Badger Hoops Preview: Big Ten Opener in Evanston

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The No. 4 Badgers (13-0) will try and maintain their perfect record on Thursday when they travel to Northwestern (7-6) to open up the Big Ten Conference schedule. Tip-off is at 6:00 PM CST with TV coverage on ESPN 2.

Northwestern begins a new era of their basketball program this season with new head coach Chris Collins. Collins was hired as Northwestern's new head man in March after previously working as an assistant at Duke under legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski for more than a decade. Collins has been handed the task of rebuilding a disgruntled program which has never made it to the NCAA Tournament.

The new-coach, but not-so-new looking Wildcats have had a shaky start to their year to say the least. Northwestern, sitting at a 7-6 record thus far, has yet to defeat a team with a top-175 RPI ranking. Six of their victories have come at home, and their most impressive win thus far was against Western Michigan, who has a 6-5 record. Not very impressive.

Despite their mediocre-at-best resume thus far, Northwestern still has some decent talent on their roster. They have lots of experience in their backcourt with upperclassmen sharing time; Drew Crawford (16.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Dave Sobolewski (7.8 ppg, 3.4 apg) and Jershon Cobb (12.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg). Cobb has recently missed three games with ankle injury and returned to playing limited minutes in NU's loss to Depaul on Friday.

Crawford seems like he has been playing college ball for around 8 or 9 years, but we're told he's just a senior. Crawford is one of the best feel-good stories of this season, coming back stronger than ever from a season-ending injury in his right shoulder last year. He's easily Northwestern's best and most dangerous weapon, capable of putting up points in a hurry with his sweet shooting stroke. Look for the Badgers to pay close attention to him, especially Josh Gasser, who has handled the majority of the important defensive tasks in the backcourt for Bo Ryan this season.

Northwestern's youth comes in their front court, where 7'0" Sophomore Alex Olah (8.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and true Freshman Sanjay Lumpkin (best name in the Big Ten?) get the majority of the minutes. Look for Bo Ryan to try and take advantage of the young Northwestern big men with some post looks early and often. Even though the Wildcats have size inside, they've been burned often inside this season, allowing their opponents to rack up big points in the paint totals.

Prediction: #4 Wisconsin 71, Northwestern 57.

Simply put, the Badgers are good, Northwestern is not. Northwestern plays good ball in Evanston, but I think the Badgers' arsenal of offensive weapons will be too much for the lowly Wildcats to overcome. 

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