Nebraska men's basketball opens Big 12 conference play against the Kansas Jayhawks this Saturday night at 8:00 pm CST at Devaney. The game is sold out, it's on ESPN, and it's a chance for 2nd year coach Doc Sadler to show the country what the Huskers are all about.
In 2007 the Jayhawks destroyed Nebraska winning in Lincoln by 20, 76-56, while trouncing the Cornhuskers 92-39 in Lawrence, the second largest margin of defeat in school history.
I'm excited about this game. It ain't often we get to see Nebraska basketball on a national stage so it's important that we look good when we get the chance. When Doc Sadler first arrived, he made it clear that he wanted players who would work hard and it looks like he's finding them. The concept of hard work and high energy has brought a different attitude than was prevalent over the past few years of Husker basketball - Husker basketball fans and the team believe they can win.
Think about that for a second. In the past few years when we played Kansas games were embarrassing, like last year's game in Lawrence. Saturday night is a chance for us to see how far the talent gap has been closed. That's pretty darned exciting as far as I'm concerned.
I asked Cory from SB Nation blog Rock Chalk Talk for some of his thoughts about this upcoming game:
CN: You're coming into Lincoln undefeated and ranked third in the nation. Given your ranking, your scoring, and your history, you've already chalked this game up as a win, right?
RCT: No way. I am always, always scared of trips up to Bob Devaney Sports Center. Always. This year I am extra nervous, with the Huskers coming into the game with the #1 defense in the country and an 11-2 record, including a win over Oregon. However, with all of that being said, this is the best Kansas basketball team I have seen in awhile, it is just as good (IMO) as the Gooden-Collison-Hinrich triumvirate-led teams that went to two consecutive Final Fours. So I think we win, but I am betting more on a close game than a blowout like last season.
CN: Nebraska comes in with the Big 12's top scoring defense. Kansas comes in tops in the Big 12 in scoring. Kansas is very balanced, with five players averaging over ten points a game. If you're the Huskers, how do you shut Kansas down?
RCT: There are a couple of different ways to slow down Kansas. The easiest way, in my opinion, is to cover our outside shooters and hope Darnell Arthur (DA) is having a bad day. Like you said, we are balanced, so it is impossible to shut down or even slow down everyone, but our offense has struggled the most when we aren't hitting our outside shots. DA has the potential to take over a game, but he hasn't shown that potential yet and has had to be coaxed into games at times. Bottom line, if we don't hit our three's, we are a very average offensive basketball team, UNLESS DA or Darnell Jackson blow up.
CN: Sasha Kaun versus Aleks Maric - is this the match up you're most interested in seeing, or are there others you'll be watching more intently?
RCT: Sasha Kaun doesn't start for us anymore, although you could make the case he is our best post defender (not by me though, I am not the biggest Sasha fan in the world). I am most interested in how we matchup with Maric, because he is probably the best low-post player we have played all season. Taj Gibson of USC has all the hype, but he hasn't impressed me once all year and I have seen them play quite a bit. Maric, on the other hand, doesn't receive half of the hype but just shows up and plays, and plays really well. I think that DA, DJack and Sasha will all take turns matching up against Maric, and if none of them can get the job done we will probably move to zone. I bet that Sasha plays the best defense, and DA, despite having the most physical tools of the three by a bundle, struggles big time against him.
CN: Prediction time! How do you see this game playing out?
RCT: Like I said earlier, I bet the came is close. I think that we have enough talent to beat anyone in the country this year, and I think we show up with 5 days to prepare and it being the conference opener. However, Doc Sadler's teams always play suffocating defense, and that will only increase against a team like Kansas. I bet it is a low-scoring affair, and the Huskers stay close for the first 30 minutes, but we break away at the end and end up winning by a fairly comfortable margin.
CN: Probably a more realistic prediction than I made in answering Cory's questions, but we'll see what happens Saturday night. Hope the crowd is loud because they have good reason and Devaney doesn't turn in the library it's been known to be at times.