Entering last year’s home contest against Northwestern, Wisconsin was riding a seven game winning streak in the series, a streak that shockingly stopped with the Wildcats earning a nine-point win over UW for the first time in Madison since 1996.
Even though the winning streak was snapped, the Badgers have won four straight in Evanston and have won six of the past seven games at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Off to a hot start in the second season under Chris Collins, Northwestern (10-4, 1-0) has won five of its last six games and won its Big Ten season opener at Rutgers by four points. The only common opponent so far this season was Northern Kentucky, a game the Wildcats won by 21 points and UW by 31.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as they strive for a seventh straight win and its second straight victory to begin Big Ten play.
Lay up: Winning the rebounding battle
As Wisconsin starts Big Ten play, teams will naturally start to be able to matchup with Wisconsin in size. Wisconsin has consistently won the rebounding battle this season - out rebounding opponents in 12 of 14 games by an average of 7.8 rebounds a game, which leads the Big Ten. The Badgers will need to continue to win the battle on the glass in order to limit any second-chance opportunities.
Both Northwestern and Wisconsin are averaging about 35 rebounds a game, and Alex Olah is a big reason for Northwestern’s success on the glass, as he averages 7.1 rebounds and 1.9 offensive rebounds a game. Olah has recorded five double-digit rebound games this year, and the Wildcats have gone 4-1 in those games.
The inability to consistently box out the Wildcats on the defensive glass will lead to extra possessions, but Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in defensive rebounds with 27.9 a game. If Northwestern can be successful in screens and forcing defenders to switch, causing either Nigel Hayes or Frank Kaminsky to defend on the perimeter, Sam Dekker will need to be able to find a way to get his hands on the loose balls.
Both Hayes and Kaminsky have been consistent in boxing out opponents and attacking the glass. Kaminsky has six games this year where he has recorded double-digit rebounds. When Kaminsky leads the team in rebounds the Badgers are 8-1 this season.
Mid-range jumper: Bounce back defensive performance
Wisconsin’s defense had been good since the Duke loss - only giving up 49.4 points a game since - until Penn State scored 72 points Wednesday. Not only did Wisconsin’s defense give up 72 points, but they also allowed Penn State to shoot 53.7 percent from the field.
UW should be able to bounce back with the Wildcats only shooting 42.9 percent from the field and averaging 64.8 points a game, which ranks 13th in the Big Ten. Although Northwestern doesn’t have a scoring threat like D.J. Newbill, the Wildcats do have a trio that average 10 or more points this season. Tre Demps leads Northwestern with 11.8 points a game and has registered three double digit scoring games over his last four games. Bryant McIntosh (11.7) and Olah (10.4) are second and third, respectively, on the team.
Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson will have to be ready to defend Demps and McIntosh at the guard position, considering Olah has only scored two points each over the last two games. Jackson will likely draw the assignment of Demps but the duo could end up switching between Demps and McIntosh. UW needs to force Demps to shoot from beyond the arc, as he is only shooting 27 percent from three and overall 37 percent from the field.
McIntosh - a 6-3 freshman - is making 42.1 percent of his shots from the field and has scored in double digits in seven straight games. Gasser will have to try and do a better job of making sure that the talented freshman can’t create space, as he has shown that he is capable of hitting beyond the arc by hitting 41.9 percent from 3-point range (third on the team).
3-pointer: Nigel Hayes success
Hayes found success in two games last season against Northwestern, averaging 12.5 points on 52.9 percent shooting from the field by consistently finding the weak spots in Northwestern’s defense. It also helps that Hayes is starting to get himself to a rhythm on offense, as he has reached double digits in scoring the past four of five games and has shot 46 percent or better from the field in that stretch.
The way Hayes has been playing of late should give him success against either Vic Law or Sanjay Lumpkin. Hayes has a slight height advantage over both players and should be able create space for himself to either settle for a jump shot or attack the hoop. That will start with spacing on the floor by Wisconsin and being able to pass the basketball like they did against Penn State. Forcing Northwestern to play a full shot clock and could prevent the Wildcats from consistently collapsing on Hayes in the low post.
Hayes is used to having two defenders collapse on him and hasn’t let the pressure bother him, as he is only averaging one turnover a game and has made smart decisions about when to shoot or pass. If Hayes can have success down low he could find a way to get to the line for Wisconsin. Northwestern is sending its opponent to the free throw line an average of 19.5 times a game. Hayes who struggled at the line a season ago has shown this year that he is capable of consistently making his free throws, shooting 71.4 percent from the free throw line this year, which is an increase by 13 percent from a year ago.
If Hayes can find a way to get to the line, it will help Wisconsin possibly gain control of the game early or help build a lead.