|Who: No. 25 Michigan (17-7, 7-4 B10) at Nebraska (11-11, 3-8 B10)|
|Where: Bob Devaney Sports Center (Lincoln, NE)|
|When: 8:30 p.m. ET, Wednesday, February 8th, 2012|
|TV: BTN / BTN2GO|
|Radio: MGoBlue, 950AM, 1050AM, Sirius 91, XM 91|
|More: Beilein Video / Douglass and Morgan Video / Pick to Click / Inside the Play vs. MSU|
Michigan heads back on the road tonight for the fifth time in six games, this time to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Road games in the Big Ten are never easy but this match-up could provide the Wolverines with the slightest bit of reprieve. This will be Michigan’s first game against a team ranked outside of Ken Pomeroy’s top-100 since the calendar turned to the year 2012 and the Wolverines have played six of their last ten games against against teams ranked in Pomeroy’s top 10. Nebraska is ranked in the 129th slot by Pomeroy’s metrics and holds an 8-6 home record on the season.
There’s little question that Nebraska was added to the Big Ten because of its football program and the Cornhuskers haven’t brought much excitement to the hardwood. The lack of excitement stems from a roster seemingly devoid of promise. The Cornhuskers are the second oldest team in the nation (measured by class year weighted by minutes) and every meaningful contributor is a junior or senior. Doc Saddler doesn’t have a promising freshman star to build off of in the year’s to come or a deep sophomore class that’s growing up on the job. Instead this is an experienced group that hasn’t proven that it can compete in the Big Ten without many clear answers for the future.
Nebraska’s offensive profile doesn’t exude the look of an experienced team. The Cornhuskers turn the ball over on 23% of their Big Ten possessions, the worst in the conference, and are a non-factor on the offensive glass. Nebraska is one of two Big Ten teams that grabs fewer offensive rebounds than Michigan, pulling down just 26.5% of its missed shots. Nebraska also isn’t a great shooting team, making 48.1% of its twos and 30.2% of its threes for a 46.9% effective field goal percentage. Despite being the second worst three point shooting team in the Big Ten, the Huskers attempt the third most threes in Big Ten games. Ranking in the bottom third of the conference in all four factors, it should come as no surprise that Nebraska’s per-possession output of .92 points per trip is the worst in the Big Ten.
Nebraska’s defense compares favorably to its offense but that says more about just how bad the offense really is. The Cornhuskers surrender 1.09 points per possession in league games and have shown the most flaws on the interior. League opponents have made 54.7% of their two point shots while grabbing 34% of their missed shots against the Huskers. The two strongest elements of the Nebraska defense are on the perimeter where the Huskers pick up steals at a higher rate than any other Big Ten team – Brandon Richardson leads the Big Ten in pickpockets – and do an adequate job of defending the three point shot (31.8% D3P%).
LSU transfer guard Bo Spencer leads Nebraska in scoring but that has more to do with volume than efficiency. Spencer takes 30% of Nebraska’s shots despite pedestrian shooting percentages inside (48%) and out (31%). His backcourt mate, 6-foot guard Brandon Richardson, doesn’t take many shots but has made 43% of his threes and leads Nebraska in assists in Big Ten play.
6-foot-6 forward Toney McCray is the only other double digit scorer for the Cornhuskers and also one of their most effective shooters, making 53% of his twos and 38% of his threes. He’s joined on the wing by Dylan Talley, Nebraska’s No. 3 scorer in Big Ten games, and Caleb Walker, just a 54% free throw shooter, on the wing.
6-foot-10 Brandon Ubel has been forced into an increased role as Jorge Brian Diaz is sidelined with a foot injury and not expected to play. Ubel has decent touch around the basket but his best strength is his offensive rebounding ability.
Michigan is a significantly better team than Nebraska and the Bob Devaney Sports Center might feel more like a neutral site than a true road game considering Michigan’s last four road trips were to Fayetteville, West Lafayette, Columbus and East Lansing. Michigan’s loss at Iowa, where Nebraska won, should serve as a reminder for this team what sort of execution is necessary to win on the road. However, the Wolverines are 6-0 after losses this season and this is a game that they should win if they are serious about their team goals.
Pomeroy predicts a five point Michigan victory and his computers give the Cornhuskers a 30% chance of a home upset.