Will Isaac Copeland’s absence affect the outcome of this game? You better believe it. Jake Kocorowski talks about that and more in my Q&A with Bucky’s 5th Quarter.
1. Ethan Happ has been “the guy” for a very long time now, Nebraska contained him to an extent last year, does that happen again? If so, why?
I think it could be an interesting game for Happ. He comes off his second triple-double of the season--13 rebounds, 12 rebounds, 11 assists--in a win against Northwestern, but he also shot 6-of-15 from the field--also only hitting one of five from the free throw line--so not great numbers in a couple of categories.
That being said, he is a special, unique player that can score, play well defensively in grabbing rebounds and blocking the occasional shots, and also dish out assists when he’s doubled and finds the open man.
I think it’s safe to say Happ will likely get between 15-20 points against the Huskers, but others like guards D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison, along with sophomore forward (and fledging successor to Happ) Nate Reuvers will have to step up.
2. Is Wisconsin a team that will try to turn this game into an offensive frenzy, or will the Badgers keep it low-scoring with slow and chippy basketball?
Definitely the latter, as if you look at KenPom’s adjusted tempo, they are 331st in the country. Wisconsin is not a fast break or really a transition team unless there is a really wide-open opportunity for a layup or dunk off a steal. Offensively, the Badgers will patiently work to get the open shot with passing the ball around in the half court and letting Happ work his magic like a point forward/center with his ball handling and presence inside. Trice and Davison also have an ability to hurt you with clutch shots with the shot clock winding down.
Defensively, UW plays pretty stout defense as well. Watch out for Davison and Reuvers working to draw charges, especially the former who has become notorious for doing so.
3. Outside of Happ, who will help out with the offense. D’Mitrix Trice? Brad Davison? Or will the Badgers attack in the post with Isaac Copeland gone?
Trice, Davison and Reuvers all have the potential to score on opposing teams. Trice and Davison combined for 36 against Northwestern on Saturday, with the former now third in the conference in three-point percentage (45.7 percent, but it should be noted Davison is fifth in the Big Ten at 43.4 percent as well). Reuvers has emerged lately in becoming a scoring threat with 18 against Maryland and a career-high 22 against Illinois, though the scoring has not been as consistent from the sophomore big man (three points in 14 minutes against Northwestern due to foul trouble).
With its offense, it always starts with Happ. If he can work the post and inside with success, it will be a long evening for Nebraska. If the Huskers decide to double him, he’s such a great passer (third in the conference at 5.4 assists per game) that he can dish it to someone on the perimeter for an easy shot. If Wisconsin’s players can hit from deep in that scenario, opposing teams are really in a ‘pick your poison’ situation.
4. A grueling conference this year where they’re no “gimme” games, where do you see Wisconsin finishing in the standings? Top 5?
In a stretch where Wisconsin lost four of five before its current three-game winning streak, three of those defeats were in-conference. I think that hurt Wisconsin a bit in the Big Ten early on, but that being said, this team can compete with any program in the conference this season. It really is just a matter of not shooting itself in the foot with turnovers (see: Purdue loss or first half of Illinois game, the latter of which they actually won) or only scoring 14 or 15 points in the first half against Minnesota and Maryland, respectively.
With the rest of the schedule forthcoming, I think this game against Nebraska is very critical for them to stay up in the top half of the conference. Not to look too far into the future, but if they play like they have been the past three games, they could ride into a Feb. 8 match-up against Michigan on a six-game winning streak--which would help their cause in staying among the top teams in the Big Ten.
In the end, I think they do finish in the Top 5, even potentially a top 4 look.
5. Coming into this game with a three game winning streak, with an important home game Friday against Maryland, Wisconsin can’t overlook this game with the Huskers. With that being said, how do you see this unfolding? Cornhuskers or Badgers?
Right now with Nebraska reeling from losing five of seven and three straight, I feel the Huskers are going to be desperate--even without their second leading scorer and rebounder in Isaac Copeland, Jr. I think Wisconsin attacks with Happ early and often (which is the case with all of the games), and we’ll see if Wisconsin can get hot from the perimeter.
I know KenPom is predicting a 66-64 Nebraska win on Tuesday night. I think the loss of Copeland hurts the Huskers just enough, and even with desperation and home court advantage on Tim Miles’ squad’s side, Wisconsin pulls off a close win 68-65.
However, I would not doubt in any way Nebraska--with great motivation to turn it around this season--pull out the win in decisive fashion.