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2/1 Big Ten Preview: Northwestern and Wisconsin take the court in a battle of Big Ten bottom feeders

The Wildcats and Badgers look to decide if it’s better to be underperforming or rebuilding

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Two of the Big Ten’s most disappointing and under-performing team’s will be competing in Madison Thursday night for a game with little to no stakes.

That said, any basketball is better than no basketball, and as the conferences only game on the schedule tonight the Wildcats and Badgers at least have that going for them.

Big Ten Game of the Day

-Northwestern Wildcats at Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: 8:30PM ET - FS1
  • KenPom Spread: Wisconsin (-3)

For two teams battling to avoid the Wednesday slate of games at the Big Ten Tournament, Wisconsin and Northwestern have taken different paths to the bottom half of the conference standings.

Entering the 2017-’18 season with quite possibly its highest preseason expectations ever, the Wildcats struggled right out of the gate and never have been able to fully right the ship.

What has to add to the frustration of a lost season for Chris Collins is the fact that the Wildcats returned nearly the same cast from last years NCAA Tournament squad yet have seen significant drops in both its offensive and defensive outputs from 2016-’17.

Last year Northwestern ranked a respectable 59th and 32nd in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively. This year, those figures have dropped to 100th and 84th according to KenPom which, at the very least, puts some science behind an otherwise head-scratcher of a season.

Wisconsin, on the other hand, entered the year knowing that it might be a rough go in Greg Gard’s second full year at the helm of Badgers basketball. Still, that can’t make it any easier for even the most realistic of Wisconsin fans to come to terms with the fact that their team will be missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997-’98.

Being snakebitten by a run of injuries early in the year made navigating a schedule that currently ranks 26th in the nation an even more daunting task than had the Badgers been at full strength.

Compound that with the fact that almost no one has emerged as support for junior forward Ethan Happ and Wisconsin’s margin for error in any game is incredibly small.

So what are we to make of Thursday’s tilt than between the rebuilding Badgers and disheartening Wildcats?

Well the Kohl Center can still be a daunting place to play, sub-.500 record be damned. Plus the Sterling basketball is still college basketball’s Rubik Cube and is seemingly capable of pulling an upset all on its own.

But looking at just the rosters that compose these teams, it’s pretty easy to see that the makeup of Northwestern makes them the superior squad.

Yes, they’ve disappointed relevant to expectations and the sum of its parts. The thing with underperforming though is that one at least posses the capability to turn it on and play to its full potential on a given night.

And Wisconsin’s max output, at least this year, is below that of Northwestern.

I’m grabbing the points and backing the Wildcats on the road.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Northwestern

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Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 21-13-1