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Wisconsin men’s basketball: Three keys to win vs Northwestern

How can the Badgers beat the Wildcats on Sunday?

The Wisconsin Badgers will face off against the Northwestern Wildcats on Sunday evening, looking to avenge their loss from a week ago when the latter defeated the former 66-63.

During that game, the Badgers were without starting guard Max Klesmit, which hurt significantly as Wildcats guards Boo Buie and Chase Audige combined for 36 points.

With the rematch coming, how can the Badgers beat the Wildcats when the two teams play on Sunday?

Key No. 1: Defending the top guards

The Badgers lost last week in part because of the performances from Buie and Audige, but also due to poor offensive games from guards Chucky Hepburn and Connor Essegian, who combined to shoot 7/27.

Wisconsin should see more success with the return of Max Klesmit, providing them with two strong on-ball defenders against Northwestern’s best players.

Additionally, Chucky Hepburn and Connor Essegian should rebound from their poor performances, which would provide a necessary offensive boost.

With how important each team’s guards are to their success, how Wisconsin defends the top guards could ultimately define the outcome of the game.

Key No. 2: Free throws

Wisconsin has a free throw problem. It’s been apparent all season, and was a reason why they lost to Northwestern.

Against the Wildcats last Monday, the Badgers connected on just 9/16 shots from the line, while Northwestern hit 16/18 of their free throws in a three-point game.

On the season, Northwestern is the second-best free throw shooting team in the Big 10, hitting them at a 75% clip, while the Badgers have only connected on 65.8% of their attempts.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin commits 15.8 fouls per game, and had 19 when the two teams played for the first time.

The Badgers need to play disciplined basketball, given Northwestern’s strong free-throw rate, especially because the Wildcats aren’t an efficient team from the field, making just 40.5% of their shots and 31.8% of their threes.

Key No. 3: Heavy minutes

The Badgers changed up their rotation on Thursday against Ohio State, heavily playing their starters, with each player seeing at least 32 minutes of action.

The only reserve to see more than six minutes was forward Carter Gilmore, who played 18 minutes.

Without Max Klesmit last week against Northwestern, the Badgers implemented a similar approach, and could do the same on Sunday.

However, the strategy can lead to tiring players as the game goes on, which was somewhat seen against Ohio State when the Badgers didn’t hit a single field goal for the last 7:18.

But, because of their early 16-point cushion at halftime, Wisconsin willed through a victory.

How will the Badgers’ starters play on Sunday in the second half if asked to play heavy minutes? The answer to that question could define how close the game will be.