Despite its current rough patch with the offense, shooting under 41 percent the last four games, Wisconsin continues to find ways to win. After an overtime victory Thursday, the Badgers will have a quick turnaround as they prepare to host one of the surprise teams in the Big Ten in Northwestern.
After starting Big Ten play 1-2, the Wildcats reeled off six straight wins before losing at Purdue by 21 points and by seven in a home loss to Illinois Tuesday. Northwestern won the lone meeting last season in Evanston, dropping the Badgers at the time to 9-9 on the season.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (21-3, 10-1 Big Ten) as they prepare to play Northwestern (18-6, 7-4).
LAY UP: CAN WISCONSIN GENERATE SECOND CHANCES?
Wisconsin may be in a shooting slump but the Badgers are finding ways of giving themselves second chances. Over the last five games Wisconsin has averaged 14.8 offensive rebounds, which have generated an average of 12 points per game. If Wisconsin continues to struggle to find the bottom of the net against Northwestern’s defense, those opportunities could help generate the offensive rhythm they’ve been lacking.
Wisconsin has done well of consistently crashing the boards, averaging 13 offensive rebounds over conference play, but at the same time will be tested by a Northwestern team holding Big Ten opponents to 11.6 offensive rebounds per game. Even in their last two losses, Northwestern held its opponent to eight or fewer offensive rebounds.
In particular Sanjay Lumpkin and Vic Law have been strong on the defensive glass this year for the Wildcats, as the two have collected 116 and 112 defensive rebounds, respectively. Law has continued his strong rebounding into conference play by ranking seventh in the league with 5.5 defensive rebounds. The Wildcats’ ability to get on the glass makes it important that Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ can effectively box out to create high percentage rebound opportunities. Happ leads Wisconsin with 74 offensive rebounds this season and has averaged 3.1 offensive rebounds over conference play, fourth in the Big Ten.
With Wisconsin collecting on 39 percent of its misses in conference play, the Badgers have been able to average 12 second-chance points over 11 Big Ten games. Generating points off of those looks will be a challenge considering Northwestern has shown to be strong on the defensive side of the floor (holding teams to 39.0 percent shooting), so prolonging possessions and converting at the rim could be important in helping wear Northwestern down.
MID-RANGE JUMPER: THE PLAY OF WISCONSIN’S BENCH
The production from Wisconsin’s bench has been up and down this year and the group of reserves haven’t been able to spark the starters’ shooting touch. Over the last five games Wisconsin’s bench has gone a combined 15-for-53 (28.3 percent) from the field and have been responsible for 48 points (9.6 per game).
Over Big Ten play Wisconsin has averaged 11.5 points and only registered 10 or more bench points five times. Their most productive outing in terms of scoring was 31 points against Ohio State. D'Mitrik Trice and Khalil Iverson have been the two most consistent scorers off its bench, averaging 5.3 and 4.1 points per game this season, respectively, but those two have struggled from the floor as of late. Trice has gone 3-for-17 from the field over the last five games while Iverson has shot slightly better at 41.6 percent on 12 field goal attempts.
Like a handful of others in the rotation, the pair have done things in other areas to help set up their teammates for success. Trice has registered eight assists over the last five games, the third-best mark on the team, and committed just one turnover. Iverson has been attacking the glass all season, leading the bench with 77 rebounds and comes in fourth on the team.
While Trice and Iverson have been the two most consistent bench players, Brevin Pritzl has emerged over the last two games and averaged 17.5 minutes, including playing a career-high 23 minutes in the win over Nebraska. Pritzl played an important role the final 12 minute against Indiana and again Thursday by playing the entire overtime session.
Although Pritzl is known for his offensive game, he has yet to generate a shooting rhythm on offense. Over the last two games the redshirt freshman has gone 2-for-7 from the field and 0-for-2 from three. Hopefully for the Badgers, the playing time Pritzl has earned over the last two games and in practice should help him become another potential scoring threat.
3-POINTER: DEFENSE VS. DEFENSE
Wisconsin and Northwestern have both shown to be two strong defensive teams over conference play, with the Badgers ranking first at 61.2 points per game allowed and the Wildcats second at 65.8. Not to mention Northwestern and Wisconsin are first and second in field goal percentage defense, as the Wildcats lead the conference at 40.3 percent compared to the 40.5 percent for Wisconsin.
If there’s one area where Wisconsin has an edge defensively it is turnover margin. Wisconsin ranks second, posting a plus-3.5, compared to Northwestern at plus-0.8. The Badgers have been able to force their Big Ten opponents into 14.6 turnovers a game with 7.7 of those coming off of steals. Wisconsin has certainly turned up the defensive pressure up as of late considering the Badgers have forced an average of 16.6 turnovers over the last five games.
Creating turnovers against Northwestern will be a challenge. The Wildcats have averaged 10 turnovers over the last five games and don’t beat themselves by making mistakes with the ball. Bryant McIntosh has done a good job of distributing with his conference-best 62 assists to just 26 turnovers. McIntosh is third on Northwestern in scoring at 13.5 points per game but his ability to find open teammates will provide a challenge to Zak Showalter, who will likely draw the defensive assignment.
Not only will Showalter need to keep him in front in order to prevent passing lanes, he will likely be busy contesting shots. While McIntosh has been just a 37.9 percent shooting this season, he has registered three straight 20-point games - on an average of 17.3 field goal attempts - and has shot above 40 percent from the field in all three.
McIntosh’s increased workload coincides with leading-scorer Scottie Lindsey (15.4 ppg) being sidelined the last two games with mononucleosis. Not having Lindsey on the floor has caused Northwestern’s shooting percentage to dip to 34.4 percent (40-for-116) from the field. Lindsey will not play tonight. Wisconsin has shown over Big Ten play how talented they are in holding opponents to scoring droughts and the ability to disrupt team’s offensive rhythms. If Wisconsin can win the defensive battle by limiting second chances and creating its own extra offensive possessions, the Wildcats will struggle to control the game without one of their scoring weapons.