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2017 Big Ten Tournament Preview: #2 Wisconsin Badgers vs. #6 Northwestern Wildcats

Four teams remain in the Big Ten Tournament.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Indiana vs Wisconsin Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

The action now moves to CBS, and it’s time to get serious about crowning a Big Ten Tournament champion. Michigan, after upsetting Purdue, takes on Minnesota in the first semi-final at 1:00 PM ET on CBS. The second semi-final between Wisconsin and Northwestern will follow at 3:30 PM ET. We’ll preview the latter game here.

Overall, the field has been wide open, particularly with Purdue, the conference’s regular season champ, falling. And that insanity should continue on Saturday.

We now know the final four; let’s take a closer look at the second semi-final game on Saturday.

1. Which Wisconsin offense will show up?

The Badgers will rebound and play tough defense; they’ll also limit the turnovers. That’s the foundation of Badger basketball. The offense really makes the difference, and going forward, Wisconsin cannot afford stagnant offense.

Making shots is a big part of it. The Badgers did that against Indiana (10-for-22 from three). Bronson Koenig was 4-for-7 from beyond the arc, and D’Mitrik Trice and Zak Showalter hit three and two respectively. Wisconsin has struggled mightily from the field of late; hitting shots will help space the floor so Ethan Happ can operate.

Against the Hoosiers, Wisconsin capitalized in some mini-transition opportunities, and got open threes early in the shot clock. Not normally a running team, they should look for those opportunities more, because it might generate better looks on occasion.

Another big piece is the passing. Wisconsin moved the ball really well against Indiana (15 assists). Doing that against Northwestern will be critical to getting good looks from all over the floor.

Wisconsin’s so consistent on defense and on the glass; the offense will determine how the game goes against Northwestern and largely how far the program goes in March.

2. Can Northwestern’s defense make the difference again?

The Wildcats have really taken a step forward this year, and it wasn’t just a regular season step forward. Northwestern’s proving it in the postseason.

If we remember back to the first and only meeting this season between Wisconsin and Northwestern, the Wildcats arrived in Madison and beat the Badgers 66-59. The Northwestern loss ended an eight-game Wisconsin winning streak, and kicked off a stretch which saw the Badgers lose five of six.

Bryant McIntosh had a huge game in Madison (25 points), but it was the defense that made the difference. Chris Collins sent double-teams to Happ in the post, and forced a tough pass, which led to a perimeter jumper. The Wildcat defense turned Wisconsin over 12 times; Happ had four of them.

The Badgers didn’t shoot terribly in the game: 38 percent overall, 36 percent from three. But, Wisconsin can ill-afford stagnant offense or long offensive droughts, because the Wildcats will make them pay.

3. Can Wisconsin withstand or prevent a Northwestern scoring run?

On Thursday, Northwestern scored 31 straight points over a 10-minute stretch against Rutgers. Then, on Friday night, the Wildcats used two lengthy runs (20-4 in the first half and 22-5 in the second) to pull away from Maryland.

If Wisconsin surrenders a big scoring run, it might be a difficult hole out of which to dig. Their offense doesn’t score points quickly, and they’ve been prone to droughts. The Badgers are 336th in the country in offensive possession time, according to KenPom.

Collins’ squad is riding a ton of momentum, similar to Michigan in the upper half of the bracket. It feels like Northwestern’s destiny is the Big Ten Tournament Championship game on Sunday.