Badgers hit road to battle Wildcats in Big Ten fracas

Hoping to keep pace in the race for the Big Ten Conference regular-season title, the 19th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers have made the trek to Welsh-Ryan Arena for Wednesday's clash with the Northwestern Wildcats.

Wisconsin whipped visiting Ohio State on Sunday, 71-49, to improve to 18-8 overall and 9-4 in conference, the latter of which has it tied with Michigan for third place. The Badgers, who have won three of their last four games, are a stellar 14-2 at home this season, but have lost three of their last four road games.

Northwestern is an even 13-13 on the year, but the team has won only four of its 13 league bouts. It is currently mired in a three-game losing streak, with the most recent setback coming in a 62-41 decision at home to Illinois on Sunday. That loss dropped the Wildcats to 8-8 in Evanston this season.

Wisconsin owns a significant 110-61 advantage in the all-time series with Northwestern, and the Badgers have won the last five meetings, and 10 of the last 11 overall.

Wisconsin plays some of the stingiest defense around, the team yielding a league-low 56.2 ppg. Foes are shooting just 39.8 percent from the field, which includes a dismal 29.9 percent effort from 3-point range, both of which rank the Badgers in the upper half of the Big Ten standings. Offensively, UW does enough to keep it on the plus-side of the ledger, netting 67 ppg in hitting 42.6 percent of its field goal attempts, with 34.3 percent of its long-range tries finding the bottom of the net. The Badgers also own favorable margins in both rebounding (+4.6) and turnovers (+2.2). Jared Berggren (11.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 51 blocks) leads the team up front, while Ben Brust (11.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.6 apg) is the best player in the backcourt. Ryan Evans (10.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg) lends support, as does a quartet of players who average between 4.5 and 9.2 ppg. Berggren and Brust both hit for 15 points, the latter also grabbing 11 rebounds, Sam Dekker tacked on 13 points off the bench and Traevon Jackson chipped in with 10 points and four assist, all of which the Badgers used to throttle the visiting Ohio State Buckeyes over the weekend. Wisconsin wound up shooting 52.7 percent from the floor, compared to only 37.5 percent for OSU, and the Badgers drained seven 3-pointers while the Buckeyes hit just three.

Northwestern has earned its keep this season by playing solid defense as well, its foes generating just 62.3 ppg behind typical shooting efforts of .417 overall, .334 from 3-point range, and .641 from the free throw line. At the other end, the Wildcats are netting 62.6 ppg, and make their shots at a similar conversion rate (.411, .347, .665). They are getting beaten on the glass by more than five caroms per contest, but they are +1.3 in turnover differential, committing only 10.7 giveaways per outing. Northwestern's two active double-digit scorers are Reggie Hearn (14.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and Dave Sobolewski (10.5 ppg, 4.0 apg), and it was the former who served as the team's only productive offensive performer in the recent loss to Illinois, as Hearn tallied 11 points despite going just 3-of-11 from the floor. The 'Cats knocked down a horrific 25 percent of their field goal attempts, converting a paltry 5-of-27 (.185) long-range shots along the way. Not surprising, NU suffered a significant deficit in points in the paint (28-14) as the team has trouble matching up against bigger, more athletic opponents.