Madison, WI (SportsNetwork.com) - The fifth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers take aim at tying their best Big Ten start in 101 years, as they welcome the Northwestern Wildcats to the Kohl Center on Saturday evening.
At 20-2 overall Bo Ryan's Badgers are seeking a No. 1 seed in this year's NCAA Tournament field. To do so, Wisconsin needs to continue the course that has seen the team open up with eight wins in the first nine conference games. The team enters this contest with a five-game win streak in tow, following a 92-78 win over Indiana on Tuesday. A victory here would match the 1914 team that went 9-1 to start league play.
Chris Collins' Wildcats are at the opposite end of the Big Ten spectrum, residing in the conference cellar with an ugly 1-8 league mark. Northwestern is still seeking its first victory of the new year, having lost its last eight games, including a 76-60 setback at Nebraska on Tuesday.
Wisconsin made light work of Northwestern in the first matchup on Jan. 4 in Evanston, as the Badgers routed the Wildcats, 81-58. This marks the 176th all- time meeting between these two programs, with UW holding a 113-62 advantage.
Northwestern held a 41-40 lead in the second half at Nebraska, but the Cornhuskers went on a 17-0 run down the stretch to pull away and keep the Wildcats on their current skein. Junior center Alex Olah paced the Wildcats in defeat with 16 points. Freshman swingman Scottie Lindsey and freshman forward Vic Law notched 12 and 11 points, respectively, but NU went just over six minutes without a point in the decisive second frame.
Finding offensive success has been a problem for Northwestern this season. The team's numbers at that end of the floor are pedestrian at best, with the Wildcats averaging just 64.4 ppg on .436 shooting. Freshman guard Bryant McIntosh headlines a trio of double-digit scoring averages on the roster, with his 12.2 ppg. Junior guard Tre Demps is next in line at 11.9 ppg, followed by Olah and his 11.0 ppg. The 7-foot Olah is the team's top performer in the paint, with team-highs of 6.5 rebounds per game and 37 blocked shots.
Like most teams in their position near the top of the national rankings, the Badgers have shown very few weaknesses this season. Wisconsin is getting it done in just about every facet of the game, averaging 74.4 ppg on a healthy .491 shooting, while holding foes to a mere 56.5 ppg. The team also lives comfortably in terms of rebounding (+6.1) and turnover (+3.4) margins. Senior forward Frank Kaminsky is playing at an All-America level, shooting .547 from the floor and leading the Badgers in scoring (17.8 ppg), rebounding (8.1 rpg) and blocked shots (35). Junior forward Sam Dekker (12.7 ppg) and sophomore forward Nigel Hayes (12.6 ppg) are also highly efficient shooters, both over 52 percent from the floor on the year.
Indiana is a good team, but Wisconsin was simply better in their showdown earlier this week. The Badgers came out firing, shooting .680 from the floor in the first half and .604 over the course of the whole game. All five starters finished in double figures, led by Kaminsky's game-high 23 points. Hayes added 16 points, followed by Bronson Koenig's 15 points. Dekker and Josh Gasser added to the scoring onslaught with 14 and 11 points, respectively.