Know Your Other Departing Rival: Nebraska

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What makes sports so interesting, especially at the college level, is matchups.  Sometimes certain teams/coaches/personnel just match up really well with others, no matter what the overall records or rankings are.  Through his first four years, Mike Anderson rather consistently coached the pants off of Texas' Rick Barnes ... but he has always struggled with Doc Sadler's Nebraska teams.  Sadler's Huskers stay within themselves, play like a team, get back on defense, and do whatever it takes to shut down Mizzou's transition game.  And they have a good record to show for it: Nebraska is 6-4 versus Missouri in Sadler's and Anderson's tenures.  Granted, the tide has turned a bit -- Mizzou has won three of the last four (even counting Nebraska's win in last year's Big 12 Tournament) -- but this year Sadler has put together his best defensive team.  Even if Mizzou wins, this isn't going to be a pretty game to watch.

Nebraska (13-2)


NU
Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
65.1
Points Per Minute
1.73
1.34
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.06
0.82
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.31
0.97
2-PT FG% 57.0%
38.5%
3-PT FG% 30.5%
28.1%
FT% 68.8%
63.2%
True Shooting % 56.8%
43.4%




NU Opp.
Assists/Gm 13.6
9.2
Steals/Gm 6.7
6.7
Turnovers/Gm 13.3
13.9
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.52
1.14




NU Opp.
Expected Off. Reb./Gm 10.5
13.6
Offensive Reb./Gm
8.9
10.1
Difference -1.6
-3.5

For those who love "team" basketball, you're going to love Nebraska.  They are honest with themselves -- they don't try to out-talent the opposition, instead focusing on maximizing their strengths (FG% defense, defensive rebounding, their bench, and the mid-range jumper) and minimizing obvious weaknesses (they can't shoot 3-pointers, they don't get to the line, they don't really force turnovers, and they don't grab offensive rebounds).  Eight of their 13 wins have come against teams ranked below No. 200 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, and they somehow have yet to play a true road game (they're 12-0 at home, 1-2 on a neutral court), but they have done well with the schedule in front of them, and they are a long, tough team.

Despite a roster that didn't change much from last year, this team's offensive identity has flipped 180 degrees.  Last year, Nebraska shot a terrible 46.0% on 2-pointers (234th in the country) and a great 39.7% on 3-pointers (13th).  This year?  They are one of the best 2-point shooting teams in the country ... and one of the worst 3-point shooters.  They lost Ryan Anderson from last year's squad, and they went to work crafting an identity that worked for them.  Kudos for that.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

NU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

NU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 99
39
MU
Effective FG% 42
114
NU
Turnover % 135
11
MU big
Off. Reb. % 279
256
MU
FTA/FGA 228
170
MU
MU Offense vs NU Defense Ranks

MU Offense NU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 30
12
Push
Effective FG% 35
1
NU
Turnover % 17
165
MU big
Off. Reb. % 147
6
NU big
FTA/FGA 282
16
NU big

Where the Huskers are weakest

I'm talking Nebraska up quite a bit, and with good reason, but they are not without some rather significant weaknesses, especially on offense.  They rank 282nd in 3-point percentage, but despite the fact that they don't take a lot of 3's, they also don't get to the line (228th in FTA/FGA).  They are vulnerable to steals (218th in Off. Steal%), which is obviously encouraging, and despite some incredible length, they are too busy getting back on defense to crash the offensive glass too hard.  They also rank just 143rd in Pomeroy's Experience measure, which, combined with the fact that their last true road game was on March 6, 2010, hopefully means good things if enough people can actually get to Mizzou Arena on iffy roads.

Where they are best

They really aren't good at anything -- in just about every category, they are either bad, neutral, or phenomenal.  They rank fourth in the country in offensive 2PT%, fourth in the country in Effective Height, and sixth in Bench Minutes.  They currently have the best 2-point defense in the country and the 12th-best 3-point defense (I'm pretty sure these numbers are unadjusted by strength of schedule, so keep that in mind when you see their schedule), and they block shots as well as just about anybody (16th in Def. Block%).  They also slow games down brilliantly -- they are 284th in Tempo.  In terms of identity, this team is Doc Sadler's dream ... though I'm sure he wouldn't mind if they shot 3's a little better, I guess.

Nebraska's Season to Date

  • Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    No. 38 USC, 60-58
    No. 43 Iowa State, 63-62
    No. 95 Creighton, 59-54
    vs No. 139 Hofstra, 62-47
    No. 143 TCU, 70-56
    No. 249 South Dakota, 76-68
    No. 257 Jackson State, 76-57
    No. 289 Savannah State, 68-48
    No. 291 Eastern Washington, 72-42
    No. 319 North Dakota, 77-46
    No. 340 Grambling, 79-39
    No. 341 UA-Pine Bluff, 83-40
    No. 342 Alcorn State, 78-57
  • Losses
    vs No. 17 Vanderbilt, 49-59
    vs No. 153 Davidson, 67-70

As mentioned, this is not an amazingly battle-tested team.  They have played just three Top 75 teams (as a frame of reference, Mizzou has played five) and three games away from Lincoln (Mizzou: six away from Columbia).  They were pretty unimpressive at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, losing to Vanderbilt and Davidson (not the "Davidson" we've come to know) and beating Hofstra by 15.  If the Mizzou Arena atmosphere is a good one, that could give Mizzou a solid advantage.

By the way ... look at those low scores.  Their offense comes and goes, but their defense and pace are always right where they want it to be.

Nebraska Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Lance Jeter (6'3, 225, Sr.) 12.8 0.47 27.1 MPG, 10.1 PPG (55.2% 2PT, 37.5% 3PT), 4.1 APG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 1.6 TOPG
Jorge Brian Diaz (6'11, 245, So.) 10.6 0.45 23.4 MPG, 10.5 PPG (58.7% 2PT), 4.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.1 TOPG
Andre Almeida (6'11, 310, Jr.) 7.1 0.44 16.2 MPG, 6.3 PPG (68.4% 2PT), 3.5 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 1.6 TOPG
Caleb Walker (6'4, 205, Jr.) 6.8 0.35 19.5 MPG, 6.3 PPG (54.5% 2PT, 34.6% 3PT), 4.9 RPG, 1.3 TOPG
Brandon Ubel (6'10, 240, So.) 6.3 0.34 18.7 MPG, 6.6 PPG (59.3% 2PT), 3.7 RPG, 1.1 TOPG
Brandon Richardson (6'0, 190, Jr.) 5.2 0.26 20.4 MPG, 5.1 PPG (68.2% 2PT, 28.9% 3PT), 2.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.6 TOPG
Toney McCray (6'6, 210, Jr.) 4.9 0.26 19.3 MPG, 5.7 PPG (46.3% 2PT, 38.1% 3PT), 4.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.7 TOPG
Drake Beranek (6'4, 200, Sr.) 4.8 0.28 17.3 MPG, 5.2 PPG (57.1% 2PT, 37.5% 3PT), 2.7 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.1 TOPG
Eshaunte Jones (6'4, 200, So.) 3.0 0.22 13.3 MPG, 4.6 PPG (31.1% 3PT), 1.4 RPG
Ray Gallegos (6'2, 178, So.) 2.4 0.15 15.6 MPG, 4.2 PPG (56.8% 2PT, 15.6% 3PT), 1.4 RPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds.  It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls.  It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • Highest Usage%: Diaz (23%), Jones (22%), a bunch at 20%
  • Highest Floor%: Diaz (48%), Jeter (46%), Almeida (46%)
  • Highest %Pass: Jeter (68%), Richardson (64%), Beranek (53%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Gallegos (57%), Diaz (49%), Jones (46%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Ubel (20%), Walker (20%), Almeida (13%)
  • Highest %TO: Almeida (13%), McCray (11%), Walker (10%)
  • The general Nebraska gameplan seems to be "Be tall, play good defense, keep it close, and let Lance Jeter win it for you at the end."  It worked against Iowa State, anyway.  We always said that J.T. Tiller was a "Mike Anderson-style player" ... well, Jeter is a "Doc Sadler-style player" in all the same ways.  He's a very good defender, a timely scorer, and just a tough all-around guy.
  • Jeter is the only player on the Nebraska roster who averages over 24 minutes per game.  Only one other player (Jorge Brian Diaz) averages over 20.5.  Sadler employs a strange-for-its-tempo rotation of ten guys, eight of whom average between 13.3 and 20.4 minutes.  Your team chemistry has to be really good for that to work, but so far it has indeed worked.  The schedule obviously gets a bit tougher now.
  • Three of the Huskers' top five players according to AdjGS go at least 6'10, 240 pounds.  Andre Almeida tips the scales at a nearly Monte Hardge-esque 310 pounds.  It doesn't appear he does much more than make short baskets and rebound, but ... even if that's all he does, that's pretty valuable, no?
  • Brandon Richardson has not had an amazing offensive year so far, but he torched Mizzou in the Big 12 Tournament last year -- 34 minutes, 19 points (4-4 2PT, 2-4 3PT, 5-5 FT), 7 rebounds, 3 assists.  Eshaunte Jones made two of three 3-pointers in that game as well.  There are players on this team who can make long-range shots; it's just that few of them have so far in 2010-11.

Keys to the Game

  1. Win the True Shooting battle.  True Shooting % is an alternate way to measure a player's shooting ability.  It weights 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws differently, and there are a lot of different ways to end up with a good True Shooting %. However Mizzou goes about it -- making a ton of free throws, getting Laurence Bowers or Ricardo Ratliffe some easy (and unlikely) looks, making their 3-pointers -- the Tigers really need to keep up with Nebraska in this category.  They can win the ball control game, and they can at least break even on the boards by pulling down the defensive rebounds Nebraska seems to allow, but Mizzou must match Nebraska in pure shooting.  The Huskers are a damn fine defensive team, however, so this is easier said than done.

  2. Option No. 2.  As mentioned many times now, Nebraska is very, very good on defense, and chances are they will figure out a way to at least somewhat neutralize Marcus Denmon.  That means somebody else will need to have a big game, be it Mike Dixon, Kim English, Matt Pressey (who really has yet to do well against a major conference opponent) ... hell, I don't really care if it's Jarrett Sutton.  Somebody needs to get hot to prevent what could be a couple of very long scoring droughts.  In Mizzou's system, success breeds success breeds success, but empty possessions lead to aimless play.  Somebody not named Denmon will need to have a niec game for Mizzou to win, even at home.

  3. Get That Dirt Off Your Shoulder.  (Wow ... I didn't realize until I made that reference that Jay-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" is now almost eight years old.  Mizzou freshmen were in about fifth grade when The Black Album came out.  I am ancient.  Anyhoo... )

    Now that I've depressed myself, here's what I was aiming for: Mizzou needs to get Saturday out of their head.  For whatever reason, they were a step slow, almost sluggish, out of the gates in Boulder, and they got assaulted by a Colorado team ready for action.  A clear-headed Mizzou team should handle even a good Nebraska team at home.  Considering how Mizzou responded to their last loss -- 20 minutes of brilliant basketball in Oregon before jet lag set in -- I assume they will indeed bounce back.  But they still have to go and prove it.

Prediction

This is not going to be the most fun game of basketball you've ever seen.  If there is a saving grace, it is that Nebraska tends to neither foul nor draw fouls.  So at the very least, what will likely be a sloppy, rim-clanging game will not also last 2.5 hours with 60 fouls.  So we've got that going for us.  Even in Mizzou's recent run of relative success against Sadler and the Huskers (i.e. their last four games), the Tigers have still averaged just 68.5 points per contest.  So we'll use that as the baseline.  Mizzou builds some separation early in the second half and pulls out an ugly-but-encouraging 71-59 win.  Don't worry about aesthetics in this one -- just get the 'W.'

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