This is not a drill. Wisconsin is currently first in the Big Ten and has effectively clinched a double bye in the Big Ten tournament.
In a year where the depth of the Big Ten has been well documented and as many as ten teams can make the big dance, Wisconsin sits atop the conference.
Wisconsin (20-10 Overall, 13-6 Big Ten) welcomed Northwestern (7-22 Overall, 2-17 Big Ten) to the Kohl Center on senior night. Wisconsin would honor Rashard Griffith who returned to complete his degree along with redshirt junior Michael Ballard who will be graduating in May and graduate student Brevin Pritzl.
Wisconsin came into the night looking for their seventh straight victory and their 15th home win while Northwestern came in losers of 12 of their last 13 games. All that is a formula for a dominating win over a team at the bottom of the conference but Wisconsin didn’t make it easy on themselves.
Wisconsin opened the game in control and looked to be on their way to a wire to wire victory. They quickly used a hot start where they shot 5-6 from the field to open up a 14-3 lead. Four of the Badgers five makes would come of the long ball variety with senior Brevin Pritzl hitting two of the four threes. On the other end of the floor, they held Northwestern to just one of four from the field to go along with two turnovers. Wisconsin would eventually open up a 17-point lead with 7:47 to go in the first half.
Unfortunately for Wisconsin, their hot shooting and offensive rhythm would be far from the norm for the rest of the night. However, fortunately for the Badgers their defensive identity returned to form as they stifled the Wildcats all night.
Throughout the game, Wisconsin would go through two separate segments of scoring droughts with each being longer than four minutes. Their defense held up but the extended offensive struggles would allow Northwestern to creep back into the game as they closed the first half on 17-6 run and closed the deficit to just six.
The offensive woes to end the first half for Wisconsin wouldn’t go away in the second half but neither would their success on the defensive end. Wisconsin only managed to shoot a frosty 32 percent from the field in the second half but were stout on the defensive end.
To open the second half, Wisconsin used a 10-4 run in the first four minutes to open up a 12-point lead. From then on the Badgers held control of the game for the most part and were never in any real danger.
Wisconsin’s win over Minnesota this past weekend came with the help of timely hustle and defensive plays but the win over Northwestern came almost solely on the defensive end. After opening up a 44-32 lead early in the second half, UW would only score a staggering 19 points in the final 15:55 but on the flipside, they would hold the Wildcats to shoot just 26 percent from the field and score just 16 points during the same stretch.
Two of the best moments of the night came at the opening and ending of the game. During senior night festivities, guards Brevin Pritzl and Michael Ballard were honored and both had their rightful moment during the game. Pritzl’s would come at the start as he hit two quick threes to help open up a 9-2 lead while Michael Ballard closed the night with a tough, twisting layup.
With the win, Wisconsin now controls its own destiny and can win a share of the Big Ten regular season title in Bloomington this Saturday. Considering what this team has been through, to be in this position at this point in the season is absolutely remarkable.