Preview: Wisconsin at Nebraska - This Game Actually Matters!

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska attempts to pad their tournament resume, but face a red-hot Badgers squad.

By the Numbers:
Nebraska Team Wisconsin
18-11 Record 25-5
NR Ranking 9
41 RPI 5
62 BPI 8
52 KenPom 11
59 Sagarin 9
March 9, 2014 - Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln, NE

7:30 PM EST - BTN

Skinny:

It's fair to say that no one had this game circled in the preseason as a battle between two of the top four teams in the Big Ten. But here we are. Coach Tim Miles has made a strong case for Big Ten Coach of the year, and even if it doesn't work out for him, he's done a masterful job turning around this Huskers squad. Nebraska's team isn't filled with top-flight recruits, but they're knocking on the door of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 16 years. Terran Petteway should receive some all-Big Ten team votes, and Shavon Shields has been a revelation on the wing. This team is young, quick, and hungry. They'll be around for a while.

After a nightmarish January, Wisconsin is back in the top 10, and ride an 8-game winning streak into Lincoln. With Kansas' loss yesterday, Wisconsin's spot as a 2-seed seems all but cemented. If they keep up their current intensity, they'll be a very dangerous team come tournament time. Frank Kaminsky is playing out of his mind, both inside and outside, and Traevon Jackson has been a model of consistency. They've locked up a bye in the Big Ten Tournament, and are trying to change the March stigma of Wisconsin basketball.

Projected Starting Lineup:
Nebraska Pos. Wisconsin
Tai Webster G Traevon Jackson
Terran Petteway G Ben Brust
Shavon Shields G/F Josh Gasser
David Rivers F Sam Dekker
Water Pitchford C Frank Kaminsky

Wisconsin Players to Watch:

Traevon Jackson: Remember earlier this year? When Traevon Jackson was an enormous liability to the Badgers? And people were calling for him to be benched? Well, the Traevon Jackson of late has kept the Wisconsin offense flowing smoothly and kept this winning streak alive. During their 8-game winning streak, he's turned the ball over 14 times. He turned the ball over 7 times against Iowa earlier this year. That's an amazing transformation. He's simplified his game, doesn't try to do too much, and just makes smart decisions. Everyone knew that he was a solid decision maker, but sometimes, he tries to make too many things happen under pressure. Now, when he faces pressure, he looks for the simple and easy play. That's the Jackson that will take the Badgers on a run in March. I can't wait for the ball to be in his hands when the clock runs down. And you should too. Believe in Trae. He won't let you down.

Nigel Hayes: Nebraska plays generally small, so Hayes will have to adapt his game against the Huskers. He's not facing a Kenny Costello or a Jordan Morgan who he can wrestle with and battle for position. This means he'll need to knock down that lovely mid-range jumper of his with consistency. But more importantly, he could potentially be forced to guard a wing player, which is not his wheelhouse. This game could be a litmus test for Hayes' potential as a defender. We know he can use his muscle to stop opponents down low. But what if he winds up guarding Shavon Shields for a possession or two? Can he prevent Shields from taking advantage of that mismatch?

Nebraska Players to Watch:

Terran Petteway: Petteway has become more of the most explosive players in the Big Ten. He is currently the Big Ten's leading scorer, but what conveys how great he has become for Nebraska is his last 3 games. He's averaged 12 points in his last 3 games and most have considered him to be in a "slump." When he played at Texas Tech, he averaged 3.1 points. You know you've made it when you can average double digits and be considered to have off nights. Petteway can do some major damage when he gets inside and also has the ability to rebound.

Shavon Shields: Another guy that makes a big impact for the Cornhuskers is Shavon Shields. He is not the most consistent scorer, but when he turns it on, he can be the best player on the floor. Already this year, he's scored 33 points against Illinois, 22 against Creighton, and 18 against Ohio State. Those are not easy tasks. Plus, he's also Nebraska's leading rebounder. Part of this is the lack of a great big man, but it's also because Shields has a diverse role on this team.

Wisconsin Perspective by Kevin Dlugos (@_dlugos):

The sun is shining on the Wisconsin Badgers right now, and I'm not just saying that because it's currently above freezing for the first time in forever in Madison. This team keeps demonstrating that they deserve to be taken seriously in the tournament. Looking back, their January struggles make no sense. None at all. Northwestern got blown the hell out by Penn State, and they beat Wisconsin in Madison. Those struggles now seem in the distant past. According to Kenpom, Wisconsin only has a 58% chance of winning this game. I can't tell if that's too high, too low, or I'm still flabbergasted by Nebraska's success. Either way, it's imperative that Wisconsin wins this game to maintain their spot as a 2-seed. I think this game will be nail-bitingly close, but in the end, Wisconsin looks too in-rhythm to be stopped by the streaky Huskers. Look for Ben Brust to put his cold shooting behind him and to light it up from three.

Nebraska Perspective by Thomas Beindit (@tbeindit):

This is the biggest game Nebraska has played in perhaps more than a decade. The biggest reason for this is that a win over the Badgers would almost lock up the Cornhuskers' first NCAA Tournament bid since 1998. To compare, Wisconsin has made the NCAA Tournament almost every year since 1998. This is literally a program changing game. The good news is that Nebraska gets Wisconsin at home where they have only lost once this season. Plus, Wisconsin may have an 8 game winning streak, but Nebraska hasn't been too bad either. They've won 7 of their last 8 games, 9 of their last 11, and 10 of their last 13 games. The Cornhuskers are playing some quality basketball themselves and they will have to show up once again to score what would be the biggest win of Miles' young career at Nebraska. Clearly, they are going to have to live off defense as usual, but playing good close out defense and keeping Kaminsky out from the paint is key. Along with this, being able to get inside against a tough defense will be tough, so Petteway has to show up.

Prediction:

Nebraska comes out fired up for a chance to seal up an NCAA Tournament bid, but Wisconsin simply is too good to lose this game and too hot. Wisconsin 59, Nebraska 56.

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