After dropping two tough games to ranked opponents Michigan and Michigan State, the No. 22 University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team (18-8, 10-5 Big Ten) will travel down I-90 to Evanston, Illinois, for a matchup with the Northwestern Wildcats (12-14, 3-12).
It’s a trip the Badger faithful should expect a win from, as Wisconsin was able to come out on top 62–46 in the Kohl Center back in late January as Ethan Happ notched one of his two career triple-doubles. We can expect more of the same from the All-American as he continues his dominant senior season. But something to keep an eye on moving forward are his continued struggles from the free throw line.
It’s not a new story. We know about Happ’s struggles from the line — the senior is shooting a paltry 43.4 percent over the 2018-19 season — but things don’t seem to be getting any better.
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Over the last three games, Happ hasn’t converted a single foul shot out of his eleven attempts, and we’ve seen a definite impact on the team’s success because of it. Perhaps most notable was last week’s Michigan State game, which saw the Badgers lose by eight points after six crucial Happ free throw misses.
Fortunately for Wisconsin, Northwestern has no one on their roster capable of stopping Happ in the paint. But if it’s a close game down the stretch, they will certainly have one distinct advantage against Happ’s free-throw abilities.
Two others who had huge games last time against the Wildcats were guards Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice. Both scored 18 points and shot a combined 58 percent from beyond the arc, something Wisconsin will be looking to duplicate in Evanston.
With the presence of Happ and Nate Reuvers lurking in the paint, Northwestern’s guards will be drawn in and forced to help down low. This gives Wisconsin’s big men the opportunity for easy kick-outs — the primary reason why Happ was able to amass so many assists last time. If the Badgers want to take care of business, they’ll need to employ similar offensive tactics as they did Jan. 26.
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Another area where Head Coach Greg Gard and Wisconsin thrived in their first meeting was on the defensive side of the ball. The Wildcats don’t have anyone on their team they can rely on to get a bucket in a one-on-one situation consistently. Their leading scorer — senior forward Vic Law — was held to just six points by a defensive trio of Khalil Iverson, Kobe King and Aleem Ford.
In fact, no one on Northwestern’s roster was even able to reach double-digit points Jan. 26, and there’s no reason to believe anyone will trounce the Badgers’ grit-and-grind defense.
You can catch the game live this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network, listen live on the Badger Sports Network or follow live on Twitter @BadgerMBB or uwbadgers.com.