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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 dropped by Ducks for 1st time in NCAA tourney

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The Wisconsin Badgers return to the NCAA tournament was not a happy one, as they got dumped 72-54 by the No. 12 seed Oregon Ducks on Friday afternoon.

The loss ends the Badgers season earlier than they have seen since an eerily familiar loss to Ole Miss in the first round of the 2013 tournament.

After 20 minutes it was all-square at 25-25, but then the second half happened and Oregon pulled away with 47 points to their name and some quality work on the defensive end of the court.

Oregon freshman guard Payton Pritchard led much of that second half outburst and he ended up with 19 points in the win. The Ducks also got double digit scoring from Louis King (17) and Paul White (14).

Wisconsin was led senior duo Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson, who each had 12 points. No other Badgers player reached double figures.

The game remained close for the first 30 minutes, but that’s where the two teams diverged. Oregon began to be more consistent on offense and suffocated the Badgers on the other end of the court.

UW was doomed largely by an inability to hit from the perimeter, going just 6-of-30 from beyond the arc in the game and shooting just 33.3 percent from the field.

Ironically, Wisconsin cut the Ducks lead to just five points at 50-45 with 7:27 left to play thanks to a D’Mitrick Trice triple.

But, the Badgers went on a nearly three-minute scoring drought late in the game and allowed Oregon to control the game. By the time Happ stopped the bleeding, the Ducks led 59-49 with 3:56 to play.

Wisconsin would make two buckets the rest of the way — both in the final minute when the game was well out of reach.

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Badgers Basketball

5 things to know about Badgers vs. Oregon in NCAA tournament

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When the Wisconsin Badgers saw their name back up in the NCAA tournament bracket after a one-year absence there was much joy.

However, for the fan base there was also much groaning thanks to yet another matchup with the Oregon Ducks in the NCAA tournament. It’s also a team that most fans will know as a dangerous one, even if they are a No. 12 seed.

Oregon is arguably the hottest team in tournament, riding an eight-game win streak. They’ve outscored opponents 72.0 to 54.2 points per game and holding opponents to 34.6 percent shooting from the field and 23.1 percent from beyond the arc.

All of that tells us just how serious the Badgers have to take this matchup with the Pac-12 champions.

So, ahead of Friday’s matchup with the Ducks at 3:30pm CT, let’s look at the 5 things we need to know about this matchup.

5: Wisconsin has allowed just 5 teams to score 70-plus points in a game this season

There’s a reason why the Badgers are ranked 3rd in the country in Adjusted Defense by KenPom.com and thats’ because they don’t let teams score points in droves.

To that point, the Badgers have allowed opponents to score 70 or more points against them in just 5 of 33 games played so far this season.

Furthermore, just two teams this season have scored 80 points or more, with losses in both of those games (84-80 OT to Purdue & 83-76 to Western Kentucky). So, keeping the Ducks offense from getting going is going to be vital.

4: Wisconsin has reached the Sweet 16 in 4 of last 5 seasons

Birth, death, taxes…and the Wisconsin Badgers making the Sweet 16? It’s been almost automatic as of late for UW, who have made it to the second weekend of the tournament in 4 of the last 5 seasons.

The Badgers have also done it in 6 of the last 8 years.

Impressive, right? But did you know that no other team in the country has matched or topped that number? It’s true…it’s damn true.

Additionally, Oregon’s resurgence has come largely thanks to a switch to a “big” lineup with 4 players 6-9 or taller in the starting lineup.

3: Both teams have 3 starters averaging double figures

Both Wisconsin and Oregon will feature three starters each that are averaging double figures this season. Leading all six of those players is Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ (17.5). He’s joined by Brad Davison and D’Mitrick Trice — both of whom are averaging 10.7 points per game.

Oregon is led by freshman guard Louis King (13.1) and is joined by fellow guard Payton Pritchard (12.7) and forward Paul White (10.6).

What this game could come down to is how the rest of the group shows up. UW has been able to count on another big man in Nate Reuvers plenty throughout the season and Khalil Iverson has been a huge presence as of late. Will that continue after nearly a week off?

2: Pritchard scored 20 or more points twice in the Pac-12 tournament

If you need a reason for why the Oregon Ducks are even in the tournament, look no further than the hot hand of Payton Pritchard. In three games in the Pac-12 tournament, Pritchard put up 20 points twice and in the third game he hit for 18 points.

That’s an average of 19.3 points per game and a scary matchup for the Badgers efficient defense to have to deal with.

On the flip side of that hot hand, it does seem as if 20 points is his ceiling on the scoring front. Pritchard has managed to score more than 20 points just once this season, and that happened in the season opener against Portland State in which he put up 22 points in a large win.

1: Ethan Happ is the No. 1 player in the KenPom.com player ratings

In an age of stretch forwards and 7-footers with jump shots galore, Happ is a throwback player who rarely shoots from outside of three feet. But, that hasn’t stopped him from being one of the most dominant players in the country. So much so that Ken Pomeroy has him ranked as the No. 1 player in the country.

Not only is Happ averaging 17.5 points, but he is also averaging 10.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. Should he finish the season averaging 16 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists per game, he would be just the second player in 20 years to accomplish that.

Oh, and Happ is 1 of 6 players in NCAA history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 boards and 400 assists, joining Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Danny Ferry, Stacey Augmon and John Konchar.

Enjoy his final games in a Badgers uniform.

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Badgers Basketball

Badgers get Oregon again in NCAA tournament

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After bowing out in the Big Ten tournament semi-final on Saturday afternoon, everyone was waiting to find out where the Wisconsin Badgers would be heading in the NCAA tournament.

It didn’t take long to get that answer, as the Badgers were given a No. 5 seed in the South region, which was the second region to be revealed in the selection show.

Their opponent? Oregon. AGAIN.

The destination? Go West young man.

Wisconsin will meet the Ducks in San Jose, Calif. on Friday and the winner will get the winner of Kansas State vs. UC-Irvine in the next round on Sunday.

This will be the third matchup between the two teams in the last five years of the NCAA tournament.

Wisconsin has won both previous matchups between these two teams, topping the Ducks 85-77 in a second round matchup. UW would do it all over again the next year, besting the Ducks 72-65 in another second round matchup.

Wisconsin is in the top half of the South region bracket and that could set up another very familiar matchup, as the Virginia Cavaliers are the No. 1 seed in the region.

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Badgers Basketball

5 Things to know about Badgers vs. Nebraska in Big Ten tournament

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The season of redemption has reached the postseason and unlike last year, the Wisconsin Badgers of this season are firmly in the NCAA tournament. There’s no need to win the Big Ten title to get to the dance.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Badgers won’t want to showcase themselves by winning the whole tournament either.

Wisconsin will step on to the United Center court for the first time in the Big Ten tournament on Friday afternoon. Across from them will be a red-hot Nebraska Cornhuskers team, who have won twice — including an upset of No. 5 seed Maryland — to get here.

So, what do we need to know about this matchup and the Badgers in the Big Ten tourney in general? Let’s get it going.

5: Nebraska and the 55-point mark are vital to this game

Wisconsin is one of the best defensive teams in the country this year, ranking 4th in defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com. That doesn’t bode well for the Nebraska Cornhuskers though, because they’ve only managed to top 55 points in 7 of the 13 previous matchups since joining the Big Ten.

All four of the Badgers losses to Nebraska since they joined the league have come with Nebraska scoring more than 55 points (58 being their lowest in a win over UW). The Huskers are averaging a meager 57.9 points per game against UW overall since joining the B1G.

The Badgers have also held Nebraska to 55 points or less in four of the nine wins in the series since becoming league foes.

4: The Badgers are the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament

Let’s just say this program is coming back home when it comes to postseason play, shall we? After all, the Badgers have been amongst the top 4 seeds in the conference tournament in 16 of the last 18 years.

By earning those seeds, one would think the Badgers have a history of success in the tournament or something? Is that true? Let’s find out together.

3: Wisconsin has won 3 Big Ten tournament titles.

That may not seem like a lot, but for those of us who are in our 30’s and can still remember the days without a Big Ten postseason tournament that number is a lot. UW won tournament titles in 2004, 2008 and 2015. So, math tells us they are likely due for another banner to be risen in to the rafters at the Kohl Center.

Wisconsin has not been a slouch in the tournament overall either, having played seven more times in the title game and owning a .571 record in the history of the tourney.

2: Happ’s continued run at history

We all know that Ethan Happ is historically good. But, did you know that Happ is on pace to be just the 2nd player in the last 20 years in all of D1 basketball to average 16 ppg, 10 rpg & 4 apg.

Right now, Happ is averaging 17.8 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game — so he’s well on his way to achieving that mark.

As for the matchup with Nebraska, Happ is averaging 14.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 2.6 apg in five games against them. If he’s going to stay on track for his record-breaking season and career, he’ll likely have to duplicate if not exceed most of those numbers.

1: The Badgers own the Big Ten’s best March winning percentage in last 6 seasons

Winning titles only happens by winning games and the Badgers have a very long history of doing that in March. So much so that its 29-9 (7.63) mark is the best amongst all Big Ten teams during games played in the month of March.

When you say Wisconsin in March, you said it all.

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