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Northwestern vs. Wisconsin preview: Key matchups

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Your Wisconsin Badgers host the Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday, February 7 at 4:30 p.m. CT to conclude the season series between the two programs.

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

The Northwestern Wildcats (10-12, 1-8 Big Ten) will walk into the Kohl Center licking their wounds, hoping to finally put an end to their eight-game losing streak. Northwestern hasn't walked out of an arena victorious since Dec. 30, when the Wildcats beat Rutgers in New Jersey.

On the other hand, the Wisconsin Badgers (20-2, 8-1) will stroll onto their home court as confident as they have been all season, sporting a five-game winning streak. The Badgers have been triumphant in 13 of 14 contests since Dec. 6.

Northwestern was able to surprise an overly-confident Badger team last season, sparking a January slump for the Wisconsin squad. However, Bo Ryan's team seems as determined as ever to keep winning ball games.

Chris Collins, one of Coach K's brightest disciples, leads a Northwestern team which has experienced a lot of downfalls this season, and once again is preparing for a cellar of the Big Ten finish. The Wildcats are led by junior guard Tre Demps, who is averaging 31.9 minutes and just under 12 points a clip. He doesn't receive the most minutes on the team, as that honor belongs to freshman guard Bryant McIntosh, who is playing 33.4 minutes per game and putting up 12.2 points and 4.5 dimes on average every time he touches the floor.

The Badgers of course are led by the incredible front court trio of Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker. This group has the athleticism, shooting touch, and defensive awareness to break down any opponent, and Northwestern most certainly will be no different.

Matchups to Watch:

Frank Kaminsky vs. Alex Olah

Kaminsky has an advantage on every center in college basketball, and expect #44 in the cardinal and white to dominate once the Badgers take the floor on Saturday. Alex Olah, a junior, is not particularly a force on defense, and when you do not own that valuable trait, it is near impossible to stop the potential National Player of the Year in Kaminsky. Olah is averaging 11 points per game, so he may try to force Kaminsky into foul trouble early, which is not a bad tactic at all, given Frank the Tank's unique and versatile skills.

Bronson Koenig/Josh Gasser vs. Bryant McIntosh/Tre Demps

If Northwestern is going to have a shot at beating the Badgers at the Kohl Center, they need career nights from both Demps and McIntosh. That won't be easy, given how talented Koenig and the defensive wizard in Josh Gasser is. McIntosh and Demps do not possess deadly three-point jumpers, but usually force the perimeter defenders into mistakes early, which would be a rarity for the Badger backcourt duo.

Player to Watch: PG Bronson Koenig

Bronson Koenig has completely exceeded expectations since taking over at the starting point guard position for the Badgers after Traevon Jackson fractured his foot against Rutgers. He has been a magnificent facilitator, lights out from behind the arc, and a solid defender throughout his first five games as a starter. Some Badger fans, including myself, think that Koenig may even be better than Jackson. However, if Jackson is able to make a full and complete recovery, I definitely want him back on the court, as his veteran leadership and clutch shot-making will take this Badger team far.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

I am expecting the Wildcats to try and slow the pace of the game early, leading to an usually closer than expected ball game at halftime. Once the second half starts, however, Kaminsky and the rest of the Badgers front court will turn it on and the Badgers will acquire another double digit victory. I predict Kaminsky goes over 20 points again and Hayes, Dekker and Koenig each get at least 11, while Gasser puts up balanced numbers across the board.

Final Score: Wisconsin 73, Northwestern 58