At long last, after 16 years of waiting and often futility, it's here. The Huskers are about set to take the court in San Antonio, TX to take on the Baylor Bears in the NCAA tournament in search of the first win in the dane in school history. We've all been along for the ride, when things looked in January and post season of any kind seemed like a pipe dream, much less a realistic option for this team. Then they caught fire. Some bought in sooner than others, but this team has taken the fans and the state on a journey that few will soon forget. It culminated in a wild night vs. Wisconsin, the game that ultimtely clinched the berth for the Huskers. We saw the disappointment on the faces of Terran Petteway, Walter Pitchford and the rest of the team after they lost to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament. We shared in the joy of seeing "Nebraska" in the bracket on Selection Sunday just five days ago. Now, we get to experience the agony of watching our team in the big dance.
What a lot of fans may not have realized when they saw the team opposite of the Huskers, the Baylor Bears, have been on quite a journey of their own. The Bears got off to a fast start, but saw their team leader and point guard Kenny Chery go down for a long stretch in the middle of the seaon with a bout with turf toe and the Bears really struggled in his absence. They started 2-8 in conference play, but reeled off 10 of 12 (sound familiar) to finish the season, earning their spot in the tournament.
Make no mistake, this team is very good. Perhaps one of the most athletic teams the Huskers have faced all season. If they don't play well, it could get ugly in a hurry. Baylor has the ability to make that happen. The Huskers are good enough to win this game if they play well. To find out a little more about the Bears and the challenge they present for the Huskers, we caught up with Ted Harrison over at ourdailybears.com to get the skinny on Baylor.( I had a chance to answer a few questions about Nebraska for Our Daily Bears yesterday.)
Let's be honest: I haven't watched a lick of Baylor this season. I know about Isaiah Austin and Kenny Chery and that one kid that has been there forever and shoots 3's. Beyond that, I don't know anything else. Give me the low-down on Baylor basketball.
Isaiah Austin and Kenny Chery (yes it is just one 'r' for some reason) are certainly names to watch. Baylor is actually really talented and seasoned for a college basketball team these days. If Austin is playing well, we are a difficult out - at 7'1" he is capable of knocking it down from anywhere on the floor and alters most shots in the paint. Chery is another excellent transfer point guard that Scott Drew found and has one of the better mid-range games out there. Brady Heslip is the sniper who you better not leave unguarded. Cory Jefferson is a 5th year senior who stands 6'8" and is solid (his backup Rico Gather is also 6'8" and looks like he should be playing football - don't worry, the commentators will talk about this at least five times). Royce O'Neale is a transfer from Denver and if I were to pick anyone as the glue guy for this team it would be him. You will not notice it, but somehow he will have 8-8-8 in the stat line.
Though the national group think media tends to believe that Scott Drew cannot coach, he has honestly matured greatly this year. We have a tendency to use too many timeouts too early and we always have a couple of weird decisions - but for a guy that has gotten to two Elite Eight's utilizing a lengthy zone and good athletes he just does not get enough credit.
You may have heard, the Huskers haven't been in the tourney since 1998 and we're stoked to be there. How excited is Baylor about this matchup? How does the game being in San Antonio impact how much support the Bears will have in AT&T Center? There's still a bunch of tickets on Ticketmaster.
I think Baylor is excited to take on a former Big 12 opponent and definitely excited to be playing down the road in San Antonio. The Bears (should they beat Nebraska) will have a much more significant home-court advantage on Sunday when everyone is off of work/school. Even the most diehard Baylor fans are finding it difficult to get down to San Antonio on aFriday morning. All of that being said, do not be surprised when the Baylor crowd shows up either - since we have had a revitalized athletics program we have had multiple scenarios where it looks like no one is going to be there from ticket sales and then we set an attendance record and the house is packed. So we'll see.
Baylor started 2-8 in conference play then reeled off 10 of 12. What changed to prompt such a torrid finish?
We have one true point guard on the roster: Kenny Chery. He was struggling with turf toe (anyone who has dealt with this will understand) and we were turning the ball over at an alarming rate with him sideline and/or hobbled. Additionally, I think the Big 12 was just tough this year and we did not enter conference play hungry. That changed when we had a couple of miracle finishes (at OSU who still had Marcus Smart and at home against KSU), Chery was healthy again and we looked like the same team that gave Syracuse all it could handle in Maui.
I heard something about Baylor not being to allowed to wear some sort of uniform during the tournement, is that the highlighter yellow ones? Should we come prepared with sunglasses when we turn on our televisions?
They would have been brighter than the ones we will be wearing, so you do not need to bring your sunglasses. However, the color had nothing to do with them being banned by the NCAA - apparently "Sic 'Em Bears" is not allowed to be printed on a jersey because it might confuse the officials. In other words: the NCAA gonna NCAA.
Let's wrap this thing up. What are you looking for in this one?
Baylor wins if Isaiah Austin is aggressive and the Cornhuskers do not shoot us out of the zone. Kenny Chery is hitting mid-range jumpers and Brady Heslip rains down terror from as far back as Waco.
Nebraska wins if it can get us out of the zone on defense and take our bigs out of the game. Terran Petteway needs a big game on top of that and my Bears could be in trouble.
My prediction is that Baylor keeps rolling and wins comfortably but never fully pulls away. One of those games that neither side ever feels good about. If the game is close at the end, I think Baylor might find itself in trouble, but I think they keep Nebrasketball at bay and win by seven or eight thanks to superb free throw shooting by Kenny Chery in the final two minutes.