Previewing the Nebraska Cornhuskers

Jake Kocorowski

Coming off a rough loss in East Lansing, the Wisconsin Badgers look to rebound against the Nebraska Cornhuskers inside the Kohl Center on Tuesday night.

Former Iowa State and Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg took over the men's basketball program at Nebraska (7-11 overall, 2-5 Big Ten) from Tim Miles. According to the team's 2019-20 media guide, it had welcomed 14 new players to Lincoln at the start of the season. Junior guard Thorir Thorbjarnarson was the only returning contributor from a year prior.

UW (11-7, 4-3 Big Ten) will have to contend with a team that has lost four of its first five conference games. However, it has beaten Iowa and Purdue at home earlier this season. Those programs rank 15th and 17th in the KenPom rankings, respectively.

"I think the biggest thing is you can't look at their record," forward Nate Reuvers said on Sunday. "They're a lot better with the eye test than on paper. They've played some teams pretty tight. Won two games already in Big Ten play, almost won a couple more, so it's gonna be ready to go, ready to play against them."

AllBadgers.com presents key stats and players to watch for heading into Tuesday night's conference contest. Wisconsin assistant coach Alando Tucker and guard Brad Davison provided insight as well.

Nebraska Rankings, Stats

  • AP Ranking: N/A
  • KenPom Ranking (as of Jan. 20): No. 135 (No. 135 adjusted offensive efficiency, No. 151 adjusted defensive efficiency)
Stats
Nebraska
Nebraska's Opponents

Points Per Game

72.6

74.8

Field Goal Percentage

41.7

43.2

Three-Point Percentage

33.4

29.6

Free Throw Percentage

59.5

65.5

Rebounds Per Game

36.0

46.4

Assists Per Game 

14.6

13.8

Turnovers per Game 

11.1

14.2

Steals Per Game

6.5

5.1

Blocks Per Game

2.6

5.1

As of Jan. 20, Nebraska ranks among the worst in the Big Ten in the following categories: Scoring defense (last), free throw percentage (last), field goal percentage (12th of 14 teams), field goal percentage allowed (last), and rebound margin (last).

The good news for the Huskers, however, is that they rank first in the conference in turnover margin (+3.1), fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (+1.3) and fifth in three-point percentage (33.4%).

"They're not the normal Big Ten team in terms of just the style of play, the chemistry, what they're looking to do," Tucker said. "A lot of one-on-one you're going to see with them, but they have fast guards, fast guys that can play. If you play an AAU game or pickup game with them individually, they have the skill set to beat you like that, so we have to stay team-oriented. I think that's one of the things that we're talking about right now. But looking at that team, I've seen teams like that a lot in the NBA so I kind of understand some of the things you need to take away, some of the things you need to force from them offensively, try to get them into playing how we want them to play."

Players to Watch 

Up until this point, three Huskers average double figures in scoring. The big name to watch is 6'2 guard Cam Mack, who transferred in from Salt Lake Community College. This season, he has averaged 12.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game -- the latter stat ranking him third in the Big Ten as of Jan. 20.

In conference play, Mack has shined even more, scoring 13.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 8.6 assists per contest. Tucker compared the guard to two high-profile Big Ten guards Wisconsin has recently faced in the past week.

"I gave a comparison of two guys in terms of (Maryland's) Anthony Cowan and (Michigan State's) Cassius (Winston) -- a mixture of those guys, right," Tucker said on Sunday. "Quickness with Anthony Cowan, but his ability to get downhill and make plays, find his shooters. Coach Hoiberg, he does a great job of bringing his NBA style for that personnel ... He's spreading the court out, and he's letting Mack be able to create. He's getting him as much room because he's so quick. 

"These guys, by far, they have the backcourt that's the quickest that we've seen thus far. They're going to come, and they're going to try to run in transition, so we've got to be making sure that we're on point with plugging gaps and not let him get to what he wants to get to in getting downhill and being able to create."

For that matter, Davison also called out Mack's assist-to-turnover ratio and his ability to get into what the team calls the "10-Foot-Zone," or "TFZ," and "kind of spray it out to guys."

Guard Haanif Cheatham, a transfer from Florida Gulf Coast who previously played at Marquette, ranks second on the team in points per game (12.7) while also bringing down 4.1 rebounds per game. He has scored in double figures in 13 of Nebraska's 18 contests.

Cheatham and fellow guard Dachon Burke, Jr. (11.7 points per game) round out the trio of Huskers averaging double digits in that category for the season. 

During Big Ten play, Thorbjarnarson has stepped up significantly, averaging 12.1 points and 5.9 rebounds in seven games while leading the team in shooting percentage (51.7%). During conference play, he has also connected on 16 of 35 three-point attempts (45.7%). Cheatham is second in that regard at 37.5%.

Wisconsin should hold a size advantage with forwards Nate Reuvers (6'11) and Micah Potter (6'10), as Nebraska's tallest player is true freshman Yvan Ouedraogo. The 6'9 forward from France averages 5.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in his 18 starts. Fellow true freshman Kevin Cross, a 6'8 forward from Little Rock, Ark., averages seven points and 4.1 boards in about 18 minutes of action per contest.

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