Nebraska may have suffered a few surprising losses this season, but the Huskers have also pulled off a few upsets during Big Ten play, too. After going 6-6 in nonconference play, Nebraska started Big Ten play with consecutive road wins against Indiana and Maryland. The Huskers also broke a five-game losing streak by beating Purdue by three points at home, showing they are capable of beating anybody. Wisconsin should know this well considering Nebraska upset Wisconsin in last year’s Big Ten Tournament.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (20-3, 9-1 Big Ten) as they prepare to play Nebraska (10-13, 4-7).
LAY UP: CAN WISCONSIN CONNECT FROM THREE?
Wisconsin’s offense is going to run through Ethan Happ but the Badgers can make things easier for the sophomore if they can manage to knock down their open shots from the perimeter.
Wisconsin hasn’t shot the ball strong from the perimeter over conference play, ranking 11th at 33.9 percent. Something has to give considering the Huskers rank last allowing 45.5 percent from three. Every Big Ten team with the exception of Iowa (31 percent) and Ohio State (33.3 percent) have shot 40 percent or higher from three against Nebraska. That doesn’t guarantee Wisconsin success through.
For comparisons, Michigan allows opposing Big Ten teams to shoot 45.5 percent from three and the Badgers shot 37.5 percent (6-for-16) from three. Wisconsin has connected on at least 50 percent of its 3-point attempts three times in Big Ten play, but one those occurrences came against a Minnesota team allowing Big Ten opponents to shoot 33 percent.
Wisconsin will likely generate catch-and-shoot opportunities against Nebraska, but those shots have not fallen for the players over the last three games. UW will need more from Bronson Koenig, who is shooting 46.7 percent from three over conference play and has made at least one 3-pointer in 11 straight games.
Koenig is capable of creating space for himself to catch and shoot or drive to the lane. After Wisconsin’s lone Big Ten loss at Purdue, Koenig had a four game streak of shooting at least 50 percent from the field. He has hit a shooting slump, shooting 26.4 percent (9-for-34) over the last three games, so knocking down a few early shots could be what he needs to get back on track offensively.
MID-RANGE JUMPER: LIMITING NEBRASKA’S SECOND CHANCES
Wisconsin certainly has done well of limiting second chances over Big Ten play, holding teams to 9.6 rebounds per game, but have seen both Rutgers (10) and Illinois (16) have success attacking the offensive glass over the last two weeks. While it shouldn’t be surprising that Rutgers registered a combined 27 offensive rebounds in its two games against Wisconsin (they lead the conference in offensive rebounds at 15.5 per game), the Badgers will be tested by a Huskers squad that ranks second in offensive rebounds a game, averaging 13.5 over Big Ten play.
The Cornhuskers can thank Michael Jacobson for those numbers, as he has averaged 4.6 offensive rebounds a contest since Big Ten play started and has helped Nebraska average 13.6 points off its second opportunities during the last five games. Over the last three games the Huskers have registered at least 14 second-chance points, including 22 in their last game against Iowa.
Happ (141 defensive rebounds), Nigel Hayes (94) and Vitto Brown (69) will need to make sure they find a way to keep Jacobson off the glass. Happ has been strong on the defensive glass throughout Big Ten play, averaging 5.7 defensive rebounds (third in the conference), and Hayes has registered 28 of his 40 Big Ten defensive rebounds over the last five games. Hayes and Happ’s ability to clean up opposing team’s missed shots has been key to keeping offenses out of rhythm, especially since UW has been inconsistent making its shots.
Even when teams register an offensive rebound, Wisconsin has done well of preventing offense. Over Wisconsin’s last 10 games the Badgers have held teams to 9.8 second chance points. Indiana’s 10 second-chance points on Sunday snapped a seven game streak of Wisconsin holding its opponents to nine points or less on those opportunities.
3-POINTER: CAN WISCONSIN TAKE CARE OF THE BALL?
Wisconsin started Big Ten play committing single digit turnovers in four of its first five games, but the Badgers are averaging 12.8 turnovers the last five outings. Those recent struggles of taking care of the ball will be tested by a talented Nebraska defense that leads the conference in steals per Big Ten game at 7.9.
The reason for Nebraska’s success on defense, which forces 13.7 turnovers per game, is thanks to the Glynn Watson, Tai Webster and Evan Taylor averaging 1.9, 1.7 and 1.7 steals a game, respectively. Those three make it important that Wisconsin is crisp with each pass, communicate effectively on the floor and are strong with the ball. Part of the reason Webster averages 19 points per game and Watson at 15.4 is the opportunities they create for themselves in transition, as the two are only pair of teammates to average at least 15 points over conference play.
Webster has registered double figures in every game this season and has registered four 20-point games over Big Ten play. Webster is a high volume shooter, evident by him shooting 34.8 percent (31-for-89) over the last five games and still averaging 16.8 points over that stretch. Wisconsin will need to find a way to force Webster to settle for 3-pointers, where he is only shooting 31 percent this season. If Zak Showalter can keep him in front and prevent Webster from driving, it should help take the senior out of his comfort zone.
Nebraska will be able to find ways of creating turnovers against Wisconsin but, like offensive rebounds, the Badgers have been able to do well of preventing teams from taking full advantage, as Big Ten teams are averaging 9.3 points off of Wisconsin’s turnovers. If Wisconsin can limit its mistakes, Nebraska won’t be able to get out in transition to generate high-percentage looks.