Over the last 48 hours, I've been reminded of the scene in Memphis Belle. The one where the airmen are all celebrating the boys who are about to set off on their final mission. The next morning, a high ranking guy, captain or something, walks in to brief the men...and reminds them with a solemn face, that although there is a time for celebration- now is the time to get back to serious business.
Beating a highly ranked Texas team for the 2nd time in 3 years is a cause for celebration no doubt. But the reality is that Nebraska has a fair amount of work to do over the next couple weeks, and it won't be easy. Not like flying into Nazi Germany, but a heavy task indeed.
The Huskers have clawed back to a 6-6 conference record, and face a tough challenge Wednesday evening in the Kansas State Wildcats. Previously in Manhattan, Nebraska let the game get away from them and never were able to recover. Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly led the Cats with 18 and 16 respectively, and although the Huskers played the first 5 minutes close, they never really threatened KSU on their way to an ugly 69-53 loss.
Next we'll look a little bit at the upcoming game, and what Nebraska needs to do to win this go 'round.
Kansas State 18-9 (6-6) @ Nebraska 18-8 (6-6)
When the Huskers traveled to Manhattan back on Feb 2nd, the Wildcats were struggling to get a grip on what was turning into a nightmare of a season. Losing key players, and dropping four of their first six games had caused some serious concern around the KSU basketball circles. What better way to get back on track than to play Nebraska at home?
Since then KSU has rung up four of five games, losing only to Colorado by 2 points. Coming off a huge win of their own last week against Kansas, the purple guys seemed to have righted their ship. Jacob Pullen continues to lead the KSU charge, averaging over 19 points per game this season. Last week, the bearded menace dropped 38 big ones on Rock Chalk, and then sizzled again versus OSU scoring 27 points- and ultimately earning Big 12 Player of the Week honors.
In the 16 point win over Kansas, arguably their most impressive game this season, Kansas State blew the Hawks out of the water in every category. Shooting a sickening 62.5% from the field, and hauling in 29 rebounds to KUs 26, it was easy to see how they were able to knock off the mighty Jayhawks. Normally, the Cats are shooting anywhere from 30-50%, something the Huskers can handle.
Nebraska, currently riding a two game win streak, will need to regroup and put all the happy feelings aside. The media and others, (myself included) are all starting to talk about bubbles. I didn't really want to talk about bubbles just yet. It's hard not to get excited after last season, but I'll be posting an article on that later. One thing is for sure: if the players themselves have started looking ahead to a potential NCAA berth, then they are playing with fire.
Can the guys get fired up again, and come out strong? I noticed some changes to Doc's offense last Saturday, and perhaps he's finally found something that is clicking. Nebraska's back-court seemed to be flying around much more so than usual, creating space, running back cuts, and generally just playing a better brand of offensive basketball than we've seen this season. I think it shocked the hell out of the 'Horns. Did Doc save it up for Texas? Not likely, but rather I think he has finally tuned in to the strengths of his players and is starting to utilize them better.
Watching some of the replays, Nebraska reminded me on Saturday of the way that Kansas plays the game. I've always admired how they were able to get guys open, and score within the offense at what looked like an easy pace. That doesn't happen by magic. It's done with crisp passes, lot's of movement, unselfish play, and good decision making. I'm hoping that Doc sticks with what he did on Saturday, not because we won, but because it seems to fit our players abilities a bit better. Brandon Richardson, Lance Jeter, Caleb Walker, and Toney McCray are all capable of slashing to the hoop, and creating plays with their quickness. I say..let 'em go, Doc!
Turnovers. This has been a resounding theme all season long, and when the Husker botch it up in this category..they usually struggle. Case in point: February 2nd. The last game versus KSU was a 17 point blowout, and Nebraska had mainly one area to blame. Turnovers.
Nebraska was able to hang with KSU in most of the statistical categories, and actually shot better from the floor. It was a miserable night holding on to the ball that doomed the Big Red. A 23-13 turnover margin makes it hard for anyone to win, and this was one of the most frustrating games I've had to sit through. Again, Nebraska has had lots of problems with this, so I'm hoping Doc does some extra ball handling drills this week.
First Ten Minutes. The games in which Nebraska has most of their success, are the ones in which they can get ahead or at least stay close for the first five to ten minutes. I can usually tell whether or not we'll have a chance by then, although there have been an exception or two. The first match-up with Kansas was proof that we can hang down the stretch if we give ourselves a chance. The first match-up against the Wildcats was proof that we can't afford not to stay close. (Nebraska was down 7 to Texas at the half, but only let the deficit get to 8 points briefly at the 8 minute mark.)
Nebraska is in a 3-way tie for 5th place in the conference, and is only one game out of a 4th place spot and possible bye in the first round of the Big 12 tourney.Can you imagine?
Which team wants it more? That's basically it. As you can see above in the radar chart, there isn't much of an advantage on paper either way. ( My new thing is radar charts, so my apologies for using them a lot lately. But don't they just look cool?) My hunch is that KSU has more play-makers on their team, and that really worries me. However, I am pleasantly surprised at what I've seen from Doc Sadler and his seemingly creative game-plans lately. Plus, Nebraska has been showing that it has one of the best home crowds..despite being tagged as a football school. Both teams are streaking a bit, and the bubble is clearly within reach for either one.
Like I said, I just hope the Huskers aren't peeking over anyone's shoulder just yet.
Location: Bob Devaney Sports Center - Lincoln, NE
Television: ESPNU (DirecTV Ch. 208, Dish Ch. 141, Ch. 235 on Time Warner Cable; Ch. 220 on Cox Cable)
Radio: IMG Husker Sports Network - Kent Pavelka and Matt Davison
Free Internet Radio: Huskers.com
Gamecast / Stats: ESPN.com
GO BIG RED!
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