Northwestern guards play well within system

Patience a virtue for struggling Wildcats

As surprising as it sounds, Northwestern is arguably the most similar team in the Big Ten to the University of Wisconsin men's basketball program.

It is not because of the record or the players on the rosters, but in effect the systems both teams run.

While for Wisconsin it is the swing offense and for Northwestern it is the Princeton-style offensive attack, both teams are comparable in their execution: they use motion and patience.

"It's a team and system that you have to respect," UW senior guard Clayton Hanson said. "Every team knows what is coming from them, yet they still get backdoors and easy baskets. Obviously they are doing something right. It's a fun match up because they are so cerebral and so efficient with their offense that any slip up is going to be exposed on both sides."

Northwestern junior forward Vedran Vukusic is the leading the scorer on the team with 19.3 points per game during conference play (second in the Big Ten), but he's a product of the system—one filled with role players who know their duties within the offense.

"With the Princeton offense and a lot of backdoors and reads and misdirections, it is tough to prepare for in two days time," UW assistant coach Greg Gard said. "They also have very good players that play within the system too. Vukusic is a handful and a really well-rounded player, but he's representative of a team that can shoot the ball really well at times. They definitely have some weapons."

Some of those weapons often overlooked are the backcourt players on the Wildcats, namely juniors T.J. Parker and Mohamed Hachad. The two combined for 17 points a year ago in NU's win over Wisconsin in Evanston, however their ability to dictate the offense was more important for the team.

The same can be said for this year as well.

To date, Northwestern's assist-to-field goal ratio is .700, ranking second in the nation and Parker and Hachad are two staples on a Wildcats' team averaging 15.4 assists per game.

Said Gard: "They have different speeds and different tempos they go at. T.J. Parker has done a great job of controlling that, they get a great play from Hachad and the transfer from St. Johns has played some good quality minutes. Those guys may not score a lot, but they make things happen—all over the floor, around loose balls, get extra rebounds and just position themselves well. They are solid role players that really fit the system and help that team out."

Hanson agrees.

As much attention as Vukusic deserves, the Badgers realize the role players are just as important to contain.

"Parker is so quick with the ball and has that ability to get to gaps and really create for his team. The same goes for Hachad," Hanson said. "Fall asleep on either of them and they'll make you pay for it. Vukusic is playing well, but you have to consider the other guys as well."

Although the Wildcats are struggling so far in conference play, because of their unique style of play, they are unquestionably a tough match up for opponents. With all the cuts, screens and ball movement, the Badgers will have their work cut out for keeping up with Northwestern.

For a quick triggered, 3-point shooting team like Northwestern who is tied for the conference lead in 3-point percentage, one missed step or being one step behind can be all the Wildcats need.

"They have an offense you hate to guard because it's a lot of screens and cuts," UW sophomore guard Kammron Taylor said. "Backscreens, upscreens and it's a lot of chasing. We're going to have be real focused for this game."

Tucker doubtful for Northwestern

Sophomore forward Alando Tucker did not practice Tuesday as the Badgers prepared for Northwestern. He is listed as doubtful for Wednesday night's game.

Tucker, who sat out last Saturday at Penn State, was present at the team's practice and worked out on an exercise bike the majority of the time.

Wisconsin's leading scorer has been plagued with a right foot injury since a practice on Jan. 9. He missed the Badgers game against Ohio State Jan. 11, but played in Wisconsin's following three games before the Nittany Lions' game.

This season Tucker is averaging 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest.

Butch ready to go

Freshman Brian Butch, who was day-to-day with a foot injury prior to playing at Penn State Saturday night, practiced at full strength Monday and Tuesday in preparation for the Badgers meeting with Northwestern.

He is no longer listed as day-to-day. This season, Butch is averaging 4.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per contest.

What: Northwestern (2-5 Big Ten, 9-10 Overall) at No. 19 Wisconsin (5-2, 14-4)
When: Wednesday, Feb. 02, 7 p.m.
Where: Kohl Center (17,142), Madison, Wis.
Broadcast: The game will be televised on ESPN Plus and can be heard on the Wisconsin Radio Network.
Series notes: This will be the 158th meeting between the two teams. Wisconsin leads the series 98-59 and the Badgers hold a 57-20 advantage in games played in Madison. UW has won 11 of the last 14 games between the teams, including the last six games in Madison.

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