Nebraska plays Missouri tonight, and continues it's quest for some sort of post-season incentive.
If there was a game that really sucked the air out of Husker Nation during this post-season approach, it was the loss to Kansas State. For me, that didn't signify the end of our March Madness hopes. No, that came on Saturday when Nebraska lost to the last place team in the conference.
That's not a slight against ISU, as they do have some talented players on that team. But the reality was that Nebraska had a bench FULL of talented players, and all they had to do was convert on basics and they win. With the exception of maybe Lance Jeter, they failed fundamentally on Saturday. That was the day I admitted to myself that although this team was vastly improved, and even showed glimpses of being a top 5 team in the league....they did not deserve one of the 68 coveted NCAA tournament spots. Yes, when we see the 8-16 seeds in this years brackets, we'll be able to say that Nebraska could beat those teams. It'll be hard to see that. But the fact is...they didn't earn it when it counted.
So that leaves the last two regular season games of the Big 12 season, the Big 12 tourney, and then most likely the NIT tournament - Barring an improbable run and winning the conference tournament. At least the pressure is off now, and we've got a good game coming up tonight against longtime conference brother Missouri.
Missouri 22-7 (8-6) @ Nebraska 18-10 (6-8)
In my opinion, the Tigers haven't really been as impressive on paper as they should be, considering they've secured a "lock" for the conference tourney. Their best win in the league this year came against KSU, back when the Wildcats were still struggling. The second game versus Frank Martin's boys came after the KSU had turned things around, and the result wasn't so positive. Furthermore, the Tigers dropped every other game versus a top 25 opponent this conference season. The big difference between the Tigers and Nebraska, is that they've won the games they should have won. No major upsets, but also- no major letdowns.
Missouri plays with a bit more confidence, experience, and an overall sense that they can beat anyone. Sure, they've dropped a few this season when they'd like to have back. But overall, they believe...and it shows. They've plodded through the season winning the "easy" games, and losing the "tough" ones. Following this logic, Nebraska would get beat tonight.
Still, Nebraska has a shot here. Missouri is coming off a loss at home to the red-hot KSU Wildcats, and has been deemed a lock for the NCAAs. A slight lack of motivation? Maybe. But I can assure you that no team wants to lose games as they head into the post-season. For Nebraska, it become about finishing the season strong, and possibly reaching a .500 record in Big 12 play. Something that after last year seemed like a trillion miles away.
Keys to the game |
Star Power - Containing Marcus Denmon and Kim English will be critical. Much like Jacob Pullen, Denmon is the heart of this Missouri team. Five Tigers are currently averaging double digits in scoring, but that probably has more to do with the style of play that Missouri employs. Running the other team out of the gym has always seemed to be Missouri's m.o., and Denmon is a big key in making that work.
I've included a chart on the two standouts for both teams. Although Denmon appears to be much more of a true scorer, as opposed to Jeter being a floor leader, I've thrown the two together because Lance Jeter has been our most consistent scoring threat this season.
Pace - Nebraska and Missouri are two of those teams that analysts love to see play each other. A run-and-gun style offense versus a deliberate and stingy defense. Contrasting these two teams style of play can be summed up by look at the scoring averages alone.
The Huskers failed to dictate the tempo of the game in the first half against ISU, and as a result they hit the locker room with a deficit. The second half was much better, and consequently we managed to get the game into overtime (where we blew it). From what I saw, I expect that the Tigers will give us some of the same problems tonight. If fans are getting whiplash watching the game, that's bad news for us. Trust me, watching Andre Almeida try to keep up with the likes of Diante Garrett was painful. Missouri averages about 74 possessions per game to Nebraska's 65, and considering that the Tigers also have us beat at points per possession at 1.12 to 1.04, that translates to about 10 extra points per game. Here is the overall offensive and defensive comparisons for the two teams:
Advantage: (slight) Missouri
I don't expect to see as much energy though tonight, and to be honest... it's a critical time to not lose focus. I think most Husker fans have turned their sites to the football team, but I hope the basketball players haven't lost touch. We can still end the season light years ahead of where we were last season, and seeding for the Big 12 tourney is going to be a bigger deal than one might think.
Missouri comes to our house tonight for the last time. Hope to see you on here a bit later.
Location: Bob Devaney Sports Center - Lincoln, NE
Television: Big 12 Network and ESPN Full Court
Radio: IMG HUsker Sports Network - Kent Pavelka and Andy Markowski
Internet Radio: Huskers.com
Gamecast / Stats: ESPN.com
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