Suffering its first Big Ten loss of the season to Rutgers, Wisconsin will need to find a way to get back on the right track when they face Nebraska on Thursday. The good news for Wisconsin is they will get center Frank Kaminsky back after he missed Sunday’s loss with a concussion. The bad news is starting point guard Traevon Jackson won’t be available for Wisconsin for 4-6 weeks.
Nebraska (10-6, 2-2) surprising struggled during nonconference play after returning many key pieces – like the above-pictured Terran Petteway - from last year’s NCAA tournament team, but the Huskers have started to turn things around. After dropping its first two Big Ten games against Indiana and Iowa, the Huskers have beat Rutgers and Illinois at home by an average of 13 points.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as they strive for a win against Nebraska as they try to prove they can live without Jackson for the time being.
Lay up: Adjusting to new roles
Losing Jackson in the starting lineup will hurt Wisconsin in a couple of different ways, but Bronson Koenig is more than capable of filling the void as the starting point guard. Koenig is talented enough to be starting in most programs but has relegated to first guard off the bench with two seniors ahead of him.
Prior to Koenig first start against Rutgers he was averaging 19.8 minutes a game. That is certainly going to see a spike now. Koenig is definitely capable of leading this team but the one thing he’ll have to do a better job of is trying to create shots for himself. He did a better job on the offensive end Sunday scoring 12 points - his third game reaching double figures this season.
The biggest strength of Koenig’s game this season is ball security. Koenig has only committed a total of eight turnovers this season and has yet to have a game with multiple turnovers. In a season-high 31 minutes against Rutgers, Koenig had a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Nebraska ranks fifth in the Big Ten in steals, averaging 6.4 steals a game, and Benny Parker leads the team with 1.9 steals a game.
Outside of being aggressive and trying to find his shot on offense, Koenig will also need to try and find a way to get to the free throw line. Jackson was good at finding ways of drawing fouls and score points from the line, as he is fourth on the team with 41 free throw attempts. Koenig is last amongst players who have appeared in a minimum of 15 games with six free throw attempts.
Koenig isn’t the only guard who needs to be ready for an increase in minutes. It is hard to determine how much more playing time Zak Showalter will see, but the Badgers will need a third guard to step up and help relieve some minutes off of Josh Gasser or Koenig. Showalter, who has appeared in 13 games this season, has shown good energy whenever he’s been out on the floor. He has played with an aggressive style both on offense and defense, either trying to get himself to the free throw line or trying to record a steal. Showalter will have to careful that he doesn’t try and do too much on the floor, instead allowing the game to come to him.
Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin limit second chances?
Wisconsin has done well all season of making sure it doesn’t have to consistently play long stretches of defense, as UW has made sure that they are the ones who are coming up with the rebounds. Wisconsin is holding opponents to only 7.1 offensive rebounds a game, a big reason why Wisconsin is outrebounding their opponents by a margin of plus-6.6 rebounds a game.
Nebraska has struggled to generate second chances for their offense this season, currently ranking last in the Big Ten in offensive rebounds a game (8.5 a game) and are averaging an offensive rebound 26.1 percent of the time per possession. To continue that trend, Nigel Hayes or Kaminsky will need do well boxing out Walter Pitchford, who is averaging 4.9 rebounds a game.
The thing with Pitchford is that he’s usually trying to help create space so Shavon Shields, who is tied for fifth in individual rebounds a game (6.9) in the Big Ten, can come in and grab an offensive rebound, as he’s averaging 1.7 a game. The Badgers’ frontcourt will also need to be aware of where David Rivers is on the floor, as he leads the team with 2.2 offensive rebounds a game.
Kaminsky and Hayes have been a very good combination in the frontcourt as the duo are the only two teammates who rank in the top five in conference rebounding. Kaminsky ranks second behind Michigan State’s Branden Dawson with 8.2 rebounds a game, and Hayes is fourth with 7.1 rebounds a game. Kaminsky being cleared to play on Thursday will serve as a huge lift for the frontcourt and will help with the height advantage. Kaminsky should be able to play his regular minutes (30.5 a game) but it will be curious to see if Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan does limit some of his minutes early on
Wisconsin consistently has done well boxing out and not allowing teams to get second-chance opportunities. Giving up only 6.4 points off second chance opportunities this season, Wisconsin has twice held opponents without any points off of their offensive rebounds and didn’t allow an opponent to score double digit off such opportunities until late December. If Wisconsin continues that trend, it will be a big boost against an offense that is only averaging 65.9 points a game this season.
3-pointer: Slowing down Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields
Nebraska’s points, rebounds and assists mainly go through Petteway and Shields. Petteway (18.9 points, 2.8 assists) has been able to reach double digits in scoring every game this year, and Shields (17.1 points, 2.1 assists) has been able to score in double figures 14 of Nebraska’s 16 games, including nine straight.
With Petteway and Shields ranking second and fifth, respectively, in scoring for the Big Ten, it will be a difficult matchup for Josh Gasser and Sam Dekker. Gasser will likely defend the 6-6 Petteway and Dekker will draw the assignment of the 6-7 Shields, although they could switch off at times on defense. It wouldn’t be surprising to see two defenders collapse on Petteway when he gets the ball to try and force him to give it up to one of his teammates.
In the lone matchup with Wisconsin last year, Shields and Petteway each scored 26 points against the Badgers defense. The main key from last year’s game was that Wisconsin couldn’t prevent either from getting to the rim, something they can’t afford to suffer through again.
Winning that key begins with Gasser and what kind of success he can have against Petteway. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem for the usually stingy Gasser, but the senior has gotten into foul trouble since Big Ten play has started, picking up at least three fouls over the first four Big Ten games. If Petteway can force Gasser into foul trouble, that would shorten the bench even more for the Badgers and likely put Koenig and Showalter on the floor. Both are solid defenders but aren’t good matchups against Petteway, which could yield into some easy offensive possession.
Petteway is comfortable driving to the hoop and being able to create space, something Gasser will have to try and disrupt. If Gasser can play tough defense, not allow him any space and force him to take shots from 3-point range, that might be the best-case scenario since Petteway is only making 34.3 percent from three.
Dekker may need a little more help on defense then Gasser will but he is still capable of defending Shields. Dekker needs to be disciplined from start to finish on defense and make sure he doesn’t allow Shields any driving lane. If he gets beat, he’ll need either Hayes or Kaminsky to be their down low trying to protect the paint. Help defense and good communication by Wisconsin will be important as they try and make sure neither Petteway or Shields can make a difference for Nebraska.