Nebraska faces a red-hot No. 23 Michigan team for the only time this season at home. Nebraska is undefeated at home during conference play and their only loss all season at home came against Kansas.
I had the pleasure of talking with Nick Bodanyi of SBNation Michigan site Maize n Brew about the talent of this year’s Michigan team and his thoughts on the game this Thursday.
Q: Who is the one player on this Michigan team Nebraska needs to worry about? How can they stop him?
A: The biggest player to keep an eye on (almost literally) is Moritz “Moe” Wagner, Michigan’s starting center. Wagner (6’11”, 245) is the team’s leading scorer with 14.9 points plus a team-leading 7.2 rebounds a game, and he can get hot from 3-point range at any time (42.4%). To stop him, you’ll need to body him up and take his three-point shooting extremely seriously. Don’t give him an inch of space, because he’s not afraid to shoot from anywhere.
That becomes a little more difficult, though, because there are always so many three-point shooters to keep an eye on. Moe is good at going down low and then switching out to the perimeter, or vice versa, so he’s a handful to manage.
Q: With Michigan’s recent success against Michigan State and Maryland, do you believe this team has the potential to make another Big Ten tournament run?
A: I definitely do. This team has impressed me with their maturity and workmanlike approach, and combine that with their length, athleticism and shooting ability, and you’ve got a team that could get hot at any time.
We lost three of our top four players from a year ago, including the starting point guard Derrick Walton, but this team has been resilient. Zavier Simpson has replaced Walton pretty well, even if the stats aren’t there for him yet. And the rest of the team has integrated all the new (and often young) players with ease. You can tell they’re still learning defense a bit, and feeling out how to play offense together when certain guys are going through hot or cold streaks. But this group is getting better the more games they play. And I’d put their length and potential up against most teams in the Big Ten easily.
As long as they rebound well enough, I think they’ll be fine. I do think the tourney will be another challenge and provide more learning opportunities, but I like our chances. Then again maybe I’m biased. (I am.)
Q: Who on Michigan will be the X-Factor for beating Nebraska at Nebraska? Nebraska’s only home loss is against Kansas.
A: This is a tough one, but I’ll go with the 6’6”, 200-pound guard/forward Charles Matthews. Matthews is actually a hair behind Wagner for the team lead in scoring (rounds up to 14.9, though, same as Wagner), and the thing that I really like about him is that he’s a tenacious rebounder for a guard. He’s got hustle and length out there, enough to remind you of those old Pistons teams, and it shows in the fact that he’s the team’s second-leading rebounder with 5.2 a game. Nebraska’s a little weak on rebounding, and he can be a headache.
Q: Do you think Nebraska has the potential and talent to make the NCAA tournament?
A: I’m never one to count a team out. That sounds a bit like a cop-out, and it is, because I don’t know the psychology and the make-up of the team as well as you do. But I am rooting for the Big Ten as a whole and hope you guys experience a lot of success.
Q: Finally what do you think will happen on Thursday and what will be the final score?
A: I’m going to predict a Michigan win - 76-66 on the road against a good Nebraska team. We’ll see what happens, though, and I’m sure it’ll be a good game. Go Blue!
Thanks again to Nick and those who may have contributed at Maize n Brew for helping us get to know the Wolverine’s basketball team a little better. You can follow them at https://www.maizenbrew.com and on twitter - @MaizenBrew and @NickBodanyi.