The improbable can start today.
Just five regular season conference games remain for Nebraska, and this would certainly qualify as the "home stretch" given what's at stake. Texas rolls it's incredible athletes along with it's swagger into Lincoln today, and hope to continue it's utter dominance in the Big 12 by dispatching the Big Red.
The Longhorns are undefeated in the Big 12, and haven't seen the losing side of a game since a one-point loss at home against UCONN. Nebraska has begun it's final charge by winning two straight, including their first conference road win since the 2009-10 season.
Did anyone see the Big Red still being alive this late in the season? It's unfortunate that we have a team like Texas coming to town, when you realize what must be done for Nebraska to reach the tourney. Although it wouldn't be the worst thing to lose to the potential #1 team in the land. Still, I'd feel much more confident of reaching post-season play if this game weren't staring us right in the face.
The possible rewards are huge, however. Nebraska still needs another signature win from my standpoint, if they want to dance. ESPNs Joe Lunardi projects the Big 12 getting six teams into the NCAA tournament. I can't think of a better way to show how deserving the Huskers are of one of those spots, than to win today against all odds.
Texas 23-3 (11-0) @ Nebraska 17-8 (5-6)
Let's clear something up before we go into the matchup today, shall we? Texas will be hard to hang with today. Forget about the "home court advantage", the anticipated home crowd, and how Nebraska has lost just one home game this year. Toss aside the idea that Texas is looking ahead to the tournament. There are no so-called "trap" games at this time of the year in college basketball, and Texas has probably played better on the road than at home.
Take a look at the last 11 games for Texas, and their smallest margin of victory was nine points against Baylor. They went into the Phog and dismantled the Jayhawks without flinching. In fact, the Baylor game was the only one of the bunch that didn't end with a double-digit margin.
Okay, got that? Now that I'm done resisting the urge to hurl after typing that...let's get on with a few matchups.
Guard Play |
I remember getting crabby at the start of the season when I saw the pre-season All-Conference selections. I didn't expect to see a Husker on the All Big 12 team, but I scanned the Honorable Mention category looking for a much deserving Lance Jeter. Sweet-Jete was not present, but I did notice a freshman guard from Texas named Cory Joseph on that list. Now, I'm not a follower of how these things get voted on...but I thought "How in the hell can a guy get voted preseason honorable mention when he hasn't played a single minute yet??"
Turns out he was indeed a pretty good player. Better than Jeter? I think not, but hey...what do I know. Joseph has led the Longhorns all season from the point guard spot. Like Jeter, Joseph has started every game this season and is also averaging around 30 minutes per contest.
From a scoring standpoint, Jeter and Jospeh are virtually identical. Both are averaging just under 11 points per game, with Jeter edging out Joseph in fg%. (46% to 44%)
Jeter has hit a few clutch three-pointers this season, especially in that OU game, but shoots far worse from the arc than Joseph. Jeter is hitting a meager 31.9% from downtown compared to Joseph's 43%.
The rebounding advantage is also a toss up, as these guys are both grabbing about 3.8 rebounds per game. This category is not exactly vital for guards, so that leaves one very important stat - Assists/Turnovers.
Jeter has the edge here, and continues to hover at the top of the conference in A/T ratio. Jeter is averaging about the same number of TO's as Jospeh, but his assist numbers are clearly higher - averaging about 4.5 per game to Joseph's 2.7. Below is a nice radar chart showing how much of an overall impact Jeter has, and how in my opinion he has the slight edge here in guard play.
Post Play |
We've seen Brian Diaz play some damned good basketball lately, and I wonder if he is finally finding a groove as we get further away from his aunt's death and the mid-season losing streak. He and fellow paint-dweller Andre "El Grande" Almeida, will have their hands full this afternoon versus the agile and talented Texas "bigs". Stopping freshman, and high school teammate to Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson- will prove to be Nebraska's biggest challenge down low.
Texas really has nobody listed at the center position, and have done just fine working with bigger, yet still athletic fowards. The 6-8 Thompson has shown he has a variety of tools at his disposal, while happily filling the role as the Longhorn's low-post guy. The Horn's have Matt Hill listed at 6-10, but I've not been able to dig anything up that really hints at major production from him. While still working on a developing post game, Thompson is athletic and talented enough to kill us despite any height or weight disadvantage.
Another guy the Big Red will have to worry about is sophomore Jordan Hamilton. While standing just 6-7 and listed as a small forward, I can see this guy getting inside all day as well. And considering he's averaging almost twice as many boards as Diaz, I'd say we have a second major concern under the glass in Hamilton.
What will Doc do here? Good question. I'm guessing the approach will be somewhere close to this: See what Diaz can do early, and if reinforcements are needed...send in Almeida to at least keep the Texas guys off the rim. We may see Almeida foul out early today, as he's just not quick enough to stay with guys who are more athletic. He'll need to plant his butt under the rim, and hope that the Husker defense can stop ball penetration first. If not, go for the block and potentially make Texas earn their points at the free throw line.
Diaz will need to score, and I'm sure he'll get his 10 points somehow. But the clear edge here goes to Texas and their double-threat forward lineup. Thompson and Hamilton are averaging 12 and 18 ppg respectively compared to Diaz's 10. Another radar...
In my opinion, the remaining factors are where Texas will decide this game. Nebraska has a stout defensive style, and won't allow the Longhorns to walk away with this one. Texas tends to jump on people early, and that's bad news for the good guys, as we've had a tendency to come out of the gates slowly. I'd expect that if Doc sees it the same way, we might see a zone defense to start the game, and try to limit the Texas play-making ability early. Combined with some energy and snotty defense, this could be a good approach to keeping things close.
The play of our bench will be as huge as ever. Drake Beranek, Brandon Ubel, and possibly even Eshaunte "Bear" Jones could throw an unexpected wrench into the Texas offensive engine. If Texas can't get production from it's outside shooters JOhnson, Brown, and Balbay, we have a pretty decent chance at staying close and pulling this one off. I'm not holding my breath, but this Husker team has shown heart. Texas is hoping for a #1 ranking with a win today, and it'd be damn cool to spoil something for them for once, wouldn't it? I'm guessing a home game on Saturday versus Texas should warrant a sell-out and crazy fans, so let's get loud and hope for the best! (Oh, and get your butt's on here for the thread!)
Tipoff: 12:47pm CST
Location: Bob Devaney Sports Center - Lincoln, NE
Television: Big 12 Network (KLKN TV in Lincoln; KXVO in Omaha; KIIT In North Platte) / ESPN3.com / ESPN FullCourt PPV
Radio: IMG Husker Sports Network - Kent Pavelka and Matt Davison
Free Internet Radio: Huskers.com
GO BIG RED!