Three games in one week will challenge the Wisconsin Badgers, especially since the middle game will be in a place they haven’t played in in a very long time. Yes, the Badgers will take on the Northwestern Wildcats, but it won’t be at venerable Welsh-Ryan arena. Instead, we’ll get the treat that used to be DePaul’s home court — the Allstate Arena.
It will be a new venue for the Badgers, who have never played at the arena in any capacity before.
These two teams also come in to this one in vastly different shape than they did in the first meeting, a 60-52 win for Northwestern over the Badgers. UW is on a multi-game win streak, while Northwestern is on a four-game losing streak.
Can Confident Pritzl Continue Hot-Hand?
As Brevin Pritzl was busy dropping three-point bombs on Minnesota in an overtime victory, many fans were left wondering where this version of Pritzl has been. He was super confident, played well on defense and got himself major playing time.
By the end of the game, Pritzl had put up a career-best 20 points and virtually willed the Badgers to victory over arch-rival Minnesota.
It turns out, the defensive side of the ball may be where the confidence and the new-look Pritzl is coming from. According to head coach Greg Gard, his junior shooting guard just hasn’t put it all together on the other end of the court to go with the shooting prowess everyone has seen except in the majority of games.
“The kid can shoot the ball, but that’s not the only part of a game,” Gard said earlier this week. “He’s growing in those other areas and is now becoming a more reliable, dependable, consistent player.”
Expecting Pritzl to bomb away for 20 points a night might be too much to ask, he has indeed become a much more consistent player over the past few weeks. He’s scored in double figures in three of the last four games and is averaging a healthy 14 points per game over that four-game stretch. Pritzl is also averaging 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and is shooting 58 percent from the field while only turning the ball over twice in those four games.
That’s a mark of someone who appears to have fully turned the corner and someone the coaching staff has confidence in once again.
Considering Northwestern’s defensive issues, having a hot-shooting and more consistent playing Pritzl on board is a good sign for the Badgers. Just how long will it last though?
Gard Needs to Erase Bad Start vs. Northwestern
For all the good that has happened in the nearly three full years of Greg Gard at the helm of the Badgers program, playing the Wildcats of Northwestern hasn’t been good times.
UW is just 1-3 against the Wildcats in the last four games as the head coach and the lone win was a 76-48 blowout victory in last season’s Big Ten tournament. Maybe a “neutral” site will help in this situation?
Additionally, Wisconsin has won five of the last six road games against Northwestern. Will that trend continue on Thursday or will Gard’s troubles in figuring out Northwestern rear its ugly head.
Northwestern Stumbling to the End
Wisconsin now owns its first multi-game win streak in Big Ten play, but the opposition on Thursday night is heading in the completely opposite direction. Northwestern has fallen apart down the stretch, losing four in a row and having lost five since that win at the Kohl Center.
A lot of the failures for the Wildcats comes down to simply not having the personnel on the court to win big games. Bryant McIntosh has been shut down for the season, and that’s a major blow against a Badgers team that has struggled up until late against perimeter shooters and slashers.
While its tempting to see Northwestern as a team in crisis, this season has taught us to not trust almost anything we’ve seen from the Badgers. UW looked like it was turning the corner in two wins against Illinois earlier this season, only to lay an egg in the very next game in each case.
Now the Badgers are red-hot and Northwestern is as cold as anyone in the Big Ten. Will that mean a Badgers victory or will the Wildcats snap out of their cold spell?
First to 60 Wins
It seems clichéd to say that, but it has been true for the Wisconsin Badgers this season, and it certainly has been true for the Northwestern Wildcats.
Wisconsin is 12th in Big Ten play, averaging 63.9 points per game and right behind them in 13th are the Wildcats, averaging 62.9 points per game themselves. Northwestern is also 13th in the league in field goal shooting, averaging just 40.1 percent as a team. The Badgers aren’t much better, shooting just 43 percent in Big Ten play themselves.
Point being, this game could either be really ugly for both teams or one. Good luck figuring out which team will show up on either part on Thursday night.
Wisconsin 66, Northwestern 50
Lost in the offensive firepower seen from Pritzl and Brad Davison of late has been UW’s ability to turn up the pressure on the other end of the court. Northwestern can be dangerous because of the length it possess in the starting five, but this group isn’t deep at all (even less so than the Badgers are).
I expect Pritzl to keep up with the double-digit scoring and I also expect Northwestern’s short bench to get tested by Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson down low.
Wisconsin exacts some revenge and blows out the Wildcats.