Despite the challenges of facing a Northwestern, No.19 Wisconsin has won 10 of the last 11 meetings against the Wildcats, and the last five meetings by an average of 16.8 points per game.
"Northwestern is kind of like us," said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, also complementing Northwestern coach Bill Carmody for putting the right players into his system. "If they are hitting shots, it can be pretty good. When they are hitting shots in that (offense), it kind of feeds off itself. Nobody reads better than what they do off their stuff."
The Princeton offense is predicated on plenty of movement away from the ball, including back door cuts that lead to layups with an open alley to the basket. It's a reason Northwestern is sixth in the nation with a 1.44 assist-to-turnover ratio (380 assists, 264 turnovers) and ranks second in the country with a .702 assist percentage.
But when Wisconsin (18-8, 9-4 Big Ten) heads to Welsh-Ryan Arena Wednesday for the only meeting this year against Northwestern (13-13, 4-9), the Badgers will be well versed in the Wildcats' nuisances thanks to associate head coach Greg Gard's scouting report and a scout team that Ryan and his team has never taken for granted.
"They're young men who are getting a college degree, and they're going to be doing something later on, whether it's in athletics or not," said Ryan. "They're willing to pay their dues because they're smart enough to realize in life, when they get out of college, they're not going to become the CEO of a corporation. They're going to have to pay their dues. They're going to have to overcome some obstacles and figure out what it is they really want to do."
Senior walk-on guard Dan Fahey is used to perfecting the Northwestern scouting report. He's run in five previous times, all resulting in Wisconsin wins. Fahey came to Wisconsin with dreams of being involved in the rotation. Now his goals are getting the team ready to play, and occasionally getting to star in the limelight along with fellow senior walk-on J.D. Wise.
Fahey got to experience that Sunday, scoring the fourth basket of his career at the end of Wisconsin's 71-49 victory over then-No.13 Ohio State, but he's spent most of the season building a scout team that follows his motto of intensity.
"They have been real involved," said assistant coach Gary Close. "They can sense when the other guys aren't as ‘up' as they might be, doing this day-in and day-out. The biggest thing is they lead by example. They come ready to play, get after, work hard, keep guys positive and pay attention to what is trying to be done. It's important to not go through the motions, and try to duplicate things to the best of their ability."
Just because they rarely see the floor, the scout team isn't immune to slumps. In the first two months of the season, Fahey said the scout team's defense wasn't up to the level it needed to be in order to accurately prepare the starters. Coincidence or not, Wisconsin lost four nonconference games for the first time since Ryan's first season in 2001.
When he sits on the bench and sees a bad team performance, Fahey puts the blame on his own shoulders, fair or unfair, for not being more intense in the days leading up to a game.
"There is a lot of pride in how you prepare these guys week-in and week-out for the tough opponents ahead and replicate the tendencies," said Fahey, whose dad played baseball at UW from 1970-72. "Whether it is being more physical or giving the starters a better look overall, we have to match what other teams are going to bring."
The scout team has been a stepping stone for a number of players, especially guards, under Ryan. Junior Ben Brust began on the scout team as a true freshman, yet opened this season as a full-time starter by registering four double-doubles in the team's first five games.
Redshirt freshman George Marshall redshirted last season and spent every day on the scout team competing against Jordan Taylor, giving him the knowledge of the intensity needed to survive on the Big Ten level.
But for players like Marshall, sophomore guard Traevon Jackson and freshman Sam Dekker who are unfamiliar with Northwestern's skills, the scout team will be a necessary weapon in keeping Wisconsin alive in the Big Ten race.
"We've got some new guys that have never gone against it," said Ryan. "You are only good as your weakest link, so we have to make sure everybody is on the same page defensively because they run good stuff."