Breakdown: No.4 Wisconsin vs. Northwestern

After its best shooting performance in nearly two decades, No.4 Wisconsin takes its conference championship aspirations on the road tonight to face Northwestern. BadgerNation breaks down tonight's matchup and compares what UW is doing with the best team in the country.

No.4 Wisconsin (13-1, 1-0 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (10-4, 1-0 Big Ten)

Date/Time -Sunday, January 4, 7:30 p.m. Central

Arena –Welsh-Ryan Arena (8,117)

Television -Big Ten Network (Eric Collins and Stephen Bardo)

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

Series – Wisconsin leads 112-62 (Northwestern leads 39-38 in Evanston)

Last Meeting – Northwestern won, 65-56, on January 29, 2014 in Madison

Wisconsin Probable Starters

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 12.6 ppg)

12 Traevon Jackson (6-3 Senior Guard, 9.4 ppg)

15 Sam Dekker (6-9 Junior Forward, 12.4 ppg)

21 Josh Gasser (6-4 Senior Guard, 7.1 ppg)

44 Frank Kaminsky (7-0 Senior Forward, 16.6 ppg)

Off the Bench

3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Sophomore Guard, 2.9 ppg)

13 Duje Dukan (6-10 Senior Forward, 6.3 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Sophomore Guard, 4.6 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Sophomore Guard, 3.4 ppg)

Northwestern Probable Starters

4 Vic Law (6-7 Freshman Forward, 7.2 ppg)

14 Tre Demps (6-3 Junior Guard, 11.8 ppg)

22 Alex Olah (7-0 Junior Center, 10.4 ppg)

24 Bryant McIntosh (6-3, Freshman Guard, 11.7 ppg)

34 Sanjay Lumpkin (6-6 Sophomore Forward, 7.2 ppg)

Off the Bench

20 Scottie Lindsey (6-5 Freshman Guard, 5.2 ppg)

23 Jershon Cobb (6-5 Senior Guard, 5.2 ppg)

32 Nathan Taphorn (6-7 Sophomore Forward, 3.7 ppg)

44 Gavin Skelly (6-8 Freshman Forward, 2.0 ppg)

Last Meeting

MADISON - No.14 Wisconsin shot a mind-boggling 26.3 percent in a 65-56 stunning loss to Northwestern at the Kohl Center Wednesday.

It’s the fourth loss in five games, all against unranked teams, for Wisconsin (17-4, 4-4 Big Ten), which have stayed in freefall mode after starting off 16-0 and rose to No.3 in the national polls, things that seem like distant memories.

The problem during that losing streak was a lack of defense with teams killing the Badgers in the paint. It was the exact opposite in just Wisconsin’s third two-game home losing streak in the Bo Ryan era.

Wisconsin’s starters shot a combined 14-for-52 with Ben Brust (7-for-18), Traevon Jackson (2-for-12), and Sam Dekker (2-for-9) missing the most. It was so frustrating for some that Dekker was seen shooting jump shots on the floor 30 minutes after the final buzzer.

“Once you start missing, the basket gets pretty small,” said Ryan. “And it obviously got pretty small.”

Brust scored a team-high 21 points but missed 11 shots, including seven 3-pointers and was bemoaning himself for air balling a wide-open 3-point attempt from the top of the key. Brust wasn’t alone, as UW failed to have a player shoot at least 50 percent for the first time all season.

“We got a lot of wide-open looks,” said Brust. “I don’t even know what to say. To throw the ball in the post and get a wide-open kickout and to air ball it is just ridiculous. That’s just unacceptable. Just got to make shots. Just got to be a man, step up and knock them down.”

UW had won the last seven meetings in the series by an average of 19.9 points per game, including a 76-49 decision on Jan.2, but Northwestern (11-11, 4-5) was the more aggressive, tougher team, something that the Wildcats had made an emphasis on since that game 27 days ago.

As a result, the Wildcats – which ranked last in the conference in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage - won for the first time at the Kohl Center and the first time in Madison in almost 18 years, when Dick Bennett was in his first season as head coach.

Thanks to missed free throws, sloppy turnovers and poor shot selection, Wisconsin made more free throws (21) than field goals (15) and never amounted much of a comeback after Northwestern went on a 25-7 run in the second half, erasing a six-point lead to build a 54-39 edge with 3:41 remaining.

The Wildcats were led by 30 points from Drew Crawford, who shot 10-for-15 from the floor and were one of the key components to salt the game away for the Wildcats. In the final 2:25, Northwestern made 11 of its final 14 free throws, including 6-for-8 from Crawford.

- Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Last Time Out

MADISON - As good as Penn State was on offense, the Badgers were even better, shooting a season-high 64 percent — including 70 percent in the second half — to cruise to a 89-72 victory in front of an announced — and frequently hushed — crowd of 17,279.

“We had to shoot well to get this one,” said Badgers coach Bo Ryan, whose team has opened conference play with a victory for the 12th consecutive year.

Nigel Hayes led the way with 21 points. He, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker each made seven shots from the field. Dekker finished with 17 points Kaminsky added 18, while pulling down 14 rebounds for his league-leading sixth double-double of the season.

Wisconsin (13-1) also got 16 points from point guard Traevon Jackson, who knocked down both of his 3-point attempts and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line, where Wisconsin went 23 of 28 for the day.

“That’s four guys with pretty good numbers,” said Dekker. “It’s good to see from us that we weren’t just going to one guy. More than one stepped up and that’s the thing about this team that I’ve said from day one, we have more than one guy that can control the offensive end.”

Those free throws turned out to be a difference maker for Penn State (12-2), which made just 12 trips on the day and only three in the first half.

“We ran into a buzzsaw today,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “They’re really good. You take one thing away, they go to the next thing; you take that away, they go to their third option and if you take that away, they go to the fourth.”

-Andrew Wagner, Special to BadgerNation.com

Series Notes

The Badgers have won four in a row against Northwestern in Evanston and six of the last seven. Last season, UW led 40-14 at halftime and cruised to a 76-49 win over NU at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Bo Ryan is 17-5 all-time vs. Northwestern.

UW has two players from the Chicago area: seniors Frank Kaminsky and Duje Dukan. Kaminsky and NU’s Dave Sobolewski were high school teammates at Benet Academy in the Chicago area.

Wisconsin has been ranked in 14 of the last 18 meetings with Northwestern. In fact, much like this season, the Badgers were ranked No. 4 in the AP in their last trip to Evanston. This will be the 3rd time UW has played at Welsh-Ryan Arena as a top-5 team.

Wisconsin Notes

With 157 career Big Ten wins, Ryan needs just 1 to tie Hall of Famer Walter Meanwell (158 wins from 1912-17, ’21-34) for the most conference wins in school history.

Among major conference teams, UW owns the most wins away from home over the last 2 seasons. Villanova (18-4, .818) is the only major team with a higher win pct. away from home over the last two years. UW is 6-0 away from home this season.

Wisconsin is allowing just 53.8 points per game, the top mark in the Big Ten and sixth nationally.

As a team, the Badgers rank 10th in the nation with a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio (181-to-121).

With six blocks against Buffalo, Kaminsky now has 124 career swats, good for the second-highest total in school history. Jared Berggren owns the UW record with 144.

Northwestern Notes

McIntosh’s 17 points at Rutgers was the most by an NU freshman in his first career B1G game since Michael Thompson had 17 vs. Penn State 1/2/08.

Since allowing 80 points to Central Michigan on Dec.17, the Wildcats have allowed an average of just 52.3 points per game over the last four contests with those four foes posting a combined .330 field goal percentage (69-209).

After posting averages of 4.1 rebounds per game as a freshman and 5.2 as a sophomore, Olah has boosted that average to 7.1 per contest this season. The mark ranks sixth in the Big Ten. He has five double-figure rebounding games this year after having only one in his career entering this season.

It hasn't taken McIntosh long to establish himself as one of the top distributors in the Big Ten. He enters the weekend ranked sixth in the league with 4.9 assists per game.

Northwestern has two individuals on the team with direct connections to the NBA. Redshirt junior Tre Demps is the son of Dell Demps, an NBA veteran who is currently the general manager of the New Orleans Pelicans. Redshirt sophomore Sanjay Lumpkin is the stepson of Jim Petersen, a former NBA player and current assistant coach for the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx.

Prediction

If anybody is in position to truly breakdown a potential NCAA tournament matchup between No.1 Kentucky and No.4 Wisconsin it would be Bobby Hurley. The former Duke guard is the only head coach to have coached his Buffalo team against both programs this season, and while his team ultimately lost both games, the Bulls led both teams at halftime.

It’s two teams that run different styles, but two programs that are getting it done after each falling short in the Final Four last season (UW lost by one to Kentucky in the national semifinals, Kentucky lost by six to Connecticut in the finals).

We’re a long way off before these two schools have even a chance at meeting again, but both school’s starts make the mind wander that a rematch is possible.

Each school has posted six wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of the ESPN RPI rankings, tied for most in the nation. Break it down farther, the Badgers and Wildcats are the only schools with more than four top-50 wins.

According to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings, the Badgers are third in the nation in adjusted offense (117.7) and 15th in defense (89.9). UW is one of five teams to rank among the top 20 in both categories. Kentucky is one of those, ranking seventh in adjusted offense (116.0) and first in defense (81.8). The efficiency is measured by points scored and points allowed per possession.

“Kentucky’s defense, with all the basketball I’ve seen at the college level, is really as good as it gets,” said Hurley.

Kentucky does its work by having tremendous length, size and athleticism. The Badgers have held 11 of their first 14 opponents to 60 points or less this season, something they did 13 times in 2013-14, by having an experience group of players who buy into Bo Ryan’s system.

According to Buffalo guard Lamonte Bearden, both programs don’t give teams anything easy, especially when it comes to making plays at the rim.

“You have to finish against those big guys,” said Bearden. “They’re in big in the lane, 7-footers, so they block shots and rotate. It’s hard to finish over those guys.”

In addition to being efficient, Wisconsin doesn’t foul (fourth in the nation at 13.7 fouls per game), doesn’t turn it over (second in NCAA with 8.6 TOs per game) and controls the glass (+7.8 rebound margin leads Big Ten).

Kentucky’s biggest strength: 3-0 against teams ranked in the top-six in the country at the time of the matchup (two of those coming away from Lexington) and beating those teams by an average of 17.3 points.

As of today, Wisconsin won’t have an opportunity for its first win over a ranked opponent until February 24 at No.12 Maryland. That doesn’t mean the Badgers can’t be impressive.

Motivated to win its first conference title in seven seasons, Wisconsin opened Big Ten with its best shooting performance in 17 seasons (63.8 percent) in an 89-72 win over visiting Penn State on Wednesday. The starters combined for 80 points with sophomore Nigel Hayes registering a team-best 21 points, and Frank Kaminsky delivering another double-double (18 points and 14 rebounds).

“Just the skill at a number of positions and the ability to shoot the basketball the way Wisconsin’s capable of, it will be an interesting thing to see (a Kentucky-Wisconsin),” said Hurley.

UW’s shooting will be put to the test in the funky Welsh-Ryan Arena tonight against the Wildcats. Like UW, Northwestern started the conference season off on the right foot with a win at Rutgers but accomplished its success on the defensive end of the floor, limiting the Scarlet Knights to 30.2 percent shooting.

It’s a performance that should be familiar to Wisconsin, as that percentage was the lowest by a Big Ten opponent since UW shot 26.3 in last season's surprising loss in Madison. Northwestern is allowing 58.9 points per game, second only to the Badgers' 53.8 in the Big Ten

“This is a grind-it-out league,” junior guard Tre Demps said, after the game. “We want to be a defensive team built on just getting stops. When your M.O. is your defense, and I think that's what we're becoming, it doesn't let you lose your mojo.”

Northwestern is off to a solid start but, just like Penn State, are somewhat a product of its nonconference schedule. The Nittany Lions had only played two schools from power-five conferences prior to Big Ten play. Northwestern only played one (66-58 home loss to Georgia Tech) and only one ranked team (66-56 at then-No.23 Butler). Despite a nonconference schedule that ranks No.166 in the country, the Wildcats are averaging only 64.8 points per game.

If Wisconsin can bring its ‘B’ game, they should have no problem tonight. UW wins by 18.

Worgull's Record: 13-1

Points off Prediction: 96 (6.9 per game)


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