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Wisconsin-Nebraska Preview: Is Jared Berggren Ready to Make History?

UW's senior big man is only two blocks away from tying Rashard Griffth for the most swats in Badger history.

Eric Francis

The last time Wisconsin and Nebraska played, things were different.

Hulking Husker center Andre Almeida was out with an injury, so Brandon Ubel had no one to spell him in the post. Ubel fouled out. Two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week Shavon Shields was about to start for the first time. Nebrasketball (0-1 at the time) was only a game out of first place in the Big Ten.

Predictions were gloomy for Wisconsin too. At 10-4, the Badgers hadn't quite gotten their legs under them yet. Ryan Evans was still missing free throws, but he was doing it with his feet on the ground.

The Badgers were locked in a one-possession game with Nebraska in the final minute, thanks to sub-100 offensive ratings for each and every player. Jared Berggren led all scorers with 13 points, yet UW got "bad rebounding Berggren" that day -- a lone defensive board to his name. A far cry from the rebounding juggernaut we've seen lately.

Even so, a road win is a road win, even if the final score is 47-41. Wisconsin (19-8, 10-4 Big Ten) would springboard from its big win over Illinois the next week, leaving teams like Nebraska (13-14, 4-10) in the dust.

Tonight, when Bucky tips off just after 8 p.m. in Madison, all the attention will be on a few light-hearted storylines: the new haircut of Mike Bruesewitz, how Evans will shoot his free throws, and of course, how many shots Berggren will block.

The Big Ten's second-leading block artist this season needs just three blocked shots against Nebraska to break Rashard Griffith's career record (124) and establish a new standard for post defenders in Wisconsin lore. Coincidentally, Berggren has had exactly three rejections on January 6 in Lincoln. He has 51 blocks this season after swatting 60 last year.

Not only is Berggren knocking on the door of history, but today he was also named one of 30 semifinalists for the 2013 Naismith Award, given to college basketball's top player each year.

I can't say I saw that honor coming for a guy (and a team) that has yet to be named conference player of the week this year, but such is life in the loaded Big Ten. The nomination seems to be an acknowledgement of Berggren as the best player on what has proven to be a very dangerous team.

From the university's press release:

Berggren, who has started all 27 games for the Badgers this season, leads the team in scoring (11.9 ppg) and ranks second in rebounding (7.0 rpg), having posted a pair of double-doubles in Big Ten play. Berggren is one of just three players to rank among the Big Ten’s top 20 scorers and top 10 rebounders.

On the other hand, Nebraska is coming off one of its best wins of the season. The Huskers' 64-60 home victory last Saturday over Iowa may have eliminated the Hawkeyes' NCAA tournament chances, so that is a plus. Nebraska pulled it off behind senior Dylan Talley's 18 points and go-ahead jumper with nine seconds left. Shields, the reigning Big Ten FOW, added 17 points and seven rebounds.

The 6'5" Talley has been playing point guard for the majority of the Big Ten season rather than the diminutive Benny Parker.

Rarely do miracles do happen at the Kohl Center, but Nebraska coach Tim Miles has at least done it before. Of course, Wisconsin is not exactly on upset watch Tuesday night. Unfortunately for the Cornhuskers, Pomeroy likes Wisconsin in this one almost as much as any other game this season.

Projected Starting Lineups

Wisconsin Pos. Nebraska
Jared Berggren, Sr. F Brandon Ubel, Sr.
Mike Bruesewitz, Sr. F David Rivers, So.
Ryan Evans, Sr. F Shavon Shields, Fr.
Ben Brust, Jr. G Ray Gallegos, Jr.
Traevon Jackson, So. G Dylan Talley, Sr.

KenPom win probability: 96% (63-46 W) 56 possessions


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