Monday, December 11

Live Thread: Nebraska basketball vs. Wisconsin

(Photo: Steven Branscombe, USA TODAY Sports)

Crash a party? That’s the idea.

Wisconsin has plans on celebrating an outright Big Ten championship by beating the Huskers on Sunday afternoon. Nebraska (9-21, 3-16), though, is riding into town with the scheme to keep springing surprises after the two best performances of its season.

“It’s been gratifying for our guys,” Husker coach Fred Hoiberg said of his team winning two straight on the road, including a Tuesday upset of ranked Ohio State. “Obviously we look back and we’re all very disappointed with the results of the year. But as we say, anything can happen. We’ve got one more game, and then we’re all zero-and-zero heading into the postseason.”

Let’s set this up, shall we?

How to watch/listen

Tip time: 1 p.m. at Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin

TV/Online: Sunday’s game will be televised on BTN. It is also available on the web, mobile devices and connected TVs via the Fox Sports App.

Radio: Carried on the Huskers Radio Network, including KLIN (1400 AM) in Lincoln, KXSP (590 AM) in Omaha and KRVN (880 AM) in Lexington and will also be available on and the Huskers app.  

Projected starters

Alonzo Verge Jr.: 6-foot-3, 164 pounds

Trey McGowens: 6-foot-4, 196 pounds

Bryce McGowens: 6-foot-7, 179 pounds

Lat Mayen: 6-foot-9, 217 pounds

Derrick Walker Jr.: 6-foot-9, 239 pounds

The Matchup

– The Huskers have excelled of late on the offensive end because they haven’t gotten sped up, as Fred Hoiberg likes to say. “I think there’s a misconception with that sometimes that if you’re playing with pace, that means you have to shoot it quickly,” the coach said. “Pace is getting up the floor, getting in your action, and executing with speed … But especially when teams have gone on runs, we’ve stayed within ourselves much better, the best that we have all season.”

The Huskers of late have made the simple plays and the extra pass too, with confidence also booming from seeing the ball go in the hole from deep. Alonzo Verge Jr. has been getting the hang of some of the finer details at point guard as this season is closing, coming off 13 points, 11 assists and five rebounds against Ohio State. There has been some tough lessons along the way, but the Verge of the last few weeks has been a headache for foes, using his quickness on the dribble but also staying in control and not letting the air out of the ball either. 

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– Trey McGowens has been a glue guy beyond what the stats show. When he slows down the top guy on the other team offensively, business is open for Nebraska. Hoiberg noted McGowens took only five shots the other night against Ohio State but was arguably the most important guy on the floor. “You lose a guy that’s this important in the third game of the season, to get him back on the floor, and to see what we’re capable of doing, he’s as important of a guy as we have on our roster,” Hoiberg said.

– It’s a great opportunity for the Huskers to ‘shoot their shot’ with some regional and even national attention on them. Because this is an important Big Ten game, the kind any athlete should relish playing in, with Wisconsin (24-5, 15-4 Big Ten) having everything to play for. The Badgers lead the chase for the regular-season conference title by a game on the final day and can earn the outright Big Ten title and the No. 1 seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament with a win OR if Iowa beats Illinois, which is in second place.

Wisconsin is also playing for a very high national seed at this point too, ranked No. 10 in both polls. The Badgers are riding the high of a last-second 70-67 win over Purdue in which Nebraska native Chucky Hepburn hit the game-winner. They Badgers are playing for the prize but the Huskers can embrace the spoiler role.

– The Badgers have one of the Big Ten’s and nation’s best players in Johnny Davis, averaging 20.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. He has 15 games with 20-plus points, second in the league behind only Iowa’s Keegan Murray. Brad Davison is usually a big problem for Nebraska too. He’s averaging 14.0 points and shooting 35.0 percent from 3-point range, though that latter figure probably seems like it should be much higher to Nebraska fans. Tyler Wahl is also averaging in double figures.

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The freshman Hepburn, meanwhile, is averaging 8.1 points per game and has a flair for the dramatic already as a freshman. As his days at Bellevue West suggested he would be, he’s a tenacious defender too.

– Obviously Bryce McGowens needs another big day as he looks to cement Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. He had 26 against the Buckeyes, giving him his sixth game with 25-plus points. He’s been raising his efficiency lately. Downhill Bryce is the best Bryce, and there’s been more and more of it as the season as moved along and he’s gotten stronger and used to the B1G challenge. He was 7-of-14 last time against Wisconsin, going 6-of-6 for the line. NU will need a similar stat line, if not a little extra, in this one.

When Verge is keeping the turnovers down, Bryce is playing with a head of steam and C.J. Wilcher is efficient from the perimeter (he had 15 in the 78-70 win over Ohio State) when coming off the bench, the offense is more like what Hoiberg surely pictured before this season began. 

– The Huskers are suddenly enjoying life on the road, and could win its third straight game away from Lincoln by beating Wisconsin. After snapping a 24-game losing streak against ranked teams by winning at Ohio State on Tuesday, the Huskers try to win its first game against a top-10 team since beating Wisconsin in 2014 in Lincoln on No Sit Sunday. Nebraska has only three wins against top 10 teams on the road, with the last one coming at Michigan State in February, 2014.

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– It’s not much maybe, but it’s something unexpected a few weeks ago that the Huskers could still technically nab the 13 seed for the Big Ten Tournament. To not be the 14 seed, Nebraska would have to win and then Northwestern would have to beat Minnesota on Sunday evening.

– While Wisconsin is a tough club, the Badgers have played a lot of close games and the Huskers were in a fight with them in a 73-65 game in Lincoln on Jan. 27. Nebraska held the Badgers to 36.8 percent shooting, but Wisconsin held a plus-13 rebounding edge and was 10-of-22 from behind the arc to nab the win.

“With Wisconsin, you can’t speed them up,” Hoiberg said. “That’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen is that when teams go on runs, and you can see things get crazy, and they never get sped up … They never have, going all the way back to the Bo Ryan years. They’re running the same things, same system. That’s what I think makes them special. You look at their games. They beat Minnesota by 2. They beat Penn State in a one or two-possession game. They’ve had so many of those games that they’ve won, and they know they can win those now.

“And when you know you can win those, and you have the confidence you can win those close games, it makes such a world of difference.”

– Wisconsin is favored by 12 to 12/12 on various lines today. The ESPN basketball power index gives the Badgers a 93.9 percent chance to win, but it also gave Ohio State more than a 95 percent chance five days ago.

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