Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Men’s Basketball: Northwestern gears up for Big Ten Tournament grudge match with Wisconsin

Junior+guard+Brooks+Barnhizer+elevates+to+dunk+the+ball+against+Penn+State.+Barnhizer+was+named+to+the+Big+Ten+All-Defensive+Team+and+received+a+third-team+all-conference+nod.+
Daily file photo by Henry Frieman
Junior guard Brooks Barnhizer elevates to dunk the ball against Penn State. Barnhizer was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team and received a third-team all-conference nod.

MINNEAPOLIS — Just over two months ago, Northwestern navigated through blizzard-like conditions to challenge a then-dominant Wisconsin squad in the Kohl Center. Coach Chris Collins’ team scratched and clawed to the finish line, but still came up short in a 71-63 defeat.

Since that Jan. 13 test, much has changed for the two foes that met five games into the conference campaign. Now, they’ll collide once more in Minnesota.

With a 20-game league slate done and dusted, the Wildcats (21-10, 12-8 Big Ten) will meet the Badgers (20-12, 11-9 Big Ten) in a win-or-go-home Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal matchup Friday afternoon.

“This is what we talked about in the preseason,” Collins said at a Wednesday press conference. “We want to compete for the Big Ten. We thought we had a team that was going to be good enough to be in this position. We just had to go out and do it.”

NU found a scorching-hot offensive stroke and snatched several statement victories en route to an all but assured second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. 

Notching his second consecutive 12-win conference season, Collins just accomplished another unmatched feat in Evanston as the first coach to secure 24 Big Ten wins in two years. Graduate student guard Boo Buie said the unprecedented program highs have been a long time coming.

“Our mindset over the past two years has been to prove people wrong,”  Buie said. “We know what we’re capable of, and we’re fully confident.”

Despite losing senior guard Ty Berry to a season-ending meniscus tear, graduate student guard Ryan Langborg for multiple games with an ankle sprain and Matthew Nicholson to a foot injury, the ‘Cats continued to find winning ways.

And, they’ll need to do so without their premier rim protector Friday, as Collins confirmed Nicholson will miss the tournament’s duration. The purple and white must rely on significant minutes from sophomore forward Luke Hunger and graduate student forward Blake Preston in the 7-footer’s stead.

Collins said Preston’s play in last week’s Senior Night defeat of Minnesota caught his eye.

“Now, we see the way Blake Preston stepped up … it was Blake’s best game in a long time,” Collins said. “We’re going to figure it out with the guys we got.”

Wisconsin, winners of their first five conference clashes, saw their form ice over once the calendar flipped to February. The Badgers lost eight of their last 11 Big Ten battles, plummeting from a potential three-headed title race with Purdue and Illinois to the conference tournament’s fifth seed.

Facing 12-seeded Maryland Thursday, Wisconsin appeared to lick its wounds from a close-run 78-70 loss in West Lafayette, Indiana, trouncing the Terrapins 87-56. The Badgers shot the lights out at the Target Center, converting 16-of-25 3-pointers.

The victors capitalized off a balanced scoring attack, where no scorer eclipsed the 20-point mark, and held Maryland to a 39.3% field goal conversion rate. 

While NU hoped a run-in with the ever-tenacious Terrapins would tire out its next opponent, a cruise-control second-round victory likely didn’t do the trick. Wisconsin starters Steven Crowl, AJ Storr, Chucky Hepburn, Tyler Wahl and Max Klesmit each logged less than 25 minutes Thursday.

Storr, a 6-foot-7 backcourt matchup nightmare, earned a second-team all-conference nod earlier in the week and will likely keep the ‘Cats on their toes throughout Friday’s contest. The sophomore has averaged 16.2 points per game this season after transferring in from St. John’s.

This season marks NU’s second consecutive double bye in the Big Ten Tournament. Although the ‘Cats received the No. 2 seed in 2023, they dropped their quarterfinal matchup with Penn State to end their Chicago championship crusade in an overtime heartbreaker.

Collins said having a bevy of veterans who have played on this stage or at comparable conference tournaments is a “huge” asset for NU.

“I just love our leadership — Boo and (junior guard Brooks Barnhizer), the older guys on the team,” Collins said. “Ryan Langborg, he won an Ivy League Championship last year. He’s gone to a Sweet 16. Blake Preston won a championship at Liberty. These guys have won, so there’s an expectation and an experience there that I think is invaluable.”

While their March Madness fate is almost certainly cemented, the ‘Cats will look to ascend an unprecedented peak this weekend in pursuit of a program-first Big Ten Tournament title.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jakeepste1n 

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