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The Starting 5: Wisconsin vs. Northwestern basketball preview

Wisconsin may be struggling, but so too is the opponent on Thursday night as the Northwestern Wildcats come to the Kohl Center.

Wisconsin Badgers basketball is struggling, few would debate that. After squandering a golden chance to erase some bad vibes on Monday, the Badgers return to the Kohl Center hoping to get back to winning ways.

Standing in their way is an equally struggling Northwestern Wildcats program. Expectations were high following the Wildcat’s first NCAA tournament appearance and victory in school history. But, even most of the same parts back hasn’t helped them live up to expectations and NU is struggling just as bad as Wisconsin.

It leads to a very interesting matchup on Thursday night between the two teams.

Which team wants it more? Let’s look at “The Starting 5” for tonight’s Big Ten clash between the Badgers and Wildcats from the Kohl Center. Tip is scheduled for 7:30pm CT on FS1.

40 Minutes

Can the Badgers actually play a full 40 minutes of competent basketball? So far this season that answer has only been yes against weak D1 opponents.

That was on full display on Monday against Nebraska for sure. Wisconsin looked like it was in control of the game for 30 minutes or so..and then it forgot how to make a field goal for nearly 10 minutes and found themselves the losers. Ok, to be fair, the Badgers managed three made field goals in the final 10 minutes. But, they did also go over 6 minutes between made field goals to end the game. Just brutal stuff at home.

Northwestern has the ability to sting you if you aren’t playing quality basketball, so Wisconsin can’t afford to let off the gas in this one.

How do the Badgers put 40 minutes together? It requires something pretty easy, but so hard for this team to do — be able to hit from the perimeter. Defenses aren’t respecting the Badgers from deep and it’s creating challenges for Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson. Having someone like Brevin Pritzl or Brad Davison starting to hit consistently from deep would be a huge help.

But, asking for a quality 40 minutes may be a task too much for this team and if they can’t put it together against Northwestern, the Badgers are in more trouble than we previously thought (and we think they are seriously bad this season).

Free Throws Again

Last time out we highlighted the fact that Wisconsin gave away the game in Lincoln by allowing the Huskers to go to the free throw line whenever they wanted. We also highlighted the need to reverse that trend, what we apparently forgot to tell the team was that they also needed to make free throws.

UW came in tot the game against Nebraska as one of the best free throw shooting teams in the Big Ten, a stat that mattered little apparently because the Badgers went a paltry 18 of 31 from the free throw line. Most of that could be attributed to Happ’s sudden decline back to last season’s free throw shooting form, as he went 8 of 19, while the rest of the team was a much more respectable 8 of 12.

This team can’t look to bang inside and get to the line and not make its free throws, they’re too inconsistent from the field to be that kind of team.

Trice May Not Be Back This Season?

We’ve known that point guard D’Mitrik Trice has been seen practicing in varying forms with this team for a few weeks now. This is also the timeframe when Greg Gard believed Trice would be ready to go. He didn’t dress on Monday, but could a few extra days make the difference?

That doesn’t appear likely here, as Trice has gone from practicing to not according to reports:

His presence would certainly help give the Badgers a chance against anyone, if for no other reason than the fact that it moves Brad Davison off the ball and gives everyone in the backcourt a chance to breath on the bench once in a great while. That appears to be a pipe dream and with less than a month to go in the season shutting him down seems to be the smart thing to do.

It’s not like his return is the difference between an NCAA tournament berth or not.

First to 60

Casual fans may not enjoy watching this game, as it could be brutal on the eyes given the stat sheets of both of these teams. Northwestern and Wisconsin come in as two of the lowest scoring teams in Big Ten play this season, with Northwestern 12th at 647. points per game and the Badgers one spot lower at 62.8 points per game.

Those are some ugly numbers, especially because Wisconsin is also 12th in scoring margin at -6.9 points per game during B1G play. Northwestern is at least holding its own on the defensive side of things.

Simply put, getting to 60 points might be a stretch for two of the most streaky shooting teams in the conference. My bet is on the first to 60 winning this one, because we might not even see 60 happen.

More Schlundt Please

T.J. Schlundt has been eating up minutes off the bench for most of this season, and for most of the season he hasn’t done much that makes you take notice of him. But, on Monday the former walk-on did just that in a small sample size. He managed 3 points, 3 rebounds and 1 steal in just 11 minutes off the bench. That’s more than UW is used to seeing out of him on the stat sheet and it could be helpful against a team where every point counts.

Wisconsin could use any sort of offensive production from him and most of the bench frankly. Let’s see if Monday’s performance gives him the confidence to make some more moves on the offensive side of the court or not.

Hey, what could go wrong? He goes cold? It’s not like we haven’t seen that from anyone in the Badgers starting lineup either….oh wait.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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