Wednesday night brings us yet another heavyweight matchup in the Big Ten as the no. 10 Wisconsin Badgers host the Northwestern Wildcats with tipoff at 8 p.m. EST. At home, the Badgers are 11.5-point favorites, with the over/under listed at 136 points.
The Wildcats can tell you from firsthand experience just how deep the Big Ten is this season, as they’ve dropped five games in a row, all to top-25 teams. This will be their seventh straight game against a ranked team. The team’s strength of schedule is working in their favor as far as their tournament resume is concerned. But at 6-6, the Wildcats need to start putting a few notches in the win column.
As for the Badgers, they have a Big Ten regular-season title in their sights. Wisconsin is currently 5-2 inside the conference, putting them a game behind Michigan and Iowa at the top of the standings. The Badgers were able to put last week’s blowout loss to Michigan behind them by beating Rutgers last time out. They are now in a position to rattle off several straight wins in a row if they can stay hot.
One Man Band
The Badgers aren’t exactly a one-man band, although they rely heavily on D’Mitrik Trice, who leads the way with 15 points per game and is also Wisconsin’s leading assist man. Even on a team full of great shooters, Trice stands out from the pack, shooting 43.5% from beyond the arc. Of course, in true Wisconsin fashion, the Badgers have a skilled big man in senior Micah Potter to help take a little pressure off Trice. Potter averages over 12 points and seven rebounds per game, although he does more damage outside the paint than most 6’10” forwards.
The key for Wisconsin is the team’s contingent of role players. The likes of Aleem Ford, Brad Davison, and Nate Reuters are all seniors but are not consistent scorers. All three struggled against Michigan, which is why the Badgers were held nearly 20 points below their season average and lost in lopsided fashion. In particular, Davison is critical because he’s Wisconsin’s best passer and shooter outside of Trice. When he plays well, opposing teams can’t focus solely on stopping Trice.
Just a Purr
Perhaps more than anything, the Northwestern defense has failed the Wildcats during their five-game losing streak. They held their first three Big Ten opponents to 70 points or less, only to give up an average of 86 points per game in their last five games. As mentioned, all of their recent losses have come against ranked teams. But all five have shot at least 48% from the field and at least 40% from three-point range against Northwestern.
That lack of defense has put significant pressure on the Wildcats to execute at a high level offensively. To their credit, Northwestern has four players who average double figures. However, sophomore Boo Buie has disappeared, scoring 17 total points in his last four games. Likewise, Chase Audige, who averages 12 points per game, has reached double figures just once in his previous four games. Miller Kopp, the team’s leading scorer, has also experienced a recent cold spell.
Can’t Stop Inertia
The Wildcats have no sense of momentum or confidence right now, which spells trouble against a high-level team like Wisconsin. Northwestern’s closest loss in their last five games came by 10 points. Once they get behind, the Wildcats may not have enough fight in them to keep things close. Bet on Wisconsin to win and cover the 11.5-point spread.