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December 24, 2011It's no secret that Nebraska is in for its biggest challenge of the season thus far when No. 13 Wisconsin rolls into town on Tuesday night for its Big Ten Conference opener.
Behind one of the best defenses in all of college basketball, the Badgers have jumped out to an 11-2 start, with their only two losses coming at No. 5 North Carolina and to No. 16 Marquette. Not only that, Wisconsin has held its opponents to just 44.7 points per game and has outscored teams by an average of nearly 23 points this season.
On paper at least, that certainly doesn't bode well for the Huskers. Ranked 210th nationally in scoring offense at 66.8 ppg and shooting just 45 percent as a team (which ranks 126th) on the season, Nebraska has had issues all year with consistently putting the ball in the basket.
Things have been especially rough the past few weeks, as before Saturday's 72-69 win over Central Michigan to close out non-conference play, the Huskers hadn't scored 70 or more points in their previous five games.
Despite his team's recent struggles, head coach Doc Sadler said he was encouraged by the improvements Nebraska showed against CMU. In particular, he said he was pleased with the way the Huskers created more scoring opportunities with their play defensively.
"I don't think it had anything to do with the offense," Sadler said. "I think it had everything to do with the defense. When you're aggressive defensively, getting after it, and I though that's what we did? We were really aggressive defensively, I thought. We were making a conscious effort not every possession, but when we had opportunities to go trap the ball we'd do that. (That was) the first time this year that we trapped the post."
For Nebraska to make the needed strides to improve its offense, senior guard Brandon Richardson said the team would have to continue to focus on ball movement and getting the ball inside on as many half-court possessions as possible.
"Just sharing the ball and making it easier for guys to score the basketball," Richardson said. "When the ball can go inside to the post, I would say more good things will come out of it as far as scoring and getting a good shot. Sharing the ball, playing defense and being in the right spots at the right times on offense and defense."
More than anything, though, the Huskers say improved communication on the court would be the biggest key of all in getting their offense turned around.
There's a reason Sadler included having the best communication of any team in the country on a banner listing NU's goals for the season, which is prominently displayed in the Hendricks Center practice court.
For Nebraska to have any sort of offensive success against the stingy defenses of the Big Ten, the Huskers are going to have to talk to each other more than ever.
"Communication, that's one of our biggest problems," Richardson said. "We always talk about it in practice. The game can be much easier if we would just talk? Whatever the case may be, communication is a big part of basketball. If you don't have communication, you might struggle a lot."