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The Wisconsin Badgers (16-4, 8-1 in Big Ten) will be tested on Thursday night when they head east for a conference clash with the Nebraska Cornhuskers (15-6, 5-5 in Big Ten).
Wisconsin sits in first place in the Big Ten through the first half of conference season; however, the Purdue Boilermakers (20-2, 9-2 in Big Ten) are right behind it, looking to pass up the Badgers and then leave them in the rearview mirror.
The Cornhuskers have played “spoiler” to a number of teams on their home floor this season, including the aforementioned Boilermakers, where they handed them their second loss of the year. Can they knock off another elite team at home?
Below, we analyze this game between the sixth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers and the Nebraska Cornhuskers to see if Wisconsin can stay in first place in the Big Ten for a little bit longer or if Nebraska will extend its home record to 14-1 with another huge top-ten win!
After an 8-1 start to Big Ten play, the sixth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers enter their road matchup against the Nebraska Cornhuskers as 1.5-point favorites. The point total for this Big Ten battle hangs around 144.5 points, with the Over having a slight edge (-115) on the Under (-105.)
|Over 144.5 (-115)
|Under 144.5 (-105)
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Nebraska is somewhat of a “Bubble Team” at the moment, leaning heavily on its home win against then-top-ranked Purdue as a resume builder. It has been ten years since the Cornhuskers went dancing, so every game from this point forward is of the utmost importance!
Nebraska has three Quad 1 wins, which is certainly a solid start, but another win against a top-ten team would put it on the right side of the bubble entering the pivotal month of February. The Big Ten is “down” this season, meaning that Nebraska has to finish well above .500 if it wants to go dancing, but this next stretch of games could pose an issue. The Cornhuskers face Wisconsin at home today and then hit the road for games against No. 14 Illinois and Northwestern.
Road games are incredibly challenging to win in the Big Ten, especially against a top-15 team like the Fighting Illini and a tough Northwestern team that has already proven it belongs towards the top of the conference after securing a home win against the No. 2 Purdue Boilermakers (they also lost a narrow overtime loss against them a few weeks later.) It will take a Herculean effort for the Cornhuskers to split those two road games, essentially making this game against Wisconsin a make-or-break match.
The Cornhuskers are a talented team and have exceeded expectations, much like No. 6 Wisconsin; the media picked them in the preseason to finish 12th in the Big Ten. Needless to say, that has not been anywhere near the case for this team.
Nebraska’s core includes Keisei Tominaga, Rienk Mast, Brice Williams, Juwan Gary, and C.J. Wilcher. These five players have catapulted the Cornhuskers from an irrelevant offensive team last season to the 33rd-best offense in the nation (per KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric).
Unfortunately, Nebraska’s defense has been an issue for a large portion of the 2023-24 campaign. Their defense ranks outside the top 100 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, which is cause for concern.
However, when taking a closer look, their problems aren’t necessarily in defense but, instead, in defensive rebounding (212th in defensive rebounding percentage.) The Cornhuskers rank 45th in opponent eFG% this season and hold opponents to just 32% shooting from deep on their home floor, which puts it at the same percentage as the Kansas Jayhawks, which boast a top-25 defense. The advanced metrics might undersell Nebraska’s defense, especially on its home floor.
Conversely, Wisconsin is a KenPom darling despite ranking merely 54th in eFG% and 72nd in 3P%. The Badgers do one thing exceptionally well on the offensive end of the floor: they don’t turn the ball over (22nd in the nation).
Last season, this team was a non-factor offensively, ranking 140th in adjO; they rank fifth in that same metric this year. The most significant change for Wisconsin was the addition of talented scorer A.J. Storr, a former St. John’s standout. Between Storr’s transfer and the drastic offensive improvements from returners Chucky Hepburn, Steven Crowl, Max Klesmit, and Tyler Wahl, this Badgers team has become well-rounded on that end of the floor.
A potential concern for the Badgers is their dip in free-throw attempts when they are on the road versus at home, attempting nearly 14 fewer when they are away from the Kohl Center. Free throws hold the highest expected points per possession at the collegiate and professional levels, so a significant decrease in that area could be enough to keep them from winning. Find our entire betting breakdown for this pivotal Big Ten game below!
One of the biggest components of this game is the availability of forward Juwan Gary, who has averaged just shy of 12 points and six rebounds this season for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Gary has missed the past three games for Nebraska, and while it has been able to win both home games in his absence, the Cornhuskers got obliterated in their sole road game (against Maryland) by 22 points.
Luckily, they will be at home in this spot, but Gary is the team’s fourth-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder; his presence matters against teams like Wisconsin, which are not only physically imposing but also talented.
If Gary plays, the Cornhuskers are the team to back in this spot. They have already proven they are a dominant home team, with a double-digit win at Pinnacle Bank Arena over the then-No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers and a 13-1 overall record there.
The only home game they have lost this season was a 29-point drubbing at the hands of No. 13 Creighton, which, frankly, is a hit-or-miss team; the Bluejays can beat any team in the nation if they are “on,” which is precisely what happened that night. Still, Nebraska has played much-improved basketball since then, too.
This is a classic letdown spot for Wisconsin; it likely has its eyes ahead on the home game against No. 2 Purdue this upcoming Sunday, the team that is its biggest competition for the Big Ten regular season championship.
Further, Nebraska has been fantastic on the offensive end of the floor in its past three games, ranking 30th in the nation in eFG% and fourth in the country in 3P% with a 50.8% clip in that span.
All things considered, the Badgers have looked beatable on the road recently, winning by just two points against Minnesota and losing by four points to Penn State. Nebraska is a really tough team on its home floor, and it absolutely has to win this game to build its resume.
Wisconsin Badgers vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers pick: Nebraska Cornhuskers +1.5 at BetMGM.
When: Thursday, Feb. 1 @ 5:30/8:30 p.m. PT/ET
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln, NE
TV: Big Ten Network
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Andrew has always been an avid sports fan and followed his hoop dreams all the way to college. He’s well-versed in everything betting with multiple years of experience and is qualitatively and quantitatively knowledgeable in sports statistics and analytics.More info on Andrew Norton
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