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The Starting 5: Wisconsin vs. Nebraska basketball preview

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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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Badgers Basketball

Badgers late comeback falls short against Terps

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Live by the three, die by the three.

The good news for the Wisconsin Badgers was that they lived and thrived on the three-pointer during a crazy second half comeback. The bad news, they had a 21-point deficit to overcome.

In the end, the Terps hung on for a 64-60 win after squandering that lead and allowing a late one-point lead to the visiting Badgers.

Wisconsin started the game 0-10 from beyond the arc. After that they went 11-20 in a second half outburst.

However, a pair of missed three-pointers in the final minutes gave Maryland the opening it needed to re-take the lead.

Wisconsin’s comeback was guided by sophomore forward Nate Reuvers, who put up all of his team-high 18 points in the second half. He was 4 of 7 from beyond the arc and 7 of 11 from the field in the half.

Reuvers was the only Badgers player in double figures in the second half, but was one of four players in double figures on the night.

D’Mitrik Trice (13), Brad Davison (11) and Ethan Happ (10) also joined him in double figures.

All of that almost didn’t matter thanks to UW’s horrible start from beyond the arc and an inability to hit from anywhere else in the first half.

Much of that was triggered by Bruno Fernando — the Badgers couldn’t figure him out on either end of the court early on and it cost them mightily in the first half.

His energy on both ends of the court as well as his 4 points, 2 blocks and 2 rebounds in the first 10 minutes of the game helped the Terps pull out to a 22-10 lead and it was seemingly all over after that.

Wisconsin was so out of sorts, it took over 7 minutes of the game for any points to come on the board as well. By that point, the Badgers were down 24-12 with just 7:13 to play in the first half.

The lid didn’t come off the rim for the Badgers following the make either, as UW went just 2-12 from the field during its bigger scoring issues of the half.

However, a cooled off Terps got hot between UW’s two made field goals and the lead went form 24-12 to 33-15 with 3:20 to play in the half.

Maryland used a hot start from beyond the arc to push that lead as well, shooting 5 of 10 from the three-point line in the first half.

Wisconsin trailed by as many as 21 points following a 5-0 run by the Terps to start the second half.

But, that is when everything flipped.

UW chipped away at the lead, knocking the lead down to 15 points with just over 14 minutes left and to single digits with 7:25 to go in the game.

Four three-pointers in the next five minutes helped the Badgers finish off the comeback. The final of those came from Davison, who gave UW a 60-59 lead with 2:01 to play in the game.

The two teams failed to convert on good looks on either end over the next minute plus, but it was Terps star Anthony Cowan who broke the scoreless streak.

His three-pointer with 44.9 seconds to play gave Maryland a 62-60 lead and UW couldn’t find a way back as it looked to go back to the three-pointer well.

Wisconsin was kept in the game after a missed free throw from the Terps with 33 seconds left. However, Reuvers missed a wide open look in the final seconds and Maryland added another free throw for the final scoreline.

The Badgers will be looking to put an end to a two-game losing streak as it takes on undefeated Michigan on Saturday at the Kohl Center. Tip is scheduled for 11am CT on ESPN.

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Badgers Basketball Preview: 5 things to know vs. Maryland

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Since the return to Big Ten play, life hasn’t been easy for the Wisconsin Badgers. They currently sit with a 1-2 record in the month of January and the schedule doesn’t get any more kind.

Up next on the docket is a date with the Maryland Terrapins in College Park, Md. and it will be a crucial test for a Badgers team trying to show they can challenge at the top of the conference.

Maryland comes in 5-1 in Big Ten play, while the Badgers are 3-2 overall in league play. A win would give UW a chance to stay at the top of the conference pecking order.

This matchup is also part of a brutal two-game road trip that will also feature a visit to Ann Arbor to take on the undefeated Michigan Wolverines.

But, today’s focus is on the next opponent, the Terps. Maryland and Wisconsin will tip off at 7:30pm CT on FS1. But, before that let’s take a look at 5 things you should know about this matchup.

5: Maryland has a five-game win streak going

Not only are the Terps 5-1 in Big Ten play, they are also in the midst of a five-game win streak overall.

That streak includes wins over then top 25 teams Nebraska and Indiana, as well as road wins at pesky Rutgers and Minnesota. Maryland also had a non-conference win over Radford to complete the five-game win streak.

The average margin of victory during this streak has been 9.6 points per game too. So, the Badgers are coming up against one of the hottest opponents they have played so far this season.

However, the Badgers are also red hot on the road, winning their last five Big Ten road games heading in to this contest.

4: UW is averaging 4.0 blocks per game

Wisconsin hasn’t been known as a great protector of the rim as a team, ranking just 9th in the conference in blocks. But, it’s 4.0 blocks per game is better than opponents on the season.

Badgers opponents are averaging just 3.2 blocks per game against them, which will get a big test tonight as Maryland ranks second in the conference with 5.6 blocks per game.

Additionally, both Maryland (3.3) and Wisconsin (3.2) have dropped off a bit in league play when it comes to blocked shots.

3: Wisconsin has won 3 of last 4 against the Terps

Few top teams in the Big Ten have been as kind to the Badgers as Maryland has over the last few years. Yes, the record stands at 3-3 in the series since the Terps joined the Big Ten, but UW has those three of four to tie the series up.

Last time these two teams met at the Xfinity Center was a 68-65 win for the Terps last February for the lone Terps win in the last four games.

Wisconsin also owns the all-time series between these two at 8-5.

2: Wisconsin is 2nd in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting

One of the biggest storylines of the 2018-19 season for Wisconsin has been the vast improvement in three-point shooting. It’s given UW a chance to defeat opponents when they over play Ethan Happ down low.

It seems hard to believe given the shooting from beyond the arc as of late, but on the season, UW is still one of the most lethal teams in the country when it comes to three-point shooting.

Wisconsin is hitting at a 39.4 percent clip this season after being 11th in the conference last year at 33.5 percent.

1: Ethan Happ leads the country in double double’s this season

Wisconsin’s big man has been a versatile force and despite everyone knowing he’s their main focal point on offense, he’s been able to lead the country in double doubles with 11 on the year.

However, Happ has struggled to get to the double double mark in Big Ten play so far. He’s got just one double double in his first five league contests, coming in the last outing against Purdue where he had 31 points and 13 rebounds in the loss.

Happ also has scored in double figures in every one of UW’s games this season.

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Purdue outlasts Badgers in OT thriller

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Carsen Edwards vs. Ethan Happ lived up to advanced billing, but in the end it was Edwards and his Purdue Boilermakers that came away with an 84-80 overtime win.

Edwards had 36 points, the final two of which came with eight seconds left to give Purdue the final margin of victory. He was just 10 of 26 from the field and 6 of 14 from beyond the arc.

Ryan Cline (14) and Nojel Eastern (10) chipped in double digit scoring efforts for Purdue.

Wisconsin countered with Happ, who had 31 points on 14 of 17 shooting from the field. He added 13 rebounds and six assists, but his eight turnovers were killer.

He got help from D’Mitrik Trice (17) and Brad Davison (13), but it just wasn’t enough to overcome late mistakes and poor execution of the offense down the stretch.

It was the first road win of the season for Purdue and Wisconsin’s second home loss in Big Ten play.

It took all of Happ’s effort to keep the Badgers in the game during the first half. Well that and Purdue going ice cold in the final five minutes of the half to get UW from an 11-point deficit to a 32-28 lead with 2:41 to play in the half.

Purdue led 27-16 with 8:15 to play on a Matt Haarms lay-in, but the Badgers offense woke up shortly after that.

A 16-1 run in just over five minutes gave the Badgers a 32-28 lead with 2:39 to play in the half. Purdue ended it with a quick 4-0 run, but Happ would have the answer and keep UW in front late in the half.

Instead of a large lead, the Boilermakers went in to the half up just one at 37-36.

The lead would change hands only twice, but neither side would lead by more than seven points in the second half.

Purdue was up 67-60 with 4:49 to play in the game on a Ryan Cline three-pointer.

Wisconsin fought back with a quick 7-0 run of its own and tied the game up with just 2:32 to play.

The two teams would keep it close to the bitter end of the second half. However, it appeared Edwards had killed any Badgers hopes with a deep three-pointer to go up 72-68 with 45 seconds to play.

Trice hit right back though, knocking down a triple with 22 seconds to play. It wasn’t his last trick of the game though, as he would nail a step-back three-pointer with 15 seconds to go to tie it up at 74-74.

Edwards would give UW hope at the end thanks to an ill-advised shot that missed everything and gave the Badgers the ball with 3.8 seconds to play. However, the inbounds saw no chance for a quality look at the basket and overtime was necessary.

Wisconsin fought to a 79-77 lead on a Happ basket with 2:03 to play in overtime. It capped a 4-0 run from the Badgers and it appeared things would be over at that point.

Instead, Purdue fought back on both ends of the court and the Boilermakers were able go on a 7-1 run of free throws to ice the game away over the final 1:41 of the overtime period.

Wisconsin will look to get back to winning when they go to Maryland on Monday. Tip is scheduled for 7:30pm CT on FS1.

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Badgers Basketball

Nate Reuvers becoming force for Badgers basketball

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The reality of life without Ethan Happ is inching closer and closer for the Wisconsin Badgers basketball program. How will the Badgers replace a multi-time All-American after the 2018-19 season is over?

We don’t know if anyone will totally be able to step in to those big shoes, but as Nate Reuvers sophomore season reaches the halfway point, it is becoming clear his game may be able to help fill what will be missed.

On Sunday against Penn State, Reuvers was a vital force on both ends of the court. He was one of just three players in double figures for the Badgers, putting up 11 points, and he had five blocked shots in the 71-52 victory.

Even after the loss to the Gophers earlier in the week, Reuvers performance was pointed to as one of the silver linings by head coach Greg Gard.

“I like what he can do and potentially what he can bring, specifically in the paint,” Gard said. “I think he’s got a chance to be a pretty good consistent player inside.”

“I thought he was much more physical in the paint. That’s what I think Nate of the future will continue to look like as he gets more opportunities there.”

He has been getting those opportunities and has been making the most of them. Over the last seven games, Reuvers has five double digit scoring games and has been shooting an impressive 52 percent from the field.

He’s also been able to showcase a very different game than Happ employes. Reuvers can stretch a front court with his three-point shooting ability and he can hit a jumper while moving inside the three-point line.

However, it has been his improved work down low that has gotten the most attention as of late. It’s a good thing, because in the last seven games, Reuvers is just 6 of 21 from beyond the arc.

While Happ can create with his ability to dribble and with his variety of post moves, Reuvers shooting prowess had caused teams nightmares in recent weeks as well.

It’s also clear that his teammates are trusting his game more as well. He has attempted at least six shots in each of the last seven games. Prior to that, Reuvers had just three games in which he attempted six or more shots.

He also had just two games in double figures over those first eight games, coming against Houston Baptist and Oklahoma.

After being thrown in the fire as a true freshman, Reuvers has shown the kind of growth you would have hoped to have seen.

With upcoming games against Purdue, Maryland and Michigan, his emergence couldn’t have come at a better time either. It will also be the best test of his recent success and if he can begin to stand tall on both ends of the court against better overall competition, Wisconsin may have found the second post option they have been looking for for the better part of two years now.

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