|No. 19 Wisconsin turns to senior leaders against Nebraska|
No. 19 Wisconsin and Nebraska meet for the second time this season Friday in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals in Chicago, and it's already been an eventful trip -- quite literally -- for Cornhuskers coach Tim Miles.
Miles awkwardly stumbled and fell Wednesday night after the Cornhuskers (18-15) knocked off Rutgers at United Center, but 13th-seeded Nebraska is still standing Friday after a surprising win over No. 5 seed Maryland, 69-61, on Thursday.
Will Nebraska have the legs to reach to the semifinals? Holding up against Ethan Happ and Wisconsin is a whole new world for the short-handed 'Huskers.
The Badgers (22-9) have played in the Big Ten tournament championship game seven times -- only Ohio State has been there more -- and are the fourth seed in the bracket, taking the court in Chicago for the first time this week on Friday.
Happ, whom Indiana head coach Archie Miller suggested should be the National Player of the Year, scraped to hit double figures in the only meeting of the season with Nebraska (10 points, nine boards). The senior averages a team-high 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds, and with defenses focused on containing Happ, the Badgers finished second in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting (37.4 percent).
Another senior, Khalil Iverson, averages fewer than three baskets per game, but he's earned a reputation in the league as a defensive stopper. Iverson is likely to draw Nebraska's James Palmer Jr. on Friday. Palmer went for 24 against Maryland on Thursday after dropping 34 on Rutgers a day earlier.
Since mid-February, Iverson is finding his offensive touch, too. He's shooting 61.1 percent from the field in the past six games, averaging 13.5 points per game in that span.
"You can tell it's a little different mindset for him the last month or so, just because you can see when he catches the ball, he's more looking to attack versus pass off and get the ball back," Happ said of Iverson to the Wisconsin State Journal. "He's looking at it the first time around, and he's finishing really well around the hoop, which is a big part of why he's scoring really well, through contact and through a couple guys.
"He's always had that talent in him, and he's played different roles throughout his career, and this is just one role that he's stepped up and done the last month."
Wisconsin is a Big Ten-best 29-9 in March in the past six seasons (since 2013-14) and handled Nebraska in Lincoln to end January. The Cornhuskers shot 28.3 percent from the field in that 62-51 loss, including a 5-of-19 night from Palmer.
Palmer scored 27 of his 34 points in the second half Wednesday night, and the Cornhuskers had enough legs to hold up against Maryland's pressure Thursday.
That's quite a feat for Miles' bunch, considering his bench is three deep. Nebraska has eight players available for the tournament, and two are walk-ons. Palmer has played all 80 minutes in the first two games this week.
"I think that says a lot about our young guys, and that's really important. You wouldn't win otherwise," said Miles. "A lot of teams would just say, we've got seven guys, there's no way, and they'd quit. Not just say I quit, but they just wouldn't (embrace walk-ons). So I think that is probably that mentality is the thing I'm most proud of."
Speculation is rampant in Lincoln that Miles might be taking his final lap at Nebraska. While he's doing his best to make it last after going 6-14 in the Big Ten during the regular season, athletic director Bill Moos already departed Chicago. He'll be in California watching his son participate in spring football as momentum reportedly builds for a change atop the basketball program.
"I know some of the noise around us. It pertains to me. But the other noise about where we fit in, the NCAA or the NIT, I don't know and I'm not interested," Miles said. "I just know that if we win enough, they can't stop us from playing. So that's what we're doing."
--Field Level Media