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The Starting 5: Wisconsin vs. Nebraska basketball preview

Things have gone from bad to worse for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program so far this season. Injuries have piled up, expected contributors can’t do it when given the opportunity and the pressure seems to be getting to the biggest star on the team.

But, the games keep coming fast and furious for the Wisconsin Badgers, and up next on Monday is a chance for some revenge. UW will welcome Nebraska in to the Kohl Center after sustaining a 4-point loss to the Huskers earlier this month.

UW also comes in nursing the fact that they have lost 5 of its last 6 games and could really use anything positive to happen at this point in the season. What was once still thought of as a potential NCAA tournament team is now picking for the scraps of pulling off an upset and playing spoiler in the Big Ten.

With the Huskers in town, can the Badgers right the ship and get a much-needed boost of confidence with a win? Let’s take a look at the 5 things to know about this matchup between Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Wisconsin Needs This Badly

I don’t think there’s any understating the point that the Badgers basketball team needs this to be a win tonight in the worst possible way. Any momentum that was gained by blowing out Illinois was quashed quickly, and something positive needs to happen for this group and quick.

UW has lost five of its last six, with the victory over the Illini being the only positive to date. The Badgers are hurting for confidence with each loss and getting a win heading in to February could be a momentum changer. Gone are UW’s hopes for an NCAA tournament berth (baring a miracle run to the Big Ten tournament championship), but pride is going to need to matter for this young team.

That pride took a hit over the last three weeks. Oh, and did we mention the 63-59 loss to the Huskers earlier in the year? Let’s just say, this could be as close to a must-win as possible if this season is going to be anything other than a complete failure.

Nebraska has NCAA tourney hopes

Saying the Badgers need this game is obvious, but so do the Huskers. They can’t have this blight on their thin resume and expect to make a run to a NCAA tournament berth either. Sitting at 16-8 overall and 7-4 in Big Ten play, the Huskers have a real possibility to make the tourney as one of the biggest surprises in the country this year.

Nebraska’s chances were helped with a nice win over Michigan on Jan. 18 and they come in here having won four of their last five games overall. That’s a stark contrast to the Badgers trend this month to say the least.

The Huskers lone loss in the last five games came at the hands of Ohio State, which needed a crazy second half to put up a 5-point (64-59) win themselves.

As for the NCAA tournament, ESPN currently has the Huskers out of the tournament (and only 4 Big Ten teams in) while Blogging the Bracket and CBS Sports agree with the Huskers out of the tournament. All of that despite an RPI that sits at a respectable No. 65 as we speak. Run the table and how do you deny a 4-loss team from the Big Ten?

Of course, that’s a big ask in a muddled middle of the conference and four teams in seem about right for a down conference this season.

All that means for tonight is we should expect another fun one between these two foes, as plenty is at stake for both.

Home is still kind to the Badgers

For all the “woe is me” around the Badgers program, they still haven’t forgotten to protect the house known as the Kohl Center. While the Badgers only have 10 wins on the year, it’s been home sweet home so far this year. UW has won their last six home contests this season, which seems improbable given the inconsistency of the team.

Could home cooking help the Badgers stuff a Huskers team that has won two of the last three in the series? An 8-2 home record at the Kohl Center against the Huskers suggests that’s possible. So does the fact that Wisconsin’s lone win in the last six games came at home, while all five losses came on the road.

Nebraska hasn’t been good away from Lincoln, going just 2-6 in true road games this season.

Let’s see if a return to the Kohl Center helps a Badgers team that played with a lot more effort on both ends of the court for most of the MSU game last Friday night. If so, this could be a big one for UW.

Free Throws, Free Throws, Free Throws

The last meeting between these two teams was really decided at the free throw line. Sure you could throw out three-point shooting as a reason, but Wisconsin simply couldn’t keep Nebraska off the free throw line.

NU was a whopping 21 of 28 from the charity stripe in its home win. As much as the Badgers fought in that game, it didn’t matter because ever basket was countered by more points at the other end of the court.

In fact, the Badgers put one of the Big Ten’s best free throw shooting teams at the line way too much. Nebraska sits fifth in the league, shooting 74 percent in B1G contests. The shame is that Wisconsin never bothered to match the banging and get to the free throw line themselves, going just 4-10 from the free throw line in that game.

It’s a shame because Wisconsin actually ranks third in the Big Ten, shooting 75.5 percent from the line in conference games.

Limiting Nebraska’s time at the line won’t be easy, because Tim Miles’ bunch love to slash and dish and the Badgers love to over-commit and get themselves in trouble against that kind of offense. Wisconsin needs to reverse what happened and live at the line if they want to win this one.

Waiting for Iverson to Take Over

After watching Khalil Iverson explode for 13 points in the win over Illinois and add 17 points in the loss to Iowa, it was clear that his skill set is badly needed right now. With teams hounding Happ, he needs an outlet that is reliable and Iverson appears to be that outlet, capable of getting guys off the dribble and of course going vertical in his game.

Yet, at times he’s still shrinking away from the game too easy after some defensive pressure. What I’ve seen from this team over the past few weeks is that they run the best offensive sets when Iverson is the main point person and Happ and Davison are allowed to best position themselves to be successful off the ball.

Gard still seems adamant that Davison run the point, but I’d love to see Iverson just take the game over. With a Nebraska team that likes to slash and play a bit loose on the other end, this is a game ripe for Iverson to have another double-digit night.

Prediction:

Wisconsin 66, Nebraska 60

Home cooking always seems to warm the soul of the Badgers basketball program, it also seems to make other teams play some of their worst basketball on a season. Look for Happ to not have the pressure of doing everything on him and for that to lead to a monster night for the junior forward.

I’m also thinking we see a big night from Iverson and Pritzl hitting a few key open shots to make sure the Huskers can’t come all the way back in the second half.

As long as UW learned and executes from a bad night on defense in Lincoln last time these two played it should be smooth sailing at home. Then again, nothing comes easy for this team.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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