Bo Ryan and the Badgers begin Big Ten play at Nebraska on Tuesday.
It's difficult to imagine any team facing a more difficult schedule between now and January 21 than what the Nebraska Cornhuskers find themselves up against. The tough stretch gets underway Tuesday night in Lincoln where the Cornhuskers host the No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers.
ESPN2 will broadcast the tip from Bob Devaney Sports Center a little past 9:00 p.m. (ET). Wisconsin opened as an 8-point favorite with the total sitting at a low, low 105.
Tuesday's tussle is Nebraska's first Big Ten contest on the hardwood, and the schedule makers certainly didn't take it easy on the 'Huskers as they get their feet wet in the conference. Six of the first eight Big Ten opponents for Doc Sadler's side are ranked, and Nebraska will have to tangle with these Badgers and the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes twice in that span. The Cornhuskers will also host No. 17 Michigan State and No. 15 Indiana, plus have a road trip to face Illinois.
If there is a breather over the next four weeks, it's a home date on Jan. 11 vs. Penn State.
As if the schedule wasn't demanding enough, the Cornhuskers (8-3 straight up, 3-4 against the spread) could be without two of its top four scorers when taking the floor Tuesday night. Forward Jorge Brian Diaz (10.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG) is questionable while nursing a foot injury that has held him out of action the past two games, and guard Dylan Talley (9.1 PPG) is also questionable after missing the last two games with a bruised thigh.
Toney McCray has helped make up for some of the scoring lost without Diaz and Talley the past two games. The 6-foot-6 senior guard combined for 31 points in wins over Alcorn State and Central Michigan, hitting 13 of his 19 field goal attempts and adding 15 boards in the contests.
Bo Spencer leads Nebraska in scoring (16.0) and assists (4.3), and has been just about unflappable at the free throw line where the senior has converted 45-of-52 attempts. He and McCray will still need a lot of help to put enough offense on the board against a very stingy Wisconsin defense, and Brandon Ubel's presence inside in place of Diaz could be the key, especially on the offensive glass to give the Cornhuskers extra chances to score.
Calling the Badgers stingy on defense is actually an understatement. Wisconsin (11-2 SU, 8-2 ATS) leads the nation allowing opponents just 44.7 points per game. Just two teams have reached the 60-point mark against the Badgers, both losses at then-No. 5 North Carolina (60-57) and at home to then-No. 16 Marquette (61-54).
In addition to a suffocating defense we've come to expect from a squad coached by Bo Ryan, Wisconsin ranks third in the country in fewest turnovers with just 8.6 per outing. Nebraska's defense is forcing more than 13 miscues per game by its opponents, tied with the Badgers for tops among Big Ten teams, a stat to watch as this game unfolds.
The biggest difference in the two offenses comes in the 3-point column where Wisconsin is hitting a gaudy 40.2 percent of its long-range shots, 22nd in the country, compared to Nebraska sinking 35.3 percent (173rd). Ben Brust has been the biggest threat from outside for the Badgers, connecting on 31 of his 69 heaves from beyond the arc. Brust's 10.8 PPG is third on the team behind Jared Berggren (12.5) and Jordan Taylor (12.2).
Berggren will be a matchup problem for Nebraska's defense since the 6-foot-10 junior can take his game outside. If Berggren can keep Ubel – or Diaz, if he plays – from clogging up the middle of the lane, it should open things up for the Badgers.
It's been more than 13 years since the two schools met on a basketball court, with Nebraska leading the all-time series 10-6. Wisconsin has lost both games played at Devaney Center, but each came more than 20 years ago.
The two sides enter this one with disagreeing trends as far as totals go. The Cornhuskers sport a 5-2 mark to the 'over,' something that can be attributed to their opponents' scoring as much as theirs. Wisconsin is 7-2 'under,' and that's entirely on the defense which has held 10 of its 13 antagonists to their season-low on the scoreboard. The teeny total set for this one suggests oddsmakers expecting UW to hold NU well below its fewest points of the campaign (51).
There shouldn't be any danger of a look-ahead spot for the Badgers who return home to play Iowa this Saturday. Nebraska will remain at home for Saturday's matchup with Michigan State. The 'Huskers and Badgers will meet again on Jan. 15 in Madison.