Noah K. Murray/USA Today Sports

Badgers Breakdown: No.7 Wisconsin at Nebraska

Winners of seven in row, No.7 Wisconsin looks to extend its first place lead in the Big Ten to two games when it faces Nebraska in Lincoln tonight. BadgerNation breaks down the match-up.

No.7 Wisconsin (20-3, 9-1 Big Ten) vs. Nebraska (10-13, 4-7 Big Ten)

Date/Time – Thursday, February 9, 8 p.m. central

Arena – Pinnacle Bank Arena (15,500)

Television – Big Ten Network (Dave Revsine and Stephen Bardo)

Radio –Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Wisconsin leads 13-12 (Nebraska leads 7-4 in Lincoln)

Last Meeting – Nebraska won, 70-58, on March 10, 2016, in Indianapolis

WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Zak Showalter (6-3 Senior Guard, 7.7 ppg)

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Senior Forward, 13.3 ppg)

22 Ethan Happ (6-10 Sophomore Forward, 14.7 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-2 Senior Guard, 14.0 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Senior Forward, 7.5 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

0 D'Mitrik Trice (6-0 Freshman Guard, 5.5 ppg)

15 Charles Thomas (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 2.7 ppg)

21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Sophomore Forward, 4.2 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Koenig has scored in double figures in each of his last four contests vs. Nebraska, averaging 11.8 ppg. He is 9-for-18 from 3-point range in those games.

NEBRASKA PROBABLE STARTERS

0 Tai Webster (6-4 Senior Guard, 18.0 ppg)

10 Jack McVeigh (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 7.6 ppg)

11 Evan Taylor (6-5 Junior Guard, 4.9 ppg)

12 Michael Jacobson (6-9 Sophomore Forward, 6.3 ppg)

32 Jordy Tshimanga (6-11 Freshman Center, 4.5 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

2 Jeriah Horne (6-7 Freshman Forward, 4.5 ppg)

Glynn Watson  (6-0 Sophomore Guard, 13.9 ppg)

15 Isaiah Roby (6-8 Freshman Forward, 2.9 ppg)

30 Ed Morrow (6-7 Sophomore Forward, 10.1 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Webster has reached double figures in all 23 games this season and is the only Big Ten player to reach double figures in every game this season.

LAST TIME OUT

MADISON – Hayes acknowledged that looking at Wisconsin’s total field goal attempts and field goal makes paints an ugly picture, a growing trend of shots not falling with any large measure of consistency for anyone on the roster.

There was one exception to the rule and he was sitting a couple feet to Hayes’ left in the postgame interviews following another Big Ten conference triumph.

“Mr. Reliable here, Ethan, went 8-for-10,” Hayes said.

Like the box score, Happ’s line of 20 points only told the whole story in the Badgers’ 65-60 slugfest over Indiana at the Kohl Center Sunday afternoon.

The only major conference player to lead his team in points, rebounds, blocks, assists and steals in conference play, Happ had seven rebounds, contributed team highs in steals (three) and blocks (three) and dished out two assists to help Wisconsin.

And in a game where UW shot 39.6 percent, seeing Indiana (15-9, 5-6) make two more field goals and three more 3-pointers than the hosts, Wisconsin never trailed in part by holding the Hoosiers 23 points below their average and going 23-for-31 from the line, including 7-for-8 in the final 51 seconds.

“There’s other ways (that) when it doesn’t go your way, we can still find a way,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said, adding it wasn’t the team’s “most intelligent display of basketball” based on giving up defensive lapses and turning the ball over 13 times.

“Getting to the free throw line was a counter to us not shooting the three well (4-for-17). That’s what good, experienced teams will find. Find some other way to scratch and claw to get it done.”

Junior Josh Newkirk scored 22 points to lead Indiana, which went just 11-for-12 from the free throw line to extend a losing streak to Madison that dates back to 1998.

While the rest of the starting lineup combined for 9-for-36 from the floor, Wisconsin again leaned on its All-American candidate to provide the lift. Scoring 10 points in each half, Happ was the center of attention for Wisconsin in the opening half.

Of UW’s first 24 points, 21 came inside or from the free throw line, including Happ scoring six of the team’s first eight points. He provided a spark to a quiet crowd in the second half when he registered a dunk off a set inbounds play and a put back off an offensive rebound, the latter making it 35-27 with 14:40 remaining. He also delivered a steal and one-handed flush with 3:33 to go.

In what has been the case, Happ delivered plays outside of putting the ball in the basket. He delivered his third block on Robert Johnson (5-for-15) with 2:35 remaining, and managed to call a 30 second timeout before falling out of bounds.

And when he was doubled in the post, Happ fed to an open Zak Showalter, whose 3-pointer with 1:37 remaining gave the Badgers a 58-50 lead.

SERIES NOTES

Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, Wisconsin has won seven of the nine meetings. The Badgers won the last three regular season meetings.

Over the last four meetings, the Badgers are a combined 80-for-112 at the FT line, averaging 28.0 FTAs per game. The Huskers are averaging just 16.0 FTAs (46-for-64) in those four meetings.

Nebraska has scored more than 55 points in just three of the nine meetings with UW since joining the Big Ten. The Huskers have averaged a mere 54.4 ppg against the Badgers since 2011.

LAST MEETING

INDIANAPOLIS – Flat on both ends of the court, sixth-seeded Wisconsin meekly bowed out of the Big Ten tournament to a hungrier, more determined 11th-seeded Nebraska, 70-58, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

It was ugly in every sense of the word – a game that was a grind in the low post that lacked flow and rhythm for UW’s two main forwards. Doubled and roughed up every time they touched the ball, Happ (17 points, 5-for-11) and Hayes (10, 2-for-15) developed nothing.

Shots didn’t fall, rhythm was lacking and the defense missed rotations that open up driving lanes to the rim. In short, Wisconsin was more like the team that looked lost during the nonconference schedule than the one that made life miserable for conference teams in late January and February.

“We didn’t play with that hunger that we had been,” Wisconsin assistant coach Howard Moore said. “At times when we were getting on a streak and winning games, it was because of our drive and determination to play together and try to outwork people. Tonight we got outworked.”

Nebraska shot 46.9 percent and put four players in double figures, but the one that hurt Wisconsin the most didn’t even play in the 72-61 Badgers victory in Madison Feb.10. Missing that game because of a concussion, Shavon Shields made up for it by dropping a game-high 20 points.

“They really played around him and played off his energy,” junior Zak Showalter said of Shields. “For him to get that swagger, we wanted to take him out of that. Unfortunately we didn’t do that.”

It’s the first time since the tournament’s inception in 1998 that Wisconsin failed to advance to the quarterfinals, a loss they blame on failing to follow its defensive principles, fundamentals and a lack of discipline.

Nebraska beat up Wisconsin with 30 points in the paint, eight fast break points and had its bench outscore Wisconsin’s 18-2. The Huskers also shot 51.2 percent in the second half, marking the third time in the last four halves that the Badgers have allowed an opponent to shoot over 50 percent from the field.

In addition to the low-post woes, UW went 4-for-20 from 3-point range, including 1-for-6 from Bronson Koenig, 0-for-3 from Showalter and 1-for-6 from Hayes and was also outrebounded 38-33.

Wisconsin was lackluster from the beginning. In the first 20 minutes it shot only 29.2 percent, committed seven turnovers in 31 possessions and went 4-for-9 from the free throw line. Brown scored 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting. The rest of the roster went 2-for-19.

Wisconsin certainly had its chances. After cutting the lead to 55-52, Wisconsin had four straight empty possessions (two turnovers, two missed 3-pointers) that allowed Nebraska to go on a 6-0 run for its largest lead with 3:47 remaining.

Koenig’s 3-pointer with 1:53 remaining closed the deficit to 63-57, but Nebraska closed the game on a 7-1 run with the Badgers getting the one free throw make on the final six possessions.

WISCONSIN NOTES

Having lost once since Thanksgiving, Wisconsin is out-scoring foes by 17.1 ppg (76.4 to 59.3) over that span.

UW has reached 20 wins for the 11th-straight season (longest streak in B1G) and is just one win from ensuring a winning record in B1G play for the 16th-consecutive season.

The Badgers have won 25 straight games vs. unranked opponents overall (dating back to 1/12/16). Greg Gard is 28-2 against unranked opponents.

Over the last five seasons, the Badgers are 32-8 (.800) during regular season games in the month of February and March.

NEBRASKA NOTES

Nebraska is 6-3 this season in games decided by five points or less. Two of the three losses came with 1.0 seconds left or less (vs. Ohio State; at Rutgers).

Nebraska is 2-0 in Big Ten play against ranked teams heading into Thursday's game with Wisconsin. They knocked off No. 16 Indiana in Bloomington back in December, as well as No. 20 Purdue on Jan. 29. The last time NU knocked off a top-10 team was No. 9 Wisconsin on March 9, 2014. The last time NU knocked off more than three ranked teams in a season was in 1998-99.

Nebraska is averaging 73.0 points per game in conference play, the Huskers' highest average since averaging 87.1 points per game in the Big Eight in 1993-94.

Playing his way into the starting lineup the last three games, freshman Jordy Tshimanga is averaging 8.5 points over the last six contests. He is also shooting 58 percent and averaging 4.3 rebounds per game in that stretch.

PREDICTION

With seven freshmen and sophomores in the Huskers' nine-man rotation, it is not surprising that 66 percent of Nebraska's minutes and 65 percent of its points have come from the freshmen and sophomore classes. 

There’s no mistake though where the strength of the group lies. Webster is one of only three power conference players in the country currently averaging 17 points, five rebounds and four assists per game. The other two - Washington's Markelle Fultz and NC State's Dennis Smith Jr. - are currently two of the top four prospects on Draft Express' 2017 draft board. 

To put Webster's season averages (18.0 ppg; 5.0 rpg; 4.0 apg) in prospective, only one other Big Ten player - Michigan's Derrick Walton Jr. - is currently averaging 14 ppg, four rpg and three apg this season.

Throw Watson in the equation and the Huskers have two of the better guards in the league.

“Two complementary guards, kind of a lightning and thunder,” Gard said. “Watson is quick, got some shake and can really play with some speed. Webster is physical and big. I think he has evolved into the guard they had envisioned.”

Unfortunately for the Huskers, Watson has been battling a groin pull and a swollen lymphoid. He came off the bench in the loss to Iowa Feb.5 and is ruled questionable for tonight. Same goes for Morrow, who has missed the last eight games with a right foot injury. Morrow is third on the team in scoring (10.1) while leading the Huskers in rebounding (7.9 rpg) and blocked shots (1.5 bpg).

No matter who is on the court, Wisconsin will need its usual defensive effort and be cognizant of things on the perimeter. In Nebraska's four Big Ten wins, the Huskers are shooting nearly 46 percent from 3-point range. In conference losses, that number dips to .292.

Don’t let Nebraska’s record fool you. Eight of the Huskers' 11 Big Ten games this season have been decided by eight points or less, including six games by four points or less. In six of its seven Big Ten losses, Nebraska has been within five points in the last five minutes. The Badgers are expecting a close game tonight.

“It seems like every time a really good team plays against them they play really well,” Happ said of Nebraska. “They play to the level of their competition. We’re expecting their best game.”

Against the second, third and fourth-ranked scoring defenses in the conference, the Huskers are 0-4 and Webster has been held under 40 percent shooting from the field. Although many are hopeful the shots will start falling, if Wisconsin brings its No.1 ranked scoring defense, the Badgers win by nine.

Worgull's Record: 21-2

Points off Prediction: 193 (8.4 per game)


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