Before Northwestern hosts No. 4 Wisconsin on the hardwood Sunday we asked Phil Mitten from Bucky's 5th Quarter about the Badgers and tomorrow's matchup. To return the favor, we answered their questions too.
1. We all know about last year's Final Four run, but in your opinion, is this year's Wisconsin team even better than last year's? Or does it at least have the potential to be better?
It certainly has the potential to be better, mainly because of the bigger role some young guys are playing. Whether everyone lives up to the potential remains to be seen. So far, sophomore guard Bronson Koenig has looked about the same as he did last year -- poised for a freshman, average to tentative at times for a sophomore. He can be better. If seldom used big man Vitto Brown can take another step defensively, an already strong front court gets even more scary.
Right now I'd give a slight edge to this year's team despite inconsistent shooting from deep, because of the maturation of Nigel Hayes and overall confidence. Ultimately it will come down to how consistently aggressive Sam Dekker is, which has been a question mark for two years now.
2. If you don't answer it fully above, what are the major differences between this year's team and last year's team?
Outside shooting. Wisconsin is shooting three percentage points worse (34.6).
I already alluded to how well Hayes is playing (12.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and starting a bigger lineup has pumped up the rebounding numbers too.
3. Wisconsin's only loss of the year is to Duke, but I don't really want to focus on that because Duke is on a different level than any other Big Ten team. So what other teams have given Wisconsin trouble this year, if anybody, and what did those teams do that bothered the Badgers?
Georgetown was a tough game for Wisconsin because of their size and strength. Josh Smith is a huge dude, equivalent to one-and-a-half Alex Olahs, and he forced Frank Kaminsky into a quiet day. They also have a handful of big, athletic wings to clog the lane and contend with Dekker and Hayes.
Marquette tried to muddy up the game as well, but lacked size and scoring ability. Nobody else but Duke has been able to catch fire on the midrange looks UW forces you to take and put real pressure on the Badgers.
4. Do you see anything that might make Wisconsin vulnerable to an upset here? Feel free to just say no...
I'll never doubt the possibility of any upset on the Big Ten after the last meeting between these teams. The Badgers are giving up a lot of penetration to opposing guards, but they've been able to crack down in the second half when necessary.
5. Has Wisconsin seen any zone defense from opponents this year? It's not something Northwestern does all that often, but I'm just speculating. With NU facing a lot of matchup problems, maybe that's a wrinkle that Collins could throw at Bo Ryan.
They blew apart the zone Penn State briefly tried to run the other day, but I don't recall more than a few isolated attempts this year. Typically, the number of capable 3-point shooting options on the floor makes traditional zones ineffective against Wisconsin ... usually it was Northwestern (under Carmody) who found that out the hardest way.
6. I'm not going to ask for a straight up prediction, but how about we bet against the spread. There's no line yet as of Friday, but I'll set it at Wisconsin by 12.5. Would you take the Badgers? Or would you take NU and the points?
Update: Actual line is Wisconsin -13.5
Ken Pomeroy had it closer than that actually. But Wisconsin has been playing well over the last three games, so I might give the points. The Badgers have a great track record in Evanston. Pay attention to how the Wildcats close the first half.