Preview: (9) Wisconsin at Nebraska
Who: The No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers (25-5, 12-5) vs the Nebraska Cornhuskers (18-11, 10-7)
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln, Neb.
When: March 9, 2014, 6:30 p.m. CT
T.V. Coverage: BTN
Line: Wisconsin -3
Last time: Wisconsin crushed the Huskers 77-46 last February in Madison. The overall series is tied at 10, with Nebraska owning a 6-3 lead in games in Lincoln.
Players to watch: Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway
The two sophomores lead the Huskers in scoring, with Petteway going for 17.8 per game and Shields adding 12.2 per game. Shields, who offers a matchup problem at 6-foot-7, has two double-doubles over the last four games and has scored at least 13 points in four of his last five contests. Petteway has struggled with his shot of late. He’s made just 11 of his last 40 shots (27.5 percent) but still has been in double figures scoring in eight straight games. He’s also a matchup problem at 6-foot-6.
The regular season finale for both teams is being billed as one of the biggest home games in Nebraska basketball history. With the Huskers teetering on the NCAA tournament bubble – as of Saturday ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had them as one of the last four teams in the field – a win over Wisconsin could secure their first tournament berth since 1998.
“A new opponent, in a kind of game where they have everything to lose,” guard Josh Gasser said of the matchup. “They win, they’re in pretty much. They lose, they (might be) out, so it’s basically a tournament game for them.”
But it’s also very significant for the Badgers. A win on Sunday would clinch the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament and keep their hopes alive for a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s big,” Sam Dekker said. “We want to secure that two-seed (in the Big Ten tournament) but we just want to win. Take it a day at a time. If we get this win, we’ll put ourselves, I think, in a good position for some stuff come postseason time. But we can’t think about that. We have to focus on the task at hand. That’s getting a good win against a good team. If we do that all the chips will fall into place.”
While Dekker wouldn’t directly comment on the Badgers playing for a high seed in the NCAA tournament, his coach, surprisingly, was willing to.
“I know (the selection committee has) a lot of things they have to deal with, but I do feel our guys have played well enough to be in that one (or) two spot somewhere,” Bo Ryan told Jim Rome on the CBS Sports Network on Friday. “And hopefully we can finish strong with our last regular season game and then into the Big Ten tournament. But we know how quickly some of those things can go by, but up to this point, I’m proud of our guys and I think we should get a very high seed, yes.”
Nebraska has been very good at home in their first year playing at Pinnacle Bank Arena – a new 15,147-seat facility that opened last fall. They are 14-1 in Lincoln, with the one loss a 71-70 setback to Big Ten champion Michigan in early January. And overall they are 9-2 in their last 11 games with a win against a top-10 Michigan State club.
“Another tough test on the road,” Dekker said. “Good team that’s won a lot of games of late. They’re as hot as anyone so we’ve got to respect that, realize that’s going to be a tough game going into it. They’re going to have a packed house, a great environment. Everything you’ve got to love about March basketball. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a big one. I expect a battle.”
While Nebraska has been stellar at home the Badgers have been almost as good on the road. Their 11 wins away from the Kohl Center are a school record, and they’ve won four straight Big Ten road games, including beating top 15 teams Michigan and Iowa. Wisconsin appears to be extremely comfortable with the “us against the world” mentality that comes with playing on the road.
“It’s going to be a really tough game. A tough environment. I think if we win this game it might be our best win of the year just given the circumstances,” Gasser said. “They’re a really good team. They’re playing really well. In a tough environment. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun and hopefully we can come away with a win.”
Going for No. 700
With a win on Sunday, UW coach Bo Ryan will have 700 wins in his coaching career between his three stops – UW-Platteville, UW-Milwaukee and Wisconsin. Never one for blatant self-promotion Ryan understands the position he’s in has come as the result of the people around him.
“It’ll say, number one, that I’ve been fortunate enough to last a long time in college coaching,” Ryan said on ROME on the CBS Sports Network. “That is because of the players, because of the support I’ve had. Those aren’t clichés. You don’t get to last this long in this profession without having a lot of good people around you.
“If that happens, when it happens, that’s all great. That’s fine but all it will do to me is trigger all the thoughts and all the pleasant memories of all the teams that have come before this one.”
For the players that are on this team – the one that will likely help him break the barrier – it’ll be special to be a part of such an achievement.
“Every win he’s had, he deserves,” Gasser said. “He’s put in the work, put in the time. Gets the most out of his players, improves his players. As a coach that’s exactly what you want. As a player you have to respect the heck out of that. He’s come in and he’s going to do whatever it takes to win. As players you’re always trying to play follow the leader type thing and he’s always been the leader of this group, so definitely well-deserved.”
Dekker also acknowledged how special it would be for Ryan to reach the mark but guaranteed it wouldn’t be the coach’s focus.
“We want to get him that win but at the end of the day the number he loves the most is one – getting a win that day,” the sophomore said. “Whether it’s practice or going to watch his grandkids or playing a basketball game or coaching us. He just wants to get that one win each day. A guy with that type of mindset everyday is going to win a lot of games. It’ll be special to get him 700.”
“That’s crazy they were ranked twelfth. That just shows rankings mean absolutely nothing. They’re talented. They’re well-coached. They have one of the best home environments in college basketball. They deserve every win they’ve gotten. They’re extremely talented. They play really hard. You’re never going to get an easy win out of them.”
Josh Gasser on Nebraska being picked in the preseason to finish last in the conference.