Evanston, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - After completing a perfect non-conference schedule, the fourth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers set their sights on the rest of the Big Ten, starting with Thursday night's conference opener at Northwestern.
Bo Ryan's Badgers are a flawless 13-0 to this point in the season, the school's best-ever start, with a couple of marquee wins, including a 59-53 victory over Florida in early November. In fact, the Badgers sit atop several RPI ratings, as their opponents have gone a combined 100-47 this season. Wisconsin closed out its non-league slate this past weekend, making light work of Prairie View A&M, 80-43.
Chris Collins' Wildcats weren't as consistent during their non-conference schedule and enter league play treading water at 7-6. This game closes out a five-game homestand for NU, which had a three-game win streak halted last Friday in a 57-56 setback to DePaul.
This marks the 173rd all-time meeting in this longstanding rivalry. The Badgers hold a 111-61 series advantage and have won six straight over the Wildcats.
Ryan has long instilled strong defensive principles and this season is no different in Madison. The Badgers are limiting foes to just 60.6 ppg this season, with positives in both rebounding margin (+4.8) and turnover margin (+2.5). Sophomore forward Sam Dekker leads the way with team-highs in both scoring (14.5 ppg) and rebounding (6.2 rpg). Junior center Frank Kaminsky has elevated his play from a part-time role a year ago to ranks second in both scoring (14.2 ppg) and rebounding (5.8 rpg). Ben Brust (12.5 ppg) and Traevon Jackson (10.7 ppg, 4.5 apg) provide solid backcourt play.
The Badgers shut down Prairie View, which scored just 18 first-half points and was never able to get back into the game. Meanwhile, Wisconsin had four players finish with double-digit points, while the team committed a mere two turnovers in 40 minutes of action. Dekker led the way with a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds. Brust finished with 11 points, while Kaminsky and Josh Gasser tacked on 10 each.
Tre Demps came off the bench to score a career-high 23 points, but it wasn't enough against DePaul last week, as the Blue Demons hit a buzzer beater to win the game. The Wildcats converted just 32.1 percent from the floor in the loss, and were outrebounded by DePaul, 46-40 in the game. Demps was joined in double figures by Drew Crawford, who finished with 15 points.
Scoring hasn't come easy for Northwestern this season, with the team shooting just 41.5 percent from the floor en route to a meager 66.7 ppg. Crawford leads the team in both scoring (16.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.8 rpg), and is shooting a healthy .800 from the free-throw line (44-of-55). JerShon Cobb is second on the team in scoring (12.6 ppg). Demps (11.0 ppg) hasn't started a game yet, but has been instrumental off the bench.