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Wisconsin vs. Nebraska preview: B5Q grills Corn Nation

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Shavon Shields has been ruled out for tonight's game, leaving the folks at Corn Nation a little sad.

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A year ago, Wisconsin had four separate winning streaks of seven or more games. When the Badgers (14-9, 6-4 Big Ten) host Nebraska on Wednesday night, they will try to extend their first true winning streak of the season to six games. Wisconsin has come a long way since the midseason head coaching change, but still has no margin for error.

Unfortunately for Nebraska, a concussion prevented four-year starter Shavon Shields from making the trip to Madison for the Cornhuskers' only meeting with the Badgers this season. As such, Nebraska (13-11, 5-6) is even more undersized and inexperienced up front than usual. Though UW forward Ethan Happ has not made a free throw in two games (0-for-5), he will have every opportunity to reverse that trend against the Huskers.

I asked Patrick Gerhart, basketball editor at Corn Nation, about not having Shields the other day. He responded that it would be tough, half-jokingly adding that he "can’t remember a time when [Shields] wasn’t playing for Nebraska." Me too, Patrick, me too. So I asked him about Nebraska's big men and if Andrew White was the real deal.

B5Q: Shavon Shields was among the team leaders in scoring, rebounding and assists again this year, and has been the face of the Tim Miles era in Lincoln. Nebraska took a big step back last season unfortunately. What's the mood surrounding Miles and the program these days, just two years removed from the new stadium and an NCAA tournament berth?

Corn Nation (Patrick): The year we made it to the NCAA tournament was actually something that was close to not happening. We got by with a lot of luck and pure will of the team on many of those wins. The stats showed it and the holes became pretty big when the luck ran out last year. On paper, Nebraska was not a great team that year. Throw in some other troubles that were brought on the team and you’ve got yourself a mixture for a bad season. Right now people are still fairly upbeat about the program. Miles has done a good job recruiting by bringing in some of the best talent we have seen. He is also a great personality and has represented the university well so it’s not hard to like the guy. People also realize that this is a fairly young, talented team that will take a little time. Unlike football, Nebrasketball fans are relatively patient bunch.

B5Q: After sitting out last season, in comes Kansas transfer Andrew White to assume the alpha dog role this year. White leads the Cornhuskers in both scoring (17.2 ppg) and rebounding (6.2 rpg). Was this expected based on info coming out of practice last season?

CN: Yeah, we knew he was going to be a force from his year at Kansas and our coaches didn’t hide it either. I can't remember the last time I was this excited about a player. White has lived up to most expectations and I think everyone is happy we will have him for another year. The guy is a heck of a ball player and has been a great asset to the team.

B5Q: Do you have any thoughts on Nebraska's crazy non-conference scheduling? The Huskers played six teams ranked below 310 in the Pomeroy ratings, plus suffered a loss to Samford (No. 226). Nebraska balanced that slate with quality tilts against Villanova, Cincinnati, Miami, Creighton, Tennessee and Rhode Island, however the Huskers still have one of the worst non-con SOS in the country. How well do you think that prepared this team for Big Ten play?

CN: Nebraska was still gelling as a team for the first part of the season. We had actually lost quite a few guys after last year and that meant the younger guys would have to step up. Those early games showed that, especially on offense. We would go long periods where we couldn’t buy a bucket. It has gradually gotten better as the season has gone on and I think those early games helped with that. Teams like Villanova, Cincinnati, and Miami showed us the talent and size that we would be going up against during the conference slate.

B5Q: Miles doesn't have any experienced bigs on the roster so he's been forced into playing several young guys. Six-foot-8 freshman Michael Jacobson has looked serviceable as a starter, but from what I've seen, reserve Jack McVeigh is in way over his head as a frosh. The only other rotational player over 6'7 is little used sophomore Jake Hammond (6'10). What are these guys best at? Has this problematic area enticed either White or Shields to do too much at times?

CN: I can’t remember the last time Nebraska had a decent big man under the basket. Jacobson, Hammond and McVeigh have done well considering they are young. They can get pretty aggressive if need be but their sizes still hurt them in that department. Just look at the Maryland game with Diamond Stone. Once he got settled he had his way in the paint. If they really want to make an impact on the team they will have to spend more time in the weight room and eat more steaks at Misty’s.

McVeigh is actually a pretty decent shooter and can rebound fairly well. He's a guy who can be either hot or cold, which can be a problem. Jacobson has filled the role given to him and has also been fairly aggressive on the boards. He doesn't have the size to compete with everyone but does what he can. White seems to deal with these three's limited roles fairly well and it doesn’t seem to affect him. Shields on the other hand can get frustrated and try to make things happen.

B5Q: Another thing I notice about Nebraska is the foul trouble. Wisconsin has been turning up the heat on defenses with an increased focus on getting to the line, plus the game is in Madison. Considering the aforementioned question marks in the front court, what is the defensive game plan for stopping Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ at the rim?

CN: Steal the ball. Nebraska has actually done well this year with turnovers. Watch out for guys like Glynn Watson Jr. and Benny Parker. They will press hard and make you work for the bucket.

B5Q: What's the x-factor in this game in your opinion? Care to make a prediction on the final score?

CN: Shields ... the team should be "okay" without him but I think we will see what impact he has really had on the floor all these years.

Prediction: I like how Wisconsin has improved over the last few weeks. Let go with Wisconsin 78, Nebraska 65

Thanks again to Patrick for being a good sport. You can find him and Corn Nation on Twitter @PatrickGerhart and @CornNation respectively.

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