurna, a versatile player that can post, shoot the three-pointer, drive to the bucket and get to the free throw line. In a word, he has a knack for scoring and getting the ball into the basket. The key for the Badgers is to take away the Wildcats' other weapons.

It's easier said than done with a complex offense that does have a lot of weapons, especially when they're running their offense fluently. The Wildcats have shown (especially Shurna) that it can score in bunches and the ‘Cats mixed-man zone can pressure teams in unusual ways.

"They run their cuts really crisp, their timing seems almost perfect and you try to simulate it in practice, but it gets taken to a whole other level when you play them," said Gasser. "They've got guys moving at all times and really makes you focus defensively. It takes a toll on you."

It's a good thing then that Wisconsin is so sound defensively. Not only do the Badgers still have the best scoring defense in the country, the Wildcats – which averages 71.1 points per game and allows 66.1 – could be hurting. Junior guard Alex Marcotullio missed the second half against the Spartans after suffering a concussion and won't play. Although he averages only four points and 16 minutes per game, it's a big loss for the middle of Northwestern's 1-3-1 zone.

"We played Reggie (Hearn) there a lot this year, but I like Al there," said Carmody. "He brings a lot of energy. He has some zest, a little passion. But Reggie's gotten better. He's a little taller, but Al certainly helps us. Al helps us at the other end too. He's sort of like a point guard. He doesn't have the speed and all, but he thinks that way. He's a good passer and certainly can make an open shot."

With another key reserve, sophomore guard JerShon Cobb, doubtful after having missed the past two games with a sore hip, senior Nick Fruendt, who has totaled just nine minutes in the Big Ten portion, will likely be the first player off the bench. That doesn't bode well for a team with a seven man rotation.

The Badgers haven't shot well in four of the last five games, and I don't think tonight against the ‘Cats 1-3-1 zone will yield another amazing effort. Still, if the Badgers can knock down some of the open looks the zone gives them and keep Shurna relatively in check, UW should win this game by eight.

Worgull's Record: 15-4

Points off Prediction: 214 (11.26 per game)


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