Northwestern vs. Wisconsin preview: 3 keys to beating the Wildcats

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin got back to basics Saturday against Purdue. Staying fundamentally sound shouldn't be any sort of problem Wednesday, either, as lowly Northwestern visits Madison.

Well, we called for better defense, and we finally got it.

Wisconsin looked markedly better in that department on Saturday against Purdue, holding the Boilermakers to just 35.4 percent shooting from the field and a meager 17.6 percent (3-of-17) from behind the three-point arc.

Winning a road game with defense is just what Bo Ryan and company needed Saturday, especially considering the Badgers didn't exactly light it up from the field. Wisconsin did, however, find its way to the foul line a ton against Purdue, and I'd love to see that trend continue moving forward.

During the Badgers' recent three-game losing skid, only a combined 41 free throws were attempted, but on Saturday, Wisconsin attempted 33 foul shots, which means guys were aggressive again with their offensive attack. That has got to continue for the Badgers to remain in the hunt for a Big Ten title.

On the docket Wednesday evening, Wisconsin draws an improving Northwestern team, but still a team that is years away from truly competing in the country's toughest conference.

The Badgers shellacked the Wildcats 76-49 back on Jan. 2 in Evanston, and it was over in a hurry. UW held a 40-14 lead at the half.

Will Wednesday's game be a similar blowout? Probably not to the degree it was earlier this month, but all things equal, it should be an easy win for Bucky. Nonetheless, let's get to our three keys to a Wisconsin win over Northwestern.

Limit the touches of Alex Olah

Northwestern's big man had a career night in the first matchup between these teams, scoring 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Many of his post touches were way too easy, and when Olah gets those easy touches in the paint, he's actually a solid distributor of the basketball when he doesn't look to score.

Offensively, Olah has come back down to Earth after his breakout game against Wisconsin, but Northwestern's recently improved offensive play as a whole has been due in large part to their commitment to feeding Olah as often as possible. The Wildcat offense flows better when Olah gets his touches.

Thus, don't allow him those post catches this evening. Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb can be talented scorers at times, but neither is capable of taking a Wisconsin defender one-on-one with regularity. By limiting Olah's touches, you limit Crawford and Cobb's ability to get easy looks via back-door cuts or inside-out threes. Forcing Crawford and Cobb to attack off the bounce makes for an easy win over Northwestern for just about any team.

Knock down the triple

This may seem like an odd key, but I want to see Wisconsin regain its form from distance so that guys like Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and even Frank Kaminsky have their strokes dialed in for Saturday's battle with Ohio State.

Over their past four games (three of them losses), the Badgers are just 26-of-81 (32.1 percent) from behind the arc; on the season, UW is shooting 38.2 percent from three-point range. At some point, the Badgers need to get back to shooting at or above that season average, and I think tonight is a good time to start.

In all honesty, this game is the one time this year I'll be OK with Wisconsin letting it fly any time there is a three-pointer open. Plain and simple, the Badgers have to be hitting from the outside against Ohio State this weekend, so they should use Wednesday night like an open gym. The Buckeyes are superb defensively, and in order to get easy buckets Saturday against their rugged defense, the Badgers will have to stretch out the floor by knocking down jumpers from the outside.

I expect Saturday's contest with OSU to be an absolute war inside the Kohl Center. Therefore, Wisconsin will need to have its canons ready to fire by getting them prepped and fine-tuned this evening against an inferior foe.

Goal vs. Northwestern: Shoot better than 50 percent on at least 20 three-point attempts.

Show up, then get ready for OSU

As it was back on Jan. 2, my final key is a bit of a cop-out. But in all seriousness, Badger Nation understands and recognizes that this game should be a gimme.

Wisconsin knows that a Big Ten title is still a possibility, and I expect the Badgers to approach every game with an edge from here on out. There won't be any let-up in that mindset simply because a bad basketball team visits town.

Let's get through Wednesday with everybody healthy (Bo included), and then we'll consider it a true win. Because the result on the actual floor will certainly be that.

Prediction: Wisconsin 81, Northwestern 60

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