It feels like deja vu for us Badgers fans as we once again are tasked with welcoming a Nebraska team to the Big Ten Conference. This time it's in basketball as we take on the Cornhuskers on the road in Lincoln. Wisconsin will be looking to extend it's newest five game winning streak tonight at 8pm Central on ESPN2.
For those of us with shorter memories than some this is a series with a bit of history behind it. Tonight's matchup will be the 17th overall between the two schools. The series dates all the way back to 1904. Unfortunately the Huskers hold the all-time advantage with a 10-6 record. Wisconsin also hasn't fared well in Lincoln, holding a 1-6 record on the road to the Huskers.
The good news? The last meeting between these schools took place on 11/12/1998 as the Badgers defeated Nebraska 78-41 in the Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Wisconsin comes in 11-2 overall on the season and as I said before are currently on a 5 game winning streak. Nebraska is 8-3 overall and are on their own winning streak of 4 games.
Let's delve into tonight's match up as clearly both teams have changed quite a bit since that 1998-99 season tilt.
F - Branden Ubel (7.1ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.3apg)
F - Toney McCray (9.3ppg, 4.1rpg, 0.8apg)
G - Caleb Walker (7.5ppg, 4.7rpg, 1.3apg)
G - Branden Richardson (6.7ppg, 3.0rpg, 2.8apg)
G - Bo Spencer (16.0ppg, 3.6rpg, 4.3apg)
F - Ryan Evans (9.9ppg, 7.0rpg, 1.7apg)
F - Mike Bruesewitz (6.1ppg, 5.2rpg, 1.3apg)
F/C - Jared Berggren (12.5ppg, 4.8rpg, 0.9apg)
G - Josh Gasser (7.8ppg, 4.2rpg, 1.8apg)
G - Jordan Taylor (12.2ppg, 3.9rpg, 5.0apg)
Wisconsin and Nebraska are similar in terms of their offensive mindset, both preferring possession offense that can slow the play to a halt at times. While there are a few differences between how they are run the main one is that Nebraska can tend to take shots earlier and push the ball just a bit more than the Badgers.
Now the question is what to make of the 8-3 Cornhuskers. Nebraska's 3 losses on the year are all to pretty decent opponents in Oregon (away), Wake Forest (B1G/ACC Challenge), and Creighton. So no fault in losing those games really. However on the flip side their lone win against a better opponent came against USC, which is only 5-8 for the year.
Nebraska comes in scoring at a 66.8 points a game clip, while also shooting 45% from the field. Something's got to give since the Badgers have the nation's best defense. That defense only gives up an NCAA best 44.7 points per game and only allowing teams to shoot an awful 35% from the field. Call me crazy but the Badgers have held 11 of their 13 opponents to their season worst point totals and I have a feeling it could do this against a Nebraska team that is pretty banged up at this point.
There are three things that will key a Badgers victory in this one. The first one is winning the match up between Jordan Taylor and Bo Spencer. Spencer is really the only offensive threat for the Huskers and is the only one of the starters to average double figures. Taylor must play lock down defense and luckily he's one of the best defensive point guards out there. Taylor must also stay in it on the offensive side of things, which shouldn't be an issue. I give the edge to Taylor because he's the most consistent player the Badgers have and Spencer has been the exact opposite, either really on or really off and that's not good against the Wisconsin defense.
Second on the list of keys to this game is the inside match up of the Badgers Jared Berggren vs. Branden Ubel. Ubel is the top rebounder on this team and will be counted on a bit more offensively with the missing players up front. If Berggren can get hot from outside it will pull Ubel away from the basket and that's something that needs to happen if we want to gain the rebounding edge. Equally important will be using Berggren's athletic advantage over Ubel on the defensive end. We've seen him become very adept at pushing guys off the low block and then stealing or knocking away entry passes. If Berggren can do that then it will make it even more likely for a Badgers victory.
Lastly is streaks. First off is the fact that the Badgers have won 8 straight Big Ten openers and have done so rather impressively, averaging a +17.3 scoring margin in those wins. Secondly I'm talking about shooting. Playing at the Devaney Sports Center isn't the easiest of things to do. It's not the modern marvels of shooting that most Big Ten teams have and the sight lines are very different there. If Wisconsin can adjust and get Gasser and Brust going from deep it should be a very long night for what's left of Huskers Nation (some will be gone to Orlando for the football bowl game by now.)
In the end I just don't see there being enough firepower outside of Bo Spencer for the Huskers to really mount much of a challenge and it very well could be a 2-6 start to their first Big Ten campaign. Look for Jordan Taylor to be a shinning star in this one. Hey, it's got to really stand out at some point, right?
Prediction: Wisconsin 72 Nebraska 46