Northwestern Tries for a Signature Win at No. 12 Wisconsin

Alan RubensteinAnalyst IIIFebruary 26, 2011

After another tough loss to Penn State and their NCAA Tournament hopes all but gone, Northwestern will try to capture a signature win this season when travel to Madison to face Wisconsin.  It will be senior day at the Kohl Center.  NU’s football team also traveled to Madison on senior day and got waxed 70-21. Add in the Badgers 78-46 basketball victory, and the Wildcats will seek some respect in the Dairy State’s Capital City.

Northwestern appeared to be back to their pre-Big Ten level of play with a two-game winning streak before facing the Nittany Lions. Northwestern is 4-0 against the Big Ten’s last place teams, Indiana and Iowa.  They are 2-10 against the rest of the league.  They can still make a push to move above the ninth seed they currently hold if the Big Ten Tournament would start today.

Northwestern troubles have been poor shooting, rebounding and defense.  When they travel to Wisconsin, it should be a clean game. NU and UW are the nation’s top two teams in turnover margin and they rank first and fifth in turnovers. The Badgers commit just 7.7 turnovers per game and NU 10.4.

In their last meeting in Evanston, Wisconsin broke open a 14 all tie and dominated the rest of the game. They outscored Northwestern, 31-12, the remainder of the first half. The Badgers then opened the second half on a 24-4 run. The Wildcats went scoreless for over a five and half minute stretch in the second half.

Badgers' freshman Josh Gasser had a triple-double and Jon Leuer had 19 points as five Badgers reached double figures in 78-46 win.

All of the Wildcats problems were prevalent in the last meeting. Wisconsin held a 31-17 rebounding advantage and the Badgers out shot the Wildcats 55.4 to 41.5 percent from the floor. The Badgers also made 12 of their 26 three-point attempts, while NU hit on just two of 10.

Parts of Northwestern’s struggles are because of multiple injuries to star forward John Shurna. Shurna averaged 24.4 PPG for the first nine games of the season. The 6’6" Wooden Award finalist suffered a high ankle sprain against Mount St. Mary’s in the 10th game of the season. He hasn’t been consistent since. Shurna also suffered a concussion at Minnesota.  His average has dipped to 17.0 PPG for the season ever since.

Wisconsin is led by Leuer and guard Jordan Taylor. They are the only Badgers to average double figures. Taylor has been mentioned as a possible Big Ten Player of the Year Candidate. He is likely to finish third behind Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger. 

Taylor has been on a tear since the Badgers commenced conference play. He has eight 20-point games in Big Ten play and his 4.16-to-1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio is almost twice as good as the next closest player in that category. The junior averages 17.9 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.3 RPG and shoots 41.7 percent on his threes and 84.5 percent from the line.

Leuer has six 20-point games in conference play and averages 19.1 PPG and 7.5 RPG. He shoots 48 percent from the floor, 40.5 from three and 86.3 percent on free throws.  The Badgers lead the nation in free-throw percentage. They make 82.8 percent from the line, an unbelievable number for a team.

The outcome could hinge on Northwestern ability to put points up. Northwestern’s 72.3 PPG ranks fourth in the conference. The Wildcats are 15-1 when they score 70 or more, and just 1-10 when they don’t reach 70 points. Wisconsin is the Big Ten’s stingiest team defensively. They give up just 57.4 PPG, while NU is last with 68 PPG allowed.

Leuer and five classmates will be playing their last game at the Kohl Center. Northwestern should make this a more competitive game than their outing with the Badgers in Evanston. Wisconsin is the better team though, and they should be able to complete a perfect season at home.