This has been a rough season for Wisconsin Badgers basketball, and it got a huge slap in the face last time out thanks to a loss to Rutgers.
But, this is Big Ten basketball and what is around the corner often isn’t any easier or better than what came before. Such is the case, as the Badgers travel to Nebraska to take on the Huskers (11-6, 2-2 B1G).
Wisconsin will test what has been an awful away record in one of the Big Ten’s most hostile basketball environs (that’s not hyperbole) in Lincoln, Neb. Does that spell trouble or will a bad loss to Rutgers snap UW back in to form?
Let’s dive in to The Starting 5 for Wisconsin’s meeting with Nebraska.
1. Away Woes for Bucky
Wisconsin experience perhaps its lowest point of the season last time out, as the Badgers dropped a game to Rutgers, who had just gotten done losing to Stony Brook, Hartford and Purdue the last three times out.
It was just another sign that something is very different about this team than other Badgers teams in the past. Not even Gard’s previously stellar record on the road has helped this season. With the loss to Rutgers, Wisconsin has dropped to 1-5 away from the Kohl Center in true road games.
Even that lone road win wasn’t easy, as the Badgers fought for a 64-63 win over Penn State at the near barren Bryce Jordan Center. Simply put, trusting the Badgers on the road is a recipe for disaster. Can they right the ship against Nebraska?
Let’s not forget the Badgers had to escape against a not-good Huskers team last season, needing to force overtime before winning 70-69 thanks to two late three-pointers. This year’s Badgers team isn’t capable of that kind of clutch play.
2. Nebraska’s Long and Athletic…and that’s a Major Problem
What happened against Rutgers? Wisconsin ran in to a long and athletic team that crushed Ethan Happ as the center of Wisconsin’s offense. He turned the ball over seven times out of 14 total turnovers alone.
It just so happens that Nebraska has remade its roster and this season they are much better due to an infusion of the same length and athleticism. You don’t need to take our word for it, just look at what Matt Painter said after Purdue beat the Huskers the last time out.
“Their two leading scorers had 38 points, and they didn’t play last year. It’s a different look. Their length and athleticism has been a plus for Nebraska.”
The player who could be most dangerous is James Palmer, who made Purdue’s dual 7-footers foul him time after time. He went to the line 10 separate times last time out and Wisconsin has had trouble staying out of foul trouble and from not turning the ball over. Palmer is averaging a healthy 15.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game as a guard. He’s also second on the team with 45 assists and is shooting 44 percent from the field.
Nebraska presents all sorts of trouble for Wisconsin. It’s their strength versus Wisconsin’s biggest weaknesses.
3. Can Happ Rebound?
Wisconsin is a one-man team right now, at least needing Happ to facilitate its offense. He was shut down in a major way against Rutgers and there just wasn’t enough help for the Badgers to make a run for a victory.
That Rutgers game was also not like Happ, as he turned the ball over way too easy and never adjusted to the defense that was being thrown his way all game long. Oh, and he couldn’t find the basket like normal, shooting just 4 of 10 from the field.
Sure, he had 10 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists on the day, but he was just the third leading scorer and his seven turnovers to no steals or blocked shots were a major disappointment.
If the Badgers want to win this road game, Happ has to have a much more efficient game overall.
4. Wisconsin has Nebraska’s number
There are just some teams you struggle against and others you simply own. For Wisconsin you can bet trips to Penn State and Rutgers are always going to be a battle and you can bet seeing Indiana and Nebraska on the schedule are going to bring good things.
UW owns a four-game win streak in regular season play against the Huskers, but those came as the Badgers were becoming national championship contenders and the Huskers were sliding backwards in the Big Ten standings.
Things are different this time around, so can the Badgers history be the guide or will the Huskers break this streak?
5. Can UW’s New Starting Lineup Gel?
With D’Mitrick Trice on the mend and UW still struggling to find its way through a brutal stretch of three-straight road games, Gard has decided to shake up his starting roster. Instead of Brevin Pritzl in the mix it has been true freshman Nate Reuvers making the starting lineup.
Reuvers has earned the playing time with confident performances over the past few weeks. He responded to the starting lineup push with 10 points, just his third game in double figures for his short career to date, and had 4 rebounds and 3 blocks to his name.
Nebraska 75, Wisconsin 65
This Huskers team is dangerous anywhere, but when it is playing at home at Pinnacle Arena they are really dangerous. Wisconsin hasn’t played well away from the Kohl Center (and even that has been debatable).
Add in Nebraska playing some very confident basketball and you have the easy case for the Huskers winning this one. Perhaps the loss to Rutgers was a fluke, but it was more par for the course as Happ played some bad basketball and Wisconsin couldn’t give him any help.
Happ alone won’t be enough to beat Nebraska, as they beat UW thanks to some slashing basketball.