Having five days off following its 11-point win over Ohio State, Wisconsin should be well rested Wednesday night when it hosts Nebraska in hopes of pushing its winning streak to six. It’s a good thing, too, as Wisconsin will play six games over the last 19 days in February, including three road games against top 10 teams.
Nebraska was able to handle Rutgers on Saturday to snap a three game losing with an emphatic 24-point win. During the Huskers’ mini skid, Nebraska lost by an average of 11 points, including twice to a pair of top 25 teams. To make things worse, Nebraska’s second leading scorer, Shavon Shields (15.7 ppg), left the court on a stretcher and was hospitalized overnight following a hard fall to the court. His status is presently unknown as he goes through the concussion protocol.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (14-9, 6-4 Big Ten) in order to pick up a win against Nebraska (13-11, 5-6) in the teams’ only regular season matchup.
Lay up: Can Wisconsin generate post touches on offense?
After registering a Big Ten season-high 36 points in the paint against Indiana, the Badgers have not been able to generate the same kind of production around the rim. Over the last two games Wisconsin has averaged only 23 points in the paint. In 10 Big Ten games, Wisconsin has only scored over 30 points in the paint twice and are averaging just 25.2 points.
What’s not taken into account is the Badgers have been able to generate points from the free throw line, thanks to touching the post and attacking the rim. Over the last five games, Wisconsin has scored 126 points in the paint and 106 points from the free throw line. Wisconsin will have a chance of drawing fouls against the interior of Nebraska’s defense, as the Huskers average 18.9 fouls in conference play and 21.7 fouls overall.
At first glance Nebraska appears to present a tough interior challenge. But while the Huskers’ opponents are averaging just 26.7 points in conference play, Nebraska has allowed 32 points in the paint over the last three games, a stark contrast to the 22.3 points it was giving up in a previous six game Big Ten stretch.
Post touches are critical to the success of Wisconsin’s offense, and the Badgers look like they’ll have a favorable matchup against a Huskers frontcourt that doesn’t start a player taller than 6-7. Not only could that led to points at the rim, it could lead to kick outs to open shooters on the perimeter. That was the exact recipe for success against Ohio State last Thursday, as the Badgers made a season-high 13 3-pointers.
If Wisconsin’s frontcourt can be aggressive throughout the game, either generating points in the lane, drawing fouls or creating second chance opportunities against a defense that allows 9.2 offensive rebounds in Big Ten play, the Badgers will open up options that should lead to high-percentage scoring chances.
Mid-Range Jumper: Protecting the basketball
After committing only six turnovers in the one-point win against Michigan State Jan.17 (the start of UW’s current winning streak), the Badgers have committed double-digit turnovers over the last four games. In that span Wisconsin has committed a combined 50 turnovers (12.5 turnovers a game).
Strangely enough, the turnovers really haven’t hurt Wisconsin’s offense. The Badgers are shooting 46.7 percent over the last four games, including a 52.1 percent night against Indiana. Ironically, UW committed a conference-high 16 turnovers that night.
Nebraska is tied for third in the Big Ten by forcing 13.3 turnovers a game and have been able to consistently find ways of capitalizing and generating points off of miscues. The Huskers are averaging 14.9 points off turnovers, which includes three games of scoring at least 20 points and scoring no fewer than nine in conference play.
Wisconsin is averaged 11.3 turnovers a game, resulting in opponents scoring 12.1 points off miscues. And with the Badgers turning the ball over at a higher rate than normal, teams have scored 14.2 points off the turnovers. Examine the numbers even closer and the Badgers gave up 21 points to Indiana and 19 points to Ohio State.
One of the main reasons why Nebraska generates extra possessions if the Huskers rank first in the Big Ten with 7.5 steals per game. For comparisons Indiana ranks second in this category (7.3 steals per game) and the Hoosiers registered 15 steals in their two meetings with Wisconsin.
Wisconsin will have to be cognizant of Glynn Watson Jr. (a steal in nine straight games) and Tai Webster (12 steals over the last five games) throughout the night.
3-Pointer: Containing Nebraska’s offense without Shields
Nebraska and Illinois are the only two Big Ten teams with two individuals that ranks in the top 10 in scoring. Andrew White ranks fifth at 17.2 points per game and Shields ranks 10th with 15.7. Making him even more dangerous, Shields leads Nebraska in assists with 2.9 a game.
It’s the main reason why losing Shields would be a major blow for Nebraska, leaving Bennie Parker (4.7 ppg) as the only senior in the starting lineup around two freshmen and one sophomore. Nebraska does have another player in Webster, who is averaging 10 points per game, but he’s only scored a combined 13 points on 2-for-9 (22.2 percent) shooting over the last two games. Nebraska is seventh in the conference in scoring (74.3 per game) and shooting (45.8 percent) but will be hard pressed to get those numbers without Shields.
If Shields can’t play, Wisconsin will need to pay more attention to White. A transfer from Kansas, White has been a nice addition to the lineup, as he also leads the team in shooting percentage (50.5 percent). Besides trying to limit White’s post touches, Wisconsin has to be aware of his perimeter game, as he makes 42 percent on his 6.3 perimeter attempts per game. He is the only player in the Big Ten to rank in the top 15 in both field goal and 3-point shooting percentage.
Nigel Hayes will likely draw the matchup against White, and he’ll need to deliver the same kind of physical defense that he has brought all season. Having registered 27 steals this season, Hayes has done a good job of forcing his man to pick up his dribble or finding a way to poke the ball free. Having registered a steal in 13 straight games, Hayes has registered a combined 22 steals over that period.
Although Hayes has taken advantage of some inexperienced players, White has been stingy with the ball, committing only 1.7 turnovers a game and a total of 14 in conference play (four coming against Indiana). If UW doesn’t have to worry about Sheilds, Wisconsin can easily throw more bodies at White, like Ethan Happ (team-high 34 steals) or Brown to help cut off passing lanes to limit Nebraska’s interior offense.