Nebraska was able to avoid the crushing embarrassment of losing a basketball game to Rutgers last night, and their reward is the extension of their season for another night. The 11-seeded Huskers remain in 'win or season over' mode tonight with a matchup versus the six-seeded Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers already know they will be playing more basketball after this weekend but a loss to Nebraska would put a dent into their seed line for the NCAA Tournament. Freshly armed with a new five-year head coach contract, Greg Gard will look to rally his Badgers to their second straight Big Ten Tournament title. Here's what to watch for tonight when the two "Big Reds" take the floor in Indianapolis.
1. Can Nebraska Overcome the Height Disadvantage?
The Cornhuskers' roster this season doesn't have the height you typically expect to find on a Big Ten roster. According to Ken Pomeroy's "effective height" statistic (described here), the only Big Ten team with less height this year is Rutgers. This is problematic for Nebraska because every member of the Wisconsin frontcourt trio (Nigel Hayes, Ethan Happ, and Vitto Brown) has been playing very well in recent weeks.
In the first meeting between the two teams, Nebraska held Happ to a forgettable night but Hayes and Brown combined for 38 points. Tim Miles chose to employ a 2-3 zone on defense and the Badgers made them pay with a 11-for-18 shooting night from three-point range. Shavon Shields did not play in that game and it will interesting to see if Miles decides to play man-to-man defense with Shields back in the fold or stick with zone and force the Badgers to duplicate their outside-shooting performance from the first matchup.
2. Will Wisconsin Match Nebraska's Sense of Urgency?
The fact that Wisconsin has already locked up their ticket to the NCAA Tournament could play into Nebraska's hands, as the Badgers no longer need to play with the same sense of desperation they had back in January. With no real prospect of postseason play unless they make a miraculous run this weekend, the Huskers are pretty much in 'everything but the kitchen sink' mode where they can expend as much energy as possible in tonight's game with the goal of keeping their season going another day.
A Wisconsin win tonight would be important for the Badgers to avoid adding another bad loss to their resume, but would not be much of a boost for their seeding. It's debatable whether Wisconsin cares much about their NCAA tournament seed as there isn't a huge difference between being a 6-seed or a 9-seed, so winning the Big Ten Tournament may be their main motivation right now.
In the first matchup between the two teams, Nebraska jumped to an early lead at the Kohl Center. That is certainly possible again tonight, as it often takes a team who had a bye the day before a bit longer to get into gear on the court. The Badgers were shredded by Purdue's offense on Sunday but I'm not sure if any team could have stopped the Boilermakers that night, so it will be interesting to see if Wisconsin's defensive confidence has taken a hit after allowing those 91 points.
Tim Miles remains one of the most likable coaches in the conference but his team has really stumbled down the stretch for the second straight year. I assume Miles has a pretty long leash considering the lack of historical success at Nebraska, but his program could really use the positive vibes that would come from an upset win over a team like Wisconsin.