Following an impressive weekend beatdown of hapless Minnesota by the score of 77-52 on Saturday in Minneapolis, the Northwestern Wildcats (14-3 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) return home to Evanston to host the Wisconsin Badgers (9-8, 1-3) on Tuesday night in a game that's vital for both teams.
The Wildcats crushed the Golden Gophers on Saturday behind 20 points from Aaron Falzon (7 of 10 shooting, 6 of 9 from three), 13 from Tre Demps and 11 from Joey van Zegeren, who burned the Minnesota defense for multiple open dunks off slick pick-and-roll sets with Bryant McIntosh (career-high 11 assists). As a team, Northwestern shot 56 percent from the field and outrebounded Minnesota 33-17 in what was the Wildcats' best Big Ten performance thus far.
On the other hand, Wisconsin has struggled out of the gate this year (check out our preview Q&A of the game), losing its season opener at home to Western Illinois and dropping games to Georgetown, Milwaukee and Marquette (as well as Oklahoma) en route to the start of conference play. Then, the Badgers fell to Purdue, beat lowly Rutgers and then lost two heart-breakers to Indiana and Maryland by a combined four points (two words: Melo Trimble). Yeah, it's been tough for the Badgers since losing Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Duje Dukan to the NBA this offseason.
Both teams seem to heading in opposite directions at the moment, which makes this game all the more important. For Northwestern, a team with an especially weak nonconference schedule, contests like this against underwhelming conference foes are big for a potential NCAA Tournament resume. It wouldn't be anything close to a signature win, but it would be NU's first home Big Ten win of the year against a traditional powerhouse.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin, if it's going to somewhat salvage its disastrous first half of the season, has to catch up in the conference standings, which would start with a win over the Wildcats. Interim coach Greg Gard has pieces in Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ, along with others, that can compete with Northwestern but doesn't have a ton of depth and has a very inconsistent offense. This game could be a dogfight.