Worgull: Zoned Out

With Wisconsin running its patent swing offense and Northwestern bringing the 1-3-1 zone, Badger fans in attendance had a front-row seat to witness Big Ten basketball at its most tedious. Get your popcorn ready!

MADISON - There are few pretty things about the Big Ten conference basketball.

Of those pretty nuggets that remain, they are reduced in half when the slow-paced Princeton offense of Northwestern squares off against the methodical swing offense of Wisconsin.

Throw in the Wildcats 1-3-1 zone and you have a party.

Of course, the party is a potluck and all the guests have brought store-bought potato salad … and that might even be too polite of a sentiment.

But without the efficient performance of junior Marcus Landry, the fate of the Badgers would have been vastly different.

Landry scored a career-high 21 points to lead Wisconsin to a messy, meticulous victory over Northwestern, 62-50, Saturday night.

The two teams combined for 29 turnovers, a number that seemed far too low considering the amount of lame duck cross-court passes the Wisconsin offense somehow got away with it. Seriously, the way some passes were thrown looked like a sniper picked the pass off at its apex.

The game also dragged on for what seemed like eternities, especially with 46 team fouls (30 of which were on NU) and one Northwestern technical whistled during the contest.

With the 1-3-1 zone the Badgers were facing and Wildcats rotating three to four bodies into the post, UW's backcourt settled for wide-open looks from the perimeter. Maintaining the tune UW has whistled all season from the arc and the Badgers could not buy an uncontested bucket.

"That's what Northwestern has done to us since I have been here," said junior Joe Krabbenhoft, who finished with 13 points and nine rebounds. "They always give us problems with that 1-3-1. We were frustrated at times."

Both Northwestern and Wisconsin finished the game 4-for-14 from three-point range, but the misses from the perimeter seemed to effect UW's post presence.

By settling for the outside shot, Wisconsin managed only six first-half points in the paint and 22 for the game, tying its lowest output of the season.

"You just have to be patient," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "Sometimes you have to get smacked, figuratively, to understand what you need to do with the ball. It's a 40 minute game, so you need to correct it in the second half."

From Northwestern coach Bill Carmody's perspective, slowing the game down and forcing Wisconsin to play at NU's tempo is one of the few ways to beat the Badgers in the Kohl Center.

"Everyone wants to play at their own tempo and Wisconsin does not play a real fast tempo," Carmody said. "You can run what you want to run usually, because Wisconsin doesn't pick us up (defensively) until the top of the key. I think (playing slow) is the way we have to play to beat this team."

The zone did not just wreak havoc on the post players, as Wisconsin's backcourt took its share of medicine, as well.

Wisconsin's leading scorer, Trevon Hughes, nearly registered as many points (six - four of which came in the final minute) as fouls (three). Hughes got the proverbial dog collar from the field (0-for-6) and went 2-for-5 from the line, not scoring his first free throw until the 5:07 left in the second half.

"He hasn't played Northwestern much as a sophomore," Ryan said. "You can go threw it with the scout team, but the speed and the reactions are a little bit different in the game. Trevon was learning some on the nuisances out there."

With all the struggles the zone provided, the question becomes raised how the Badgers prepared for a defense that is like being cut with a Swiss army knife, it doesn't hurt as much as it annoys.

The answer to the question was a simple ‘Anything we could think of.'

"We had the scout team playing all kinds of junk," Ryan said. "If Coach Gard could have made up another defense, he would have. He threw everything at us the past couple days."

In the end, the Badgers used a virtual six-man rotation against Northwestern, using all veterans that have seen the NU zone before.

"We had the guys on the floor that have handled this offense well," Ryan said.

That did not stop the game from being incredibly painful to watch.

The game was so tedious in fact that one of the loudest applauses came from when a woman who appeared on the Jumbotron knitting a scarf.

Despite being zoned out by the Northwestern attack, or lack there of, the Badgers somehow found a win to their ninth-straight game, the second-longest winning streak in the Bo Ryan era, and they did it by sticking to the game plan that has made the Kohl Center a nearly impenetrable fortress over the last decade.

"They were resilient and stayed true to the task at hand and did not get frazzled or pulled apart," Ryan said. "That cohesiveness enabled us to make a run in the second half."

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