Wisconsin basketball fans do not have fond memories of Wisconsin’s last outing against Nebraska. Last February in Lincoln, the Badgers led by as many as 17, but still managed to lose by double digits. Nebraska outscored Wisconsin 45-18 to close the game after forcing overtime. A five-minute overtime period in which the Badgers scored a mere two points and failed to score in the 4:09.
It was a disastrous shooting performance down the stretch that ultimately foreshadowed how UW’s season would end: a loss in the NIT Semifinals against North Texas. Wisconsin led by as many as 14 in that game before an offensive slump resulting in North Texas holding the Badgers scoreless in the final 9:08.
Fortunately for head coach Greg Gard, he has a revamped squad for this upcoming game against Nebraska (12-2, 2-1 Big Ten). This season, the Wisconsin Badgers (10-3, 2-0 Big Ten) have a much-improved offense rated 15th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom – a metric UW ranked 140th in a season ago. Will that jump be enough to hold off the Cornhuskers, who are much improved in their own right?
Wisconsin Basketball Must Slow Down Keisei Tominaga
A big reason for Nebraska’s comeback victory against Wisconsin last season was ‘Huskers guard Keisei Tominaga. In that game, he recorded 22 points while making five of his 11 three-point attempts. That was only one of many great outings Tominaga had on the season as he finished third in the Big Ten in points per game on his way to being named an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention.
Slowing down Tominaga is no easy task, however. Just three days ago, the senior notched 28 points – just two shy of his career-high – while demonstrating his ability to score at all three levels.
How do you slow down a player who can make every shot from inside the arc, make threes, get to the free throw line, and hit those free throws with regularity? That is the challenge Wisconsin basketball has with Tominaga. The former junior college product had the second-best shooting percentage in the Big Ten from two last season and finished in the top ten in three-point shooting. While the Japanese Olympian’s three-point numbers have dipped a bit, he has made up for it.
Tominaga’s biggest improvement from last season is getting to the free-throw line. When he does not make the shot on the floor, he gets to the line and is an excellent shooter at the line, hitting 84.6% of his attempts this season.
Wisconsin basketball will not be able to shut Tominaga down, but smart defense that limits fouling will go a long way in limiting his impact. Fortunately for the Badgers, their newest addition on the wing, AJ Storr, is one of the best players in the country at not fouling. He is committing a mere 1.1 fouls per 40 minutes, according to KenPom, the 19th-best mark in the country. Storr will likely see a healthy share of possessions defending Nebraska’s two excellent contributors at the two and three spots.
Wisconsin Basketball: Another Challenge on the Wing
When the ball is not in Tominaga’s hands, it is oftentimes in the hands of Nebraska’s other contributor on the wing. A newcomer in Lincoln, Brice Williams has made a splash early for the Cornhuskers. The Charlotte transfer has shown little worry about the increase in the difficulty of competition brought by the other schools in the Big Ten.
Williams does not have the finishing ability around the rim to be called a three-level scorer, but he does basically everything else incredibly well. He gets to the free-throw line and makes his attempts at an even higher clip than Tominaga. Williams, known for his three-point shooting prowess when at Charlotte, is shooting 37.5% from beyond the arc this season. A bit down from his career average of 39.1%, but the North Carolina native is a sharpshooter.
In Nebraska’s two great shooters with range in Tominaga and Williams, Wisconsin basketball has a real challenge on its hands. UW is allowing opponents to make 34.4% of its threes this season while making only 32.4% of their own. The Badgers rank sub-200 nationally in three-point offense and defense.
Both of these teams are quite adept at drawing fouls but also commit a fair share of their own. This one might be a slog with stops and starts and plenty of whistles. If it is not a slog, Nebraska might just shoot the lights out at the Kohl Center from beyond the arc. This should be a sneaky competitive game for Wisconsin basketball.