Prior to Sunday, the only blemish on Wisconsin's resume was a loss to undefeated Duke. By the end of the weekend, though, both the Badgers and the Blue Devils had been upset, as the college basketball landscape became increasingly muddled. Wisconsin's 67-62 loss to Big Ten newcomer Rutgers in Piscataway was not the kind of result one would expect of the fourth-ranked team in the country.
The Badgers (15-2, 3-1 in Big Ten play) just happened to catch the Scarlet Knights on the worst possible night. Senior All-American Frank Kaminsky sat out the game with a concussion, and the pair of Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack put up huge numbers for head coach Eddie Jordan's squad. Compounding the disastrous result was senior point guard Traevon Jackson's departure early in the second half due to a fractured foot. Jackson may miss six weeks or more to the injury.
"I know my teammates will come together and be stronger because of this," Jackson said. "I'm looking forward to coming back mentally stronger than ever and more prepared to win championships and finish off the year and the seniors' careers the right way."
Despite being shorthanded, Wisconsin held the lead until just over seven minutes remained in the game. That's when Mack, who led all scorers with 21 points, including 19 in the second half, began to assert himself, getting to the free throw line and scoring 7 of his team's final 15 points.
"We didn't play well down the stretch, we didn't have a good second half whatsoever, but we've got to bounce back," junior Sam Dekker said after the game. "Good teams are the ones that can put losses behind them, learn from them and get better."
Kaminsky will return to the court on Thursday as the Badgers look to bounce back against a Nebraska team that has largely disappointed this season. The Huskers (10-6, 2-2 in Big Ten play) are looking to equal their season's longest winning streak at three games after victories against the Scarlet Knights and Illinois.
Here's what to look for in the only game on the Big Ten slate on Thursday.
Game of the Day
#7 Wisconsin Badgers vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers - 9 p.m. (ESPN2/WatchESPN)
Despite the loss to a mediocre Rutgers team, there were positives for Bo Ryan to draw from his team's effort on Sunday. Dekker and sophomore Nigel Hayes each stepped up in Kaminsky's absence, accounting for 30 points and 16 rebounds. Getting Frank the Tank and his 16.9 points and 8.2 boards a game back against a Husker squad that lacks size on the front line should mean a big day for Wisconsin's talented trio.
Nebraska has struggled to score points this season, ranking an abysmal 223rd in the country at 65.9 points per game, which should play right into Wisconsin's strength. The Badgers are 7th in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 54.9 points a contest.
Juniors Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields are both having All-Big Ten type seasons for the Huskers, but there has been little production to complement them. Petteway, an all-conference selection a season ago, is second in the Big Ten at 18.9 points per game, while Shields isn't far behind him at 17.1 a night. There isn't another player on the roster for Tim Miles averaging even 8 points a game.
With Jackson sidelined, Wisconsin will turn to sophomore Bronson Koenig to assume starting point guard duties. The LaCrosse native is averaging 4.9 points and 2.1 assists in just over 20 minutes a game for the season. Koenig has turned the ball over only eight times on the year, and his 4.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio would lead the conference if he qualified. It would seem the Badgers are in good hands in Jackson's absence.
Picking up a win and a little momentum on Thursday is important for Wisconsin, as it will take on Iowa twice and travel to Ann Arbor to hook up with Michigan as January draws to a close. Nebraska finishes the month with two against Minnesota and tilts against both the Wolverines and Michigan State, a stretch that could sink hopes of a return to the NCAA tournament in Lincoln before the season hits February.