The laboring Wisconsin men’s basketball team (15-3, 6-2 in Big Ten) travel to last-place Nebraska (6-13, 0-8) hoping to limp their way past the Cornhuskers on Thursday, possibly without starting forward Tyler Wahl again.
“We don’t know where he’ll be on Thursday,” head coach Greg Gard said of Wahl after Tuesday’s practice, “We’ll see how he reacts to what he does, how he feels the next day from what he’s done the previous day.”
The Badgers could really use Wahl back in the lineup, even if it’s not at 100%. Without the junior forward, who sprained his ankle in the Badgers win over Northwestern, Wisconsin struggled for production against the No. 14 Spartans last Friday. The Badgers shot just 42.6% from the field and got just six points from replacements Ben Carlson and Carter Gilmore, with all of those coming from the former.
It wasn’t just the offense that suffered, either. Wahl, touted as the best defender on a strong Badger defense, was sorely missed on both sides of the ball. The Spartans shot an outstanding 52.6% from the floor and had 32 points in the paint in the 86-74 Wisconsin loss.
Wahl’s absence might have been most felt in the depth in a relatively shallow Badger team offensively. The Wisconsin bench, now moved a spot up without Wahl, was outscored by Michigan State’s 43-7.
If the Badgers can get Wahl with even limited minutes, they should be able to get back to winning ways with a defeat of Nebraska.
If Wahl can’t go, it’ll be interesting to see who is tasked with guarding Nebraska’s Bryce McGowens. McGowens averages 15.7 points per game and has five games this season with 20+ points. Alongside him, Alonzo Verge Jr. averages 14.3, making a dominant offensive backcourt that could cause the Badgers problems if they don’t shut the duo down early.
One thing that will remain true whether or not Wahl is in the lineup is that somebody needs to step up and join the scoring output. The offense has had a tendency this season to lean too heavily on Johnny Davis and Brad Davison. Somebody has to step up in Wahl’s place to take the load off of Davis and Davison.
For me, that production has to come from Chucky Hepburn.
The freshman point guard has shown flashes this semester but has yet to produce on a real consistent basis, and a game against a low-tier Big Ten team in front of his family in Nebraska is the perfect opportunity for the first-year guard to show what he’s really made of.
With or without Wahl, the Badgers need to win this game in the ever-competitive Big Ten. The conference boasts five top 25 teams, and each team needs to win every game they’re favored in.
The game will tip-off at 4 p.m. and is available to watch on Big Ten Network.