In a game in which Northwestern entered as 11.5 point underdogs visiting seventh-ranked Wisconsin, as the Cats normally do, they gave the Badgers a fight.
The Wildcats entered the Kohl Center on a two-game losing streak after their star guard Scottie Lindsey went down. Though Wisconsin wasn’t shorthanded, it’s awfully played like it lately. The trend continued and the Badgers’ poor shooting in the first half was too much to overcome.
Here are some takeaways from Northwestern’s signature victory of the season.
What We Learned:
1. Northwestern can win without Scottie Lindsey
While it seemed the Wildcats were hopeless without their leading scorer, their resume-building win at the Kohl Center says otherwise.
Northwestern was trounced by Purdue 80-59 on the road in the first game Lindsey missed due to a sudden illness. Granted, the then ranked 23 Boilermakers would have been favored in the game regardless, given that they’ve only suffered three defeats at home in the last two seasons. However, after losing at home to Illinois the following game with Lindsey once again missing in action, it appeared the Wildcats desperately needed him back.
The Cats will welcome back Lindsey’s 15.4 points per game and leadership on the court as soon as possible. But, their 66-59 victory over seventh-ranked Wisconsin proves Chris Collins’ bunch can lean on Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law, and even Dererk Pardon if need be.
McIntosh scored 25 in the win over the Badgers. Law and Pardon each chipped in 11.
2. Wisconsin has a serious Issue putting it together for 40 Minutes
With how poorly the Badgers have been playing lately, it seemed it was only a matter of time until they were going to get beat. Though Wisconsin entered the contest on a seven game winning streak and winning 17 of their last 18 games, it has been playing below average basketball for a significant stretch.
The Badgers previous seven game win streak included overtime victories over Minnesota, Rutgers, and Nebraska. Obviously no Big Ten game is easy, but for the preseason selection to win the conference, those close victories are major red flags.
The key contributor to the constant close victories and the Northwestern defeat are abysmal first halves shooting the ball. Wisconsin scored 22 in the first half against Northwestern, 25 against Nebraska and 20 against last place Rutgers.
Greg Gard has without a doubt carried on Bo Ryan’s tradition of a defense-oriented team. However, 20 minute periods in which his team cannot develop any offensive rhythm is not in the game plan. The issue was made apparent weeks ago, yet Wisconsin is still searching for answers.
3. The Badgers are Human in Close Games.
Wisconsin is not proud of having to grind out victories against teams like Rutgers. Although, it does take a good team to constantly find ways to win in games in which it seems nothing is going their way.
As mentioned earlier, it took the Badgers an extra five minutes to beat Minnesota, Rutgers, and Nebraska. It’s also worth noting that Wisconsin absolutely stole those games and probably got on the bus wondering how it managed to win.
Ethan Happ and company trailed the Scarlet Knights by four with 46 seconds remaining in regulation. They found themselves down two against the Golden Gophers with 45 ticks left in OT. Once again, they had their backs against the wall against Tim Miles’ bunch, trailing by a bucket with 22 seconds left in overtime.
Nevertheless, Wisconsin escaped all three games, despite momentum pointing in the opposite direction. The wins built mental toughness and the Badgers established themselves as arguably the most clutch team in the Big Ten.
But, the loss against Northwestern in front of their home crowd shows that Wisconsin is beatable in crunch time. McIntosh scored eight of Northwestern’s last 10 points, and for the first time, a player not wearing Crimson took over in the final minutes.
Despite the fact that Wisconsin had a chance to enter the top five in the AP poll with a victory and will most likely still be hovering around the top 15 in tomorrow’s polls, the Badgers have not been playing like a ranked team for quite some time.
Wisconsin’s top priority moving forward will continue to be figuring out how to avoid a cold first half. If this continues to be an issue, the Badgers will be beatable in every game from now through March. Without a solution, Wisconsin will be a popular pick to get bounced in the round of 64 if they are matched up with a 13 or 14 seed who can light it up from the floor.
The victory over the Badgers all but punches Northwestern’s ticket to the dance, finally. Wildcat fans will continue to be reasonably pessimistic, given that Northwestern has never been dancing before. But, not to worry. A 19-6 (8-4) record and and RPI of 40 that is set to take a big leap makes the Wildcats as close to a lock in the tournament as anyone in the Big Ten.
Northwestern has a chance to earn two more quality victories when Maryland visits Welsh-Ryan Arena on Wednesday and when Purdue comes to Evanston to conclude the Wildcats regular season on March 5. It’s only a matter of time before Lindsey returns the Cats lineup as well, giving Northwestern some serious momentum down the stretch.