Nebraska was originally supposed to tip off its Big Ten season on Monday, but when the Big Ten called Fred Hoiberg asking if he’d be willing to move it back day, he said he’d be willing to do it if it was better for the conference.
So instead, Nebraska (4-3) will travel to Madison for Tuesday’s game against No. 9 Wisconsin (6-1). The league moved the game back to give Wisconsin a bit more space to reschedule the postponed ACC/Big Ten Challenge game against Louisville.
The Badgers shot 16-of-25 from 3 and blew out the shorthanded Cardinals 85-48. Now Nebraska gets a crack at the Badgers who start five seniors and bring back almost everyone from a team that went on a eight-game winning streak to close out last season and claim a share of the Big Ten title.
“They’ve done a phenomenal job,” Hoiberg said. “Greg Gard has been outstanding with what he’s done as far as putting that roster together. What they did last year, winning the league and bringing pretty much everybody back from that team, it’s very difficult to prepare for. They know each other so well. They play off each other so well. They make the right plays, they have great continuity with what they’re doing, they know where each other is at all times. You can look at them, their turnover numbers are extremely low, they’re a high-assist team, they’ve always got you going in a million different directions. It’s a tough team to defend.”
Wisconsin plays primarily an eight-man rotation, and all eight members of that rotation average at least one assist. As a team, they’re averaging 14.9 assists while turning it over just 8.1 times per game, one of the best marks in the country.
Wisconsin is also shooting 43.7% from 3 as a team, the fourth-highest percentage in the country. Hoiberg called it “absolutely absurd.” Four of Wisconsin’s five starters are shooting better than 42% on the season including starting big men Micah Potter (6-foot-10 and 248 pounds) and Nate Reuvers (6-foot-11 and 235 pounds).
“Every single one of those guys that’s on the floor can make a shot and make a play,” Hoiberg said. “They put you in a very difficult situation with that starting lineup with Potter and Reuvers at the four and five spot; both those guys are as good as any on their roster at shooting the ball and two of the better bigs in the paint. They put you in a very difficult spot with the experience and then just with how much skill they have all over the floor.”
Nebraska is going to have to be locked in one through five if if hopes to limit Wisconsin’s paint opportunities without giving up a lot of open looks from the perimeter.
“They have five senior starters, so they’re definitely prepared,” senior Kobe Webster said. “That’s why they’re ranked near the top 10 in the country. I think when we look at them, the matchups, they’re huge. They’re obviously big inside the paint, nearly two 7-footers starting that can stretch the floor as well. They’ve got guys coming off the bench that are 6-5, 6-6, 6-9, so I think for us, it’s just going to be about being physical, matching their physicality in the paint and doing our work early.”
Wisconsin is allowing just 58.1 points per game on 36.6% shooting while forcing 13.3 turnovers per game. Scoring opportunities won’t come easy for Nebraska, and decision-making will be at a premium. That’s an area the Huskers struggled in recently before righting the ship against Doane, but the Badgers present a much more formidable challenge.
“Wisconsin does such a good job of guarding the ball and getting into their gaps and protecting the paint, protecting the lane,” Hoiberg said. “We can’t turn the ball over 20 times and expect to win not only this game, but any game that we’re going to face in these next 20. We have to be aware, and we watched film — they’re top 10 in the nation in shot-blocking as well. Reuvers and Potter, [Aleem] Ford, their guards, they’ve got great lengths in there at the rim so we have to be selective if we do get into the paint and try to spray out and hopefully knock down some shots.
Hoiberg still wants his team to push the pace whenever possible, but that might not be so easy for a team that takes such good care of the ball, and if the initial break doesn’t produce any advantages he wants the Huskers to be patient.
“Wisconsin, they take care of the ball, and with them sitting in gaps, they can turn you over if you try to drive into small spaces,” Hoiberg continued. “We have to be patient. If the initial thrust and the initial play isn’t there, we have to trust the offense, get good offense and hopefully get a quality shot on the board.”
Derrick Walker still has to sit out four more games, but Eduardo Andre made his debut against Doane and although he’s not where he needs to be conditioning-wise just yet, he still gives Hoiberg another option to throw out there against Potter and Reuvers. He’s been putting in extra finishing work with Armon Gates in the mornings and he’s been running sprints after practice with strength coach Tim Wilson to make up for the time he lost.
“I loved what I saw out of him in his first experience,” Hoiberg said. “Now obviously he’s going to be playing against a lot bigger, more physical players than he played against in his first game, but I love everything about Eduardo. I think the kid’s got a tremendous future. He’s been playing basketball for four years, so the upside that he has is as good as anybody on our roster. I feel really good about him and he’s a big piece of our future and what we’re going to bring. I’m going to throw him out there, whether he’s ready or not. I think it’s important to get Eduardo good quality minutes and prepare him for his future.”
The additions of Andre (6-foot-10) and Trevor Lakes (6-foot-7) to the active roster beef up a frontcourt and add some much needed depth, and Tuesday’s game will give a glimpse into what the newcomers can bring against Big Ten competition.
Tipoff on FS1 is set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday with Chris Voters and Stephen Bardo on the call.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.