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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 top Xavier in Gavitt Tipoff Games

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A trio of big nights from Ethan Happ, D’Mitrick Trice and Brad Davison helped the Wisconsin Badgers avenge last season’s defeat in the Gavitt Tipoff Games, defeating Xavier 77-68 on Tuesday night. 

The trio combined for 71of Wisconsin’s 77 points in the victory, as the Badgers improved to 2-0 on the young season. 

Senior All-American Ethan Happ continued his history-making start to the season, pouring in 30 points while making a career high 15 field goals. 

He had a double double, adding 13 rebounds and also 5 assists in the win. 

Trice, who had a career high 21 points in the win over Coppin State followed that up by making a new career high with 22 points, including 5-5 from beyond the arc. 

Sophomore guard Brad Davison also got in to the act, adding 19 points in the win. The final three of those points came on a late step-up triple with the shot clock running down and the Badgers lead at just 69-60 with just over a minute to play. 

Following the big make, Davison gave Xavier a piece of their own medicine with a JP Macuria-like chomp. 

Xavier made a late run after that chomp, but Trice and Kobe King hit three late free throws to put the icing on the victory. 

Davison helped pick up the Badgers in the second half as they erased any and all momentum Xavier had thanks to a 12-4 run to end the first half. 

The hosts used that run to make it a 30-28 game at the half, but UW went on a 7-0 run early in the second half and made it 39-30. The Musketeers never really got within serious striking distance after that, largely due to Davison’s production being added to what Happ and Trice did. 

Xavier would test the Badgers mettle a few times in this game, but ultimately its inability to hit from the perimeter cost the hosts. The Musketeers shot just 21percent (5-24) from beyond the three-point line in the loss. 

Naji Marshall led the Musketeers in scoring with 24 points on 10-15 field goals. 

Wisconsin raced out to a 10-2 lead inside the first four minutes of the game. It was led by 4 points from Happ and back-to-back triples from Trice. 

Xavier ended that run with a pair of baskets of its own to bring it to 10-7 with 15:42 to play in the first half. 

It would be the only offensive firepower the Musketeers would have until late in the first half. Xavier went 3:20 without a single basket at one point and one field goal in 6:27 for the Musketeers. 

The Badgers weren’t much better from the field either and it led to Xavier being able to slowly chip away at Wisconsin’s lead.

Wisconsin ended the half shooting just 39 percent from the field, but were 4 of 8 from beyond the arc to help them take a 30-28 advantage in to the locker room. 

Trice led the way with 3 of 3 from beyond the arc for 11 points. Happ led all Badgers with 12 points on 6-12 shooting himself.  

Xavier would end the half shooting 12 of 31 from the field, including just 3 of 14 from three-point range. 

It felt a lot like deja vu to start the second half, as the Badgers used a quick start to control the game. This time it was a 16-2 run that made it 48-32 Badgers with just over 14 minutes to play. 

Xavier fought back, but ultimately it couldn’t find a way to win the battle on the boards (40-32) or hit the big buckets to end Wisconsin runs to really get back in the game. 

Despite the close moments late in both halves, the game was tied just one time and the lead never went out of the Badgers favor. Wisconsin led for all but 1:27 and still managed to let the Musketeers hang around late. 

A lot of it had to do with free throw shooting, as Happ struggled to a 0 of 4 night from the free throw line and the team was just 6 of 13. Yet, they stepped up when it really mattered, knocking down three of the last four to ice Xavier out of the game. 

Up next is a contest with Houston Baptist on Nov. 17. Tipoff is scheduled for 7pm CT on BTN. 

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Badgers Basketball

Badgers Basketball Preview: Xavier edition

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After a season-opening trouncing of Coppin State, the Wisconsin Badgers will take the court a week later. The competition will be much stiffer this time around. 

That’s because it’ll be the Gavitt Games and a road trip to Xavier on the docket. It’s also because these two teams had one heck of a matchup last year. 

Xavier came in as the No. 15 team in the nation and nearly were upset by a Badgers squad trying to find itself. The game ended with a Musketeers 80-70 victory, but it appeared to be a step in the right direction for a young Badgers squad. 

Even if that wasn’t what happened for the Badgers after that game, this is a bellwether matchup once again.  That’s because the roles will be reversed this season, as Wisconsin returns a ton of its production from last season and Xavier are the ones trying to figure themselves out. 

Tip is scheduled for 5:30pm CT and can be seen on FS1. 

Let’s look inside the matchup. 

Wisconsin Badgers

Record: 1-0 (0-0 B1G)
Head Coach: Greg Gard, 3rd full season at UW (58-36 overall, 31-23 B1G)
Notable: Last time out the Badgers got a triple double from center Ethan Happ. It was just the second one in program history. The Badgers also got a career high 21 points from D’Mitrick Trice in his return from a season-ending injury suffered 10 games in to last season.

Probable Starters (stats): 

G – D’Mitrick Trice – 21 ppg, 4 rpg, 1 apg
G – Brad Davison – 9 ppg, 5 rpg, 0 apg
F – Khalil Iverson – 7 ppg, 5rpg, 1 apg
F – Nate Reuvers – 8 ppg, 4 rpg, 1 apg
C – Ethan Happ – 10 ppg, 11 rpg, 12 apg

Xavier Musketeers 

Record: 2-0 (0-0 Big East)
Head Coach: Travis Steele, 1st year at Xavier and overall
Notable: Last time out, Xavier was a 6-point winner over Evansville, as they struggle with the transition away from Chris Mack and a group of solid seniors from last season’s team that beat the Badgers by 10 points. 

Probable Starters (stats): 

G – Paul Scruggs, So. — 14.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 4.5 apg
G – Kyle Castin, Sr. — 7.5 ppg, 7 rpg, 0.5 apg
F – Naji Marshall, So. — 9.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 5.5 apg
F – Tyrique Jones, Jr. — 18 ppg, 13 rpg, 1.5 apg
F – Ryan Welage, Sr. — 14.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.5 apg

Matchup to Watch: The Frontcourt

Xavier has been really good at eliminating opponents scoring up front. With an athletic group of players up front, opposing teams are having trouble scoring inside. 

Now, of course, teams are having a field day scoring from outside. How else do you describe a team that allows opponents to score 77 points per game so far this season? 

Teams are shooting just 40 percent from the field overall, but are 26 o 60 (.433) from beyond the arc. Wisconsin was on fire from outside for most of the contest against Coppin State, but can that outside shooting be trusted to be consistent? 

It’ll be a big help if Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson are lighting it up inside the paint again. Happ is easily the toughest opponent Xavier has seen on the inside and Xavier’s length and athleticism are trouble for Happ as well. 

Last season, Happ had 21 points, but was just 7 of 13 from the field and added seven points from the free throw line. If he can get Xavier in trouble on the foul front, it will be a huge help again. 

But, given the changes to the Xavier frontcourt group going in to this season, this is a matchup that will look a lot different. 

Prediction:

Wisconsin 70, Xavier 65

While this game is on the road and that can be a huge factor, what I saw from the inside-out game of the Badgers last time out is enough to make me believe this is a win for the good guys. 

Additionally, Xavier has seen its share of struggles early on this season and nearly lost to Evansville, a middling Missouri Valley squad at best. Look for the experience of the Badgers to matter and for them to win this one at the free throw line of all places. 

Season Prediction Record: 1-0

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Badgers Basketball

Happ, Trice lead Badgers to easy win over Coppin State

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The return of redshirt sophomore D’Mitrick Trice was one to remember.

After missing all but 10 games last season, Trice poured in a career high 21 points in his return to the team, leading the Badgers to an 85-63 win over the Coppin State Eagles.

Trice got there thanks to 5 of 9 shooting from deep and 7-13 overall from the field. He had 17 of those 21 points in the first half alone, and UW needed those points. 

Three straight makes from deep for Trice with the Badgers trailing by five points gave the team the kick start they needed. It was the start of a 20-2 run that blew the game open from an 11-6 deficit to a large Badgers lead that never got close again.

However, he wasn’t the only headline of the night for the Badgers. 

Star senior center Ethan Happ showed just how versatile he can be with a season-opening triple double. He had 10 points on just 3-7 shooting, but hit all four of his free throws and added 11 rebounds and 12 assists on the night. 

No other Badgers player had more than one assist. 

Happ and Trice were joined in double digits scoring by senior guard Brevin Prtizl who had 16 points on 4 of 7 shooting from beyond the arc. 

As a team, the Badgers shot just 38.7 percent from deep on the night, but happened as the team cooled off late in the game as the bench got cleared out. UW shot 52.9 percent (9 of 17) from the three-point line in the first half alone.

Coppin State was led by a pair of double digit scores in Lamar Morgan (15) and Taqwain Drummond (11), but they were never really in the game after the first three minutes of action. 

Wisconsin’s other returning player from injury, redshirt freshman Kobe King, had a bit more of a struggle off the bench. He had 8 points on 3 of 6 shooting from the field, but missed on both of his deep attempts. he did add four rebounds, good for third on the team. 

Perhaps the biggest shock came from the free throw line, as Wisconsin shot an impressive 88.5 precent (23 of 26) on the night. 

Wisconsin also was able to get its big lead thanks to much better play on the defensive end of the floor. UW held Coppin State to just 35.6 percent shooting on the night and just 11 of 29 from beyond the arc. 

Up next for Wisconsin is next Tuesday as they go to Cincinnati to take on the Xavier Muskateers in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Tip is scheduled for 5:30pm CT and will air on FS1. 

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Badgers Basketball

Badgers Basketball Preview: Coppin State edition

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It’s here, Wisconsin Badgers basketball is back and looking to start a new era of NCAA tournament appearances. 

Up first is a matchup with the Coppin State Eagles, a team from one of the worst conferences in D1 basketball. Will it be a nice way to ease in to the season or will the visitors put the Badgers to the test in a contrast of styles? 

Let’s dig in to the matchup. 

Wisconsin Badgers

2017-18 Record: 15-18 (7-11 B1G)
Head Coach: Greg Gard, 3rd full season at UW (57-36 overall, 31-23 B1G)
Notable: Wisconsin will have 94.7 percent of its scoring from last season back and will see two young players return to the lineup after missing most of the 2017-18 season due to injury in guards D’Mitrick Trice and Kobe King. 

Probable Starters (2017-18 stats): 

G – D’Mitrick Trice – 9.4 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.3 apg
G – Brad Davison – 12.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.5 apg
F – Khalil Iverson – 8.6 ppg, 5.1rpg, 1.8 apg
F – Nate Reuvers – 5.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.8 apg
C – Ethan Happ – 17.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.7 apg

Coppin State Eagles

2017-18 Record: 5-27 (5-11 MEAC)
Head Coach: Juan Dixon, 2nd season (5-27, 5-11 MEAC)
Notable: Guard Dejuan Clayton missed almost all of the 2017-18 season due to injury after being selected to the MEAC All-Rookie team in 2016-17. He averaged 12.4 points and 3.1 assists per game in his debut season and could be a huge X-factor for this team. 

Probable Starters (2017-18 stats): 

G – Dejuan Clayton (So.) – 12.4 ppg, 3.1 apg (2016-17 due to injury)
G – Lucian Brownlee (Sr.) – 4.9 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 0.5 apg
F – Cedric Council (Sr.) – 5.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 0.7 apg
F – Lamar Morgan (Sr.) – 12.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 0.4 apg
F – Chad Andrews-Fulton – 6.5ppg, 4.9 rpg, 0.8 apg

Matchup to Watch: Chad Andrews-Fulton vs. Ethan Happ

The Eagles didn’t win a lot of games last season, but when they did it had a lot to do with Chad Andrews-Fulton and his play. In the five wins the Eagles had he averaged 15 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. 

Ethan Happ is more than accustomed to battling high-level scorers down low and usually good at winning those battles. Happ has also been one of the most effective big men in college basketball for the past two years. Expect Happ to be able to frustrate Andrews-Fulton on defense and take him down low on the block. 

As long as Happ wins this battle in the first half this should be an easy win overall for Wisconsin. If not, the Badgers may make this closer than expected for far too long. 

Prediction: 

Wisconsin 84, Coppin State 55

This is your typical opener against a really bad mid-major program. Yes, Juan Dixon played at a high level at Maryland, but he hasn’t shown the ability to coach a team to success ever. That includes his lone stint as a women’s basketball coach in which his University of the District of Columbia team won just six games. 

Wisconsin has experience and athletic advantages it won’t have every game this season. Look for this to be an easy win for the Badgers and one in which they’ll get some rotational questions figured out. 

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