The Wisconsin Badgers (11-7 overall, 4-3 B1G) are back in action Tuesday night against the struggling Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-11 overall, 2-5 B1G) at the Kohl Center in Madison. Nebraska comes into the game having lost three in a row, but they have looked feistier lately than they did earlier in the season when they lost to UC Riverside and Southern Utah.
The Badgers, on the other hand, have split their last four games: losing a heart breaker to Illinois, notching impressive wins over Penn State and Maryland and then getting pounded by Michigan State. This is a key game for the Badgers in the sense that they can NOT lose, at home no less, to a team like Nebraska and expect to make the NCAA Tournament.
To give us some insight into how the Huskers’ season has been going, we reached out to our friends at Corn Nation. Patrick Gerhart was kind enough to answer our questions and give us the lowdown on Nebraska’s team.
1) Can you give us a brief overview of Nebraska’s season so far? What are the early returns on Fred Hoiberg looking like? What is the Huskers best win of the season?
Well, Nebraska has had a couple good wins. A couple close losses. Also, a lot of head scratching games that still don’t make a whole lot of sense. Basically, outside of two players from last year this is an entirely new team and they play like it. There’s a lot of talent here, but their ability to put together complete games is hit or miss.
Right now the best win is over Purdue. Nebraska recently had a blowout loss to Creighton that seemed to be a wake up call to the team. They then lost in overtime to Indiana in Bloomington. That led to a very nice win against a Purdue team that out sized them.
Hoiberg likes his teams to be fast, athletic and shoot a lot. Especially from beyond the arc. So far, Nebraska has done that to the best of it’s abilities this season. They like to run a team down and hope their field goal percentage is enough to pull off the win. They’re not the biggest and they don’t care. Not exactly what one is used to in the Big Ten but it has worked for The Mayor in the past and should at some point in the future.
2) With six players leaving via transfer and five via graduation after last year this is an entirely new look Nebraska squad. How have all the newcomers meshed and who is standing out as the “lead dog?”
Like I mentioned above, it has been hit or miss. There has been progress from the start of the season, but the start was rough. Each week that goes by they seem to be getting better and better. They are not the largest team by any stretch of the imagination. This is definitely a transition year.
The tallest player is freshman 17 year old Yvan Ouedrago who stands at only 6-foot-9. Cam Mack (pictured below) is the most talented player along with being the best leader on the court. He is averaging 12.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game and is easily the most consistent player on the team.
He has also recently garnered some attention for his passing ability from Indiana Coach Archie Miller. Something you do not hear very often, but a nice complement none the less.
3) Despite playing at a quicker pace than most teams, the Huskers rarely turn the ball over on offense. On defense, they rarely foul and don’t give the opposition many free throw attempts. Who/what is responsible for this excellent discipline on both sides of the ball?
The offense is all Fred Hoiberg and the defense is former Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler. Yes, Fred brought a former head coach back to Lincoln to whip the team into shape. Doc coached under Fred when they were at Iowa State and stayed close over the years since then. While Doc never had a breakout season at Nebraska, he did develop the Huskers into a decent defensive squad in the Big 12. They were never the most talented teams, but they could play defense. They still have a ways to go but have shown improvement as the season has gone on.
4) Who is an under the radar player that will make Wisconsin fans sounds smart at the bar when they say “watch out for this guy” to their friends?
I would say that would be Thorir Thorbjarnarson. He is the one player from last years team that had any time on the court. I really didn’t expect much out of him this year and was kind of surprised he was asked to stay on as Fred pretty much cleaned house for his system. Thorir has transitioned well. He is currently averaging 8.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game.
While he is not a breakout player compared to some, his influence on the team has gone a long way and can pull the squad out of a rut with his play. I also think he means more to this team that you can see on the court. A good bridge for all of these new and young players to the basketball team.
5) What is your score prediction and who will be the leading scorer for Nebraska?
Like I said earlier, this is a fast paced team and could keep the score close on Wisconsin if the Badgers start out sluggish and miss enough shots. However, Wisconsin has been playing some really good ball as of late while knocking off some top-20 talent in the conference.
If Nebraska can keep the pace of the game on their side, it should be close but I still like Wisconsin’s chances more than Nebraska’s at this point in time. Leading scorer will be Cam Mack once again.