Caleb King’s (@calebking_2) Preview: The Wisconsin Badgers continue their Big Ten conference season and travel to Lincoln, Nebraska tonight for a matchup with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The game is slated to begin at 8pm at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Coming into tonight’s game, Nebraska is 11-13 overall and 4-7 in Big Ten play after their impressive 3-0 start to the conference season.
The year has been a roller coaster year for the Huskers, and most of that has been downhill. They started off their Big Ten season beating Indiana, Maryland, and Iowa, who all have impressive victories thus far this season. Since then, they’ve fallen in each of their conference contests except for a very impressive victory over the Purdue Boilermakers by a margin of three points at home. They now sit 12th out of 14 teams in the conference. If there’s anything to note about this Nebraska team, it is that they’re a much better team at home than on the road. Remember the Huskers upset the Badgers last season in the Big Ten tournament’s first round. Nebraska is as unpredictable as they come this year, and there’s no easy game on the road in the Big Ten, so you can bet tonight will be interesting in one way or another.
Nebraska only has two players that have started every game for them this season, so we can see right there that there is a lot of inconsistency from the start with this team. The two that have started every game thus far are no doubt their two leaders in Tai Webster and Michael Jacobsen. Tai Webster and Glynn Watson Jr. lead the charge offensively as they average 18.0ppg and 13.9ppg respectively. Webster also leads his team in assists as he averages 4.1apg. The Huskers are also a very active team on the boards as they have three players who average at least 5 boards per game (Tai Webster 5, Ed Morrow Jr 7.9, and Michael Jacobsen 6.8). Ed Morrow Jr also averages 10.1 ppg for the Huskers.
The Badgers come into tonight’s contest ranked #7 in the nation, and sit atop the Big Ten standings with a 20-3 record overall, 9-1 in Big Ten contests with their only blemish coming at the hands of the Purdue Boilermakers on January 8th.
If I had to choose one word to describe this Badgers team, I’d say “HOT”. This Badgers side under Coach Greg Gard has only lost one game since Thanksgiving, and that was to a sharp-shooting, inside-dominating Purdue Boilermaker side in West Lafayette. Since then, the Badgers have taken care of business, no matter how ugly it might’ve been, they have found a way to win. A big part of that has been due to the outstanding performances of redshirt Sophomore Ethan Happ.
Happ has emerged as the star of this Badgers team, hands down, no questions asked.
When Happ arrived on campus for his freshman year, which he redshirted, Vitto Brown was quoted saying that “Ethan was one of the softest guys we’d ever met.” In that recent interview Vitto said he and his fellow housemates with Happ sat him down and, for lack of a better way to put it, told him to “Man-Up” because sooner or later all the stars would be gone and it would be his program to lead.
This same Ethan Happ, just two years later, is leading the 7th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers in points (14.7ppg), rebounds (9.1rpg), blocks (1.1bpg), and steals (2.0spg) and is ANYTHING but soft. Happ recently said “It’s awesome to come from a small school, have dreams of playing in college, just getting on the court, and now I’m one of the like top three or four people on a team that’s first in the Big Ten. I think that’s amazing. I really do.”
Well Ethan, I think we can all agree you’re the top guy so far on this top-tem Wisconsin Badgers team this season.
Jay Bilas recently tweeted that, in his mind, Happ is the leading candidate for National Defensive Player of the Year, and that nobody is as good of a defender as he is. In another recent interview, Happ reveals why he seems to be particularly strong on the defensive side of the ball: Football. His prevailing strategy: ‘bat the quarterback and pounce on mistakes.’
“I would try to make him think, if he throws it over here, it’s open,” Ethan says. “Then all of a sudden I jump the route. And then pick-six.”
This is something Happ continues to use defending players today. He’ll try to position himself so that passers believe they have a chance to feed the post; then he watches and times his attack. The 6’10” Sophomore is pretty good at it. Brown said that earlier it used to be “Oh, Ethan’s on me, time to attack.” But now he’s a “master thief out there. He’s got a knack for reaching at the right time and knowing how to make guys uncomfortable. It’s amazing.” Yes, yes it is Vitto.
As clutch as Ethan has been for the Badgers thus far, he isn’t the only guy out there for this tenacious, dangerous Wisconsin team. Alongside Happ, are two of college basketball’s most accomplished players so far in their careers in Seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. The luxury of being able to say that Bronson and Nigel are arguably your 2nd and 3rd best players is coveted by many, many teams in the nation.
Bronson has been having himself quite the spurt of games. He’s been hitting deep daggers late in games to seal victories for the Badgers, particularly at Minnesota and at Rutgers, but also getting hot in the other games as well. There isn’t another guy in the nation I’d rather have taking the last shot than Bronson, there’s ice in his veins and if you can get him in a catch-and-shoot situation, watch out. Bronson is putting up some impressive numbers on a successful Badgers team that has only three losses so far this season. He’s averaging 14.0ppg and shooting .392 from the 3-point line to go along with 2.2apg and 2.3rpg.
Nigel has also had himself a nice Senior campaign so far. The Senior forward is the Badgers key to dicing up a zone defense. It is a wonder to me why any teams try a zone defense against the Badgers. Each and every time a team has showed zone, Nigel goes to the high post and either gets a high quality look himself or more often he will facilitate from the dangerous high post area to his open teammates who find pockets in the zone. It’s a glorious thing to watch. When Nigel isn’t living on the 3-point line he is thriving in the lane and driving into defenders and getting to the line. As of late, Ethan and Nigel have been doing a phenomenal job of getting the opposing team into foul trouble and getting to the line. Their free throws still aren’t as good as we would like them to be, but they’re starting to pay dividends as a game wears on.
Tonight the Badgers take on a very inconsistent Huskers side, and you can bet that a theme for Coach Gard tonight will be consistency. If the Badgers stick to their game plan and run their offense efficiently, along with keeping Tai Webster at bay on the defensive side of the ball, you can bet that this game will be no challenge for the Badgers in Lincoln. I’d imagine that Zak Showalter will have Webster for a majority of the game tonight, and Nigel and Bronson will also take their turns as well I’m sure. Webster is great at scoring and facilitating, and a majority of Nebraska’s points come from him either scoring or facilitating. I’m anxious to see how Wisconsin will defend him tonight, because that will no doubt be a crucial aspect to this game. Like I said before, no Big Ten road game is easy, so the Badgers will have to be on their “A” game tonight to knock off a streaky Nebraska side.
My Player-To-Watch tonight is Junior forward Vitto Brown. Vitto has struggled a bit the past couple of games and tonight I see a prime opportunity for Vitto to get back on track and play some quality minutes and hit some big shots. The Huskers are very active defensively, but Vitto could be a huge key to opening up the Badgers offense tonight if he can get going from the 3-point line. When Vitto is dangerous from the outside, the Badgers are incredibly dangerous all over the court.
King’s Prediction: BADGERS 72 Nebraska 57 (King is 14-3 on the season)
As Always, #OnWisconsin
Ben Thorson’s (@benjthorson) Prediction: BADGERS 66 Nebraska 57 (Thorson is 20-2 on the season)