Know Your "Not For Much Longer" Rival: Nebraska

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All Big 12 season, Mizzou has caught teams at the wrong time.  They headed to Boulder when Colorado was just about at their hottest, then they hosted the Buffs when they had cooled off.  They faced Texas A&M a) on the road and b) when A&M was at their hottest.  They hosted Kansas State when the Wildcats were struggling, and they headed to Manhattan when KSU was hot.  They faced Baylor when the Bears were at their hottest (though that obviously didn't matter).  After the epic snow storm of early-February, they had to play on the road, and it took two days to get there.

All throughout 2011, their timing has been off ... until now.  Nebraska knocked off Texas a week and a half ago and suddenly found themselves a tourney bubble darling ... then took their eye off the ball.  They lost at home to K-State (which is rather excusable at the moment), then they lost in Ames.  Depending on your point of view, they are either reeling or desperate.  Regardless, Mizzou must take advantage of not having horrible timing for once.  With Kansas State now a half-game up on the Tigers and hosting Iowa State this coming weekend, Mizzou probably now needs to sweep the week to end up with a conference tourney bye.

Nebraska (18-10) Since Last Time


NU
Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
63.8
Points Per Minute
1.63 1.67
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.03 1.06
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.26 1.34
2-PT FG% 48.8% 47.2%
3-PT FG% 34.6% 38.4%
FT% 73.9% 69.3%
True Shooting % 54.4% 55.8%




NU Opp.
Assists/Gm 12.5 12.1
Steals/Gm 6.6 5.4
Turnovers/Gm 13.3 12.7
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.43 1.38




NU Opp.
Expected Off. Reb./Gm 11.2 11.2
Offensive Reb./Gm
9.5 9.3
Difference -1.7 -1.9

Since Mizzou hosted the Huskers in their conference home opener, Nebraska's stats have predictably taken a downturn -- they have spent the last 13 games playing Big 12 teams instead of Grambling, Savannah State and North Dakota.  Their raw offensive stats have regressed a smidge, but honestly not much.  Lance Jeter and company have held steady in their halfcourt offense, rising from 99th to 89th in Pomeroy's efficiency ratings.

However, their defense has suffered.  After allowing 28% 3-point shooting in non-conference play, the Huskers are allowing 38% in the Big 12.  Opponents have shot much better than one would expect against a Doc Sadler defense, and while NU's offensive rebounding rate is about the same, their defensive rebounding advantage has shrunk.

The "Nebraska beats Missouri" recipe is the same as it has ever been with Sadler and Mike Anderson at the helm of the two squads -- if Nebraska wins, it will be because they force Mizzou into shots they don't like taking, dominate the defensive glass, dictate the tempo. and get somebody hot from long range.  If Mizzou wins, it's because they got somebody hot and forced the Huskers to keep up on the offensive side of the ball.  Nothing in Nebraska's stat line suggests any different this time around.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

NU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

NU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 89 48 MU
Effective FG% 63 137 NU
Turnover % 180 11 MU Big
Off. Reb. % 273 297 NU
FTA/FGA 241 183 MU
MU Offense vs NU Defense Ranks

MU Offense NU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 16 24 Push
Effective FG% 34 21 Push
Turnover % 15 167 MU Big
Off. Reb. % 141 5 NU Big
FTA/FGA 274 117 NU Big

As was the case last time these teams played, Nebraska maximizes their strengths.  They are terrible on the offensive glass, they don't draw fouls, and they don't avoid turnovers particularly well ... but they get enough good shots to make up the difference.  Meanwhile, while they are no longer first in the country in Def. Eff. FG%, they are still in the top 25.  They leverage you into shots you don't like taking, and when you miss, they grab the rebound (but if you are patient enough to look for a better shot, you probably won't turn the ball over against them, and you might draw a foul to boot).

Results Since Last Time

  • Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    No. 4 Texas, 70-67
    No. 42 Texas A&M, 57-48
    No. 59 Colorado, 79-67
    No. 85 Oklahoma State, 65-54
    at No. 134 Oklahoma, 59-58
  • Losses
    at No. 3 Kansas, 60-63
    No. 3 Kansas, 66-86
    at No. 35 Kansas State, 53-69
    No. 35 Kansas State, 67-71
    at No. 61 Baylor, 70-74
    at No. 76 Iowa State, 82-83 (OT)
    at No. 123 Texas Tech, 71-72

Like a lot of teams, Nebraska is excellent at home and pretty poor on the road.  Since the Missouri game, the Huskers are 1-5 on the road (with their lone win in Norman) but 4-2 at home.  Granted, the Huskers' win over Texas looks a smidge less impressive now than it did a week ago, but they've still beaten three teams at home -- Texas, A&M, Oklahoma State -- that beat Mizzou on the road, and they played respectably well against Kansas State.  Against Sadler's suck-the-life-out-of-the-ball style, playing Nebraska in their backyard is tricky.  If Mizzou plays well, they'll probably win ... but if they are taking silly shots (or just missing good ones) and playing poor defense as they are wont to do on the road, Nebraska will happily go up double digits on them.

Player Stats Since Last Time

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Lance Jeter (6'3, 225, Sr.) 14.8 0.45 32.8 MPG, 12.8 PPG (51.1% 2PT, 32.5% 3PT, 75.0% FT), 4.8 APG, 4.7 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 2.3 TOPG
Toney McCray (6'6, 210, Jr.) 10.7 0.43 24.8 MPG, 11.5 PPG (48.6% 2PT, 44.7% 3PT, 78.3%), 3.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 2.2 TOPG
Jorge Brian Diaz (6'11, 245, So.) 9.0 0.31 29.0 MPG, 10.5 PPG (48.8% 2PT, 48.5% FT), 4.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 BPG, 2.2 TOPG
Brandon Richardson (6'0, 190, Jr.) 8.5 0.31 27.2 MPG, 8.3 PPG (52.4% 2PT, 25.0% 3PT, 87.8% FT), 1.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.1 SPG
Caleb Walker (6'4, 205, Jr.) 8.4 0.37 22.5 MPG, 6.7 PPG (60.0% 2PT, 38.5% 3PT, 71.4% FT), 4.5 RPG
Brandon Ubel (6'10, 240, So.) 3.7 0.19 19.5 MPG, 4.2 PPG (55.0% 2PT, 23.1% 3PT, 88.9% FT), 2.8 RPG
Eshaunte Jones (6'4, 200, So.) 3.7 0.29 12.7 MPG, 3.9 PPG (12.5% 2PT, 42.3% 3PT, 1.6 RPG
Drake Beranek (6'4, 200, Sr.) 3.2 0.19 17.5 MPG, 3.5 PPG (42.9% 2PT, 33.3% 3PT, 76.9% FT), 2.2 RPG, 1.1 TOPG
Andre Almeida (6'11, 310, Jr.) 3.0 0.23 12.9 MPG, 4.4 PPG (48.0% 2PT, 45.5% FT), 3.1 RPG
Ray Gallegos (6'2, 178, So.) -0.5 -0.07 7.0 MPG, 1.4 PPG

* 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%: McCray (26%), Almeida (26%), Diaz (24%)
  • Highest Floor%: Jeter (43%), Walker (42%), Richardson (41%)
  • Highest %Pass: Jeter (64%), Beranek (50%), Richardson (47%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Diaz (45%), McCray (44%), Jones (37%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Ubel (26%), Richardson (18%), Walker (12%)
  • Highest %TO: Almeida (13%), Ubel (11%), McCray (11%), Beranek (11%)
  • The last time I previewed Nebraska, I said "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.'"  That remains true, though I would change it to "let Lance Jeter or Toney McCray beat you."  McCray has blossomed into more than the role player he was at the beginning of conference play.  He is tall and solid from long range (a combination that damaged Missouri in non-conference play and in Boulder), and while he doesn't really offer much other than points and solid defense ... that's still a solid contribution, no?
  • Despite McCray's emergence, Jeter is still the engine.  His five rebounds per game emphasize that NU keeps everybody back to crash the defensive glass, and his five assists per game show who runs the halfcourt offense.  Jeter and McCray present a very interesting matchup for Mizzou -- they are both taller and thicker than Mizzou's guards.  If Mizzou is generating offense and pressing, they could wear Jeter and McCray down.  But if Nebraska gets to dictate the tempo, it will be Phil Pressey, Mike Dixon, etc., who are wearing down.  It's always a serious clash of styles when Nebraska and Missouri play ... and this matchup is possibly even more magnified than normal.
  • Nebraska holds the size advantage in the front court too.  Jorge Brian Diaz has not developed nearly as much as I expected him to this season (he's solid on the offensive glass, but he's actually pulled down fewer defensive rebounds than McCray in the last 13 games), but he is still a tough matchup for Laurence Bowers, Ricardo Ratliffe and Mizzou's bigs.  Meanwhile, giant Andre Almeida is either the perfect guy for matching up with Mizzou ... or like Texas' Dexter Pittman (or Baylor's J'Mison Morgan last week), he's actually too big to get up and down the court against the Tigers.

Last Time

Mizzou 77, Nebraska 69

Mizzou
NU
Pace (No. of Possessions)
69.9
Points Per Minute
2.07 1.73
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.10 0.99
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.31 1.17
2-PT FG% 46.3% 45.2%
3-PT FG% 33.3% 35.3%
FT% 70.0% 81.3%
True Shooting % 53.3% 52.2%
Mizzou NU
Assists 14 12
Steals 10 5
Turnovers 9 15
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
2.67 1.13
Mizzou NU
Expected Offensive Rebounds 14 13
Offensive Rebounds 11 10
Difference -3 -3

Last month at Mizzou Arena, Mizzou matched Nebraska on the glass and doubled up the Huskers in ball control, but they couldn't pull away because they did not shoot particularly well.  The same performance in Lincoln will probably pull out a win, but barely.  Mizzou needs another solid overall game to move to 9-6 in conference.

Keys to the Game

  1. Mizzou Versus the Long Ball.  This goes for a lot of teams, obviously, but when Missouri and Nebraska are making their open 3's, they are both completely different teams.  Both squads will probably get a few open looks ... and if one team shoots significantly better than the other, they will probably win.  Rocket science!

    We've discussed it ad nauseum at this point, but Mizzou's road defense has been putrid.  They probably don't have to worry about fouls being as big a concern this time around -- Nebraska doesn't tend to draw many -- so that might help.  But foul trouble alone does not accurately summarize Mizzou's road defense issues.  If they give Nebraska open looks, then they're in for a dogfight.  And if Nebraska makes their looks while Mizzou misses theirs, Mizzou will lose by quite a bit.

  2. Mizzou Versus Hustle Stats.  Specifically, steals and rebounds.  Steals are important to Missouri, rebounds important to Nebraska.  Mizzou won at Mizzou Arena because they broke even in one and doubled Nebraska up in the other.  (As they typically do at home.)  They need to do the same this time around.  (And if they make their 3's, they'll get more pressing opportunities with which to make steals. Synergy!)

  3. Mizzou Versus Foul Trouble. Mizzou encounters enough adversity on the road without foul issues -- Kim English and Mike Dixon score barely half as many points as they do at home, Marcus Denmon is decent-but-human, and most importantly, the defense is sometimes terrible.  As we saw in Manhattan last weekend, they can potentially overcome these issues, but they have a very small margin for error.  If they are also getting key players in foul trouble, it is likely too much to overcome.  Be it Ricardo Ratliffe or Phil Pressey (who, it is worth noting, was still somewhat limited the first time these teams played), Mizzou needs its key road contributors on the court as much as humanly possible to win on the road, and if they are on the bench with foul trouble, Mizzou will need near-perfect performances from the remaining road warriors (Denmon, Bowers, P. Pressey, Ratliffe) to pull out the win.

Prediction

Honestly, no matter who wins this one, the matchups and nervous energy are so pronounced that I kind of expect it to be by double digits.  But I continue to waffle about which team will do the whipping.  Ken Pomeroy's projections suggest a 70-69 Mizzou win.  We'll say that's because there's about a 51% chance of a 75-65 Mizzou win and a 49% chance of a 74-65 Nebraska win.  I'll pick Missouri, but the final trip to the Devaney Center does not fill me with optimism.  Prove me wrong, guys.  Make your 3's, play your game, and leave Lincoln for the last time with a win.

This team has gone 7-3 in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments the last two years.  They've been peaking at the right time, but if they do not begin said peak sooner this time around (in five regular season March games the last two seasons, they are just 2-3), they could very much find themselves in danger of the 8-9 game when all is said and done.  Mizzou is going to make the NCAA Tournament, but even if they play well when they get there, it's up to them to give themselves as favorable a situation as possible (i.e. a 5- or 6-seed) by playing well this week.  Split this week, and you'll need to play well in the Big 12 tourney to avoid a 7-8 seed.  Go 0-2 this week, and you're staring 8-9 in the face.  Nebraska is fighting for their postseason life at the moment, but Mizzou has plenty to fight for as well.  Whoever turns desperation into positive energy wins this one.

 

 

---

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