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Know Your Unfriendly Host: Nebraska

As always, put your Trifecta picks in the comments.  By skins game rules, if you win this one, you get credit for SIX games.

What Happened Last Time?

Mizzou beat Nebraska on January 23, 70-53.  The game was nip-and-tuck until the most unexpected of offensive explosions from one Mr. Miguel Paul.  Paul had 15 points in 16 minutes ... and then didn't score again until last week.  His sudden emergence (and just as sudden disappearance) actually sparked the Trifecta game that continues to taunt us with no winner on a game-by-game basis.  Thanks a lot, Miguel.

Highlights from my Study Hall piece from that game:

I Hate Playing Nebraska

Give Doc Sadler credit: I'm pretty sure that, during and after every game Nebraska plays, their opponents fans express frustration with the way their own team is playing, but you have to step back and realize that part of that is Nebraska -- they leverage you into taking specific types of shots, they take you out of your comfort zone, and the more you want to speed the game up, the more they slow it down.  It's what they do, and most of the time your team simply is not going to be able to play the way they want to play against the Huskers.  I'm not sure Sadler will ever recruit well enough to build a consistent tourney contender in Lincoln, but I will always hate the thought of playing Nebraska; they're a tough out, and that's a compliment to Sadler.  Even if I don't think Mizzou is going to win, I still somewhat enjoy the thought of playing teams like K-State, Baylor or Oklahoma State.  Nebraska?  No thanks.


Note to Kim English:

Go straight up when shooting.  Stop fading away or to the left when you don't need to.  Go straight up.  That is all.



Pace: 57 possessions!!  That's a rate of about 15 possessions below what Mizzou wants to play.  Credit to them for pulling away and winning easily despite that, but they simply are not imposing their will on opponents right now, and at least part of that has to do with the poor shooting (39.3% overall today).



Mizzou made just enough shots, but ... yeah, shooting is still a bit of an issue overall.  Pretty sure Miguel Paul isn't going to shoot 83% the rest of the season (though I wouldn't object if he did).

It gives me confidence that Mizzou is making more of a concerted effort to drive and penetrate now than they were a month ago, because Nebraska is more than happy to let you yank up long jumper after long jumper, and Mizzou did just that against them at Mizzou Arena.  If Nebraska tries to take you out of your comfort zone, it is up to Mizzou to return the favor and, if they have to make mistakes, make them aggressive mistakes.

NU's Season Since Last We Saw Them

  • KenPom's Ranking in use here
    at #88 Colorado (L, 60-72)
    #94 Oklahoma (W, 63-46)
    #12 Kansas State (W, 57-76)
    at #1 Kansas (L, 64-75)
    #14 Baylor (L, 53-55)
    at #9 Texas (L, 51-91)
    at #12 Kansas State (L, 87-91)

Nebraska picked a really bad time to start playing better.  Since Mizzou defeated them on January 23, the Huskers have played seven games...five against Ken Pom's Top 14.  And of their last four games (road trips to Lawrence, Austin and Manhattan, with a home game against a hot Baylor team), they've led KU in the second half, led Baylor in the final minute, and been tied with KSU in the final minute.  In between, they got massacred in Austin, and it skewed their stats, but there's no doubting the fact that this team, which gave Mizzou all it could handle a month ago, is playing its best ball of the season.  Of course, it appears that Mizzou might be as well.

Nebraska Since Last We Saw Them: 1-6

NU Opp
Points Per Minute
1.53 1.80
Points Per Possession (PPP)
0.96 1.14
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.19 1.41
2-PT FG% 41.8% 50.6%
3-PT FG% 37.7% 36.8%
FT% 69.5% 73.4%
True Shooting % 51.1% 58.0%
NU Opp
Assists/Gm 12.6 13.6
Steals/Gm 5.6 6.4
Turnovers/Gm 13.4 11.9
Ball Control Index
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.36 1.68
NU Opp
Expected Offensive Rebounds/Gm 11.9 11.0
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 9.0 10.3
Difference -2.9 -0.7

Ken Pomeroy Stats

NU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks
NU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 118 12 MU big
Effective FG% 108 32 MU
Turnover % 81 1 MU
Off. Reb. % 290 333 NU
FTA/FGA 210 207 Push
MU Offense vs NU Defense Ranks
MU Offense NU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 36 80 MU
Effective FG% 76 184 MU Big
Turnover % 41 54 Push
Off. Reb. % 119 78 NU
FTA/FGA 234 246 Push

Nebraska has been playing better ... how?

We know NU's general style of play, and we know the matchups above favor Mizzou rather considerably ... but how is it that NU has almost beaten both K-State and Baylor, and played Kansas quite tough, all in the last couple of weeks?  First of all, they've been raining down the 3-pointers.  They were 10-for-17 from 3-point range against Kansas, 14-for-21 against K-State.  Ryan Anderson went 9-for-11 in those two games, Sek Henry 4-for-7.  They also broke even on the boards against Kansas and Kansas State despite some iffy-at-best overall rebounding ranks.  They've upped their theft level, registering 16 against KU and KSU, though they've also been turning the ball over at a tremendous level.  The Baylor game was a complete oddity -- they were terrible from 3-point range (4-for-21), were outrebounded by 15 (37-22), shot 31% overall (nine of their shots were blocked) and only managed three steals -- and yet they had a chance to win at the end because ... well, I'm actually not sure.  It made no sense, yet there they were.

In other words, I think it's safe to say that their guards are being a little more aggressive, leading to more takeaways and turnovers, plus a few more open 3's.  Their bigs are young, meaning they come and go on the boards as their attention span waxes and wanes.  But they have figured out the art of hanging around, and while they don't get away with it every game (hello, Texas), the odds of them making Saturday a pretty miserable experience for Missouri, win or lose, are pretty high.

NU Player Stats Since Last We Saw Them

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Ryan Anderson (6'4, 205, Sr.) 11.5 0.43 27.1 MPG, 9.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.8 TOPG
Jorge Brian Diaz (6'11, 235, RSFr.) 9.0 0.39 23.0 MPG, 7.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG
Lance Jeter (6'3, 225, Jr.) 8.4 0.28 29.8 MPG, 7.1 PPG, 4.4 APG, 4.3 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.9 TOPG
Brandon Richardson (6'0, 190, So.) 8.1 0.32 25.3 MPG, 8.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.8 TOPG
Sek Henry (6'4, 200, Sr.) 6.6 0.23 28.6 MPG, 5.6 PPG, 3.0 APG, 2.4 RPG, 2.1 TOPG
Christian Standhardinger (6'8, 210, Fr.) 5.6 0.48 11.6 MPG, 5.6 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.1 TOPG
Eshaunte Jones (6'4, 190, RSFr.) 4.1 0.32 13.1 MPG, 4.0 PPG
Myles Holley (6'4, 190, So.) 4.1 0.41 10.0 MPG, 4.7 PPG, 1.3 RPG
Quincy Hankins-Cole (6'8, 240, Jr.) 1.1 0.13 8.9 MPG, 3.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG
Ray Gallegos (6'3, 175, Fr.) 0.9 0.07 12.0 MPG, 3.0 PPG, 1.1 RPG
Brandon Ubel (6'10, 220, Fr.) 0.6 0.05 13.9 MPG, 2.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.5 TOPG
Ben Nelson (6'9, 230, Sr.) 6 minutes

* 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.

  • When Nebraska is clicking and threatening good teams, they are doing so without any star power whatsoever.  When Anderson gets hot, he's clearly the go-to guy, but ... in the last seven games, NU has officially zero players averaging double-digit points.  If you're winning games, that's an extremely admirable trait, but clearly the lack of star power hurts them when it's game-winning time.
  • Along with that, NU has had only three regulars averaging 0.40 AdjGS/min or better, and two are barely regulars (neither Christian Standhardinger nor Myles Holley are averaging more than 12 minutes per game).  And yet they hang around...
  • Jorge Brian Diaz looked outstanding against Kansas -- 20 points (albeit on 17 shots), 9 rebounds (6 offensive).  In the three games since then?  14 points, 5 rebounds total.

Keys to the Game

  1. Attack, attack, attack. Mizzou is coming off of a super-fun win over a big-name team, and now they have to travel North to Lincoln to play the last-place team in the conference.  You really couldn't draw up a better "TRAP GAME!!!!!!" scenario than that.  NU is sneaky enough to steal a win if Mizzou plays hungover, but if Mizzou is aggressive from the opening tip -- even if it results in some aggressive mistakes -- it will keep the intensity level up and minimize the opportunity for a letdown.  Mizzou is usually pretty hesitant against Doc Sadler teams, and that's partially by Sadler's design, but ... attack and see what happens.

  2. Guard the arc. This goes for just about any team in the country, but when Nebraska gets hot from 3-point range, they suddenly become a scary team to beat, just ask KU and KSU.  NU's post players are far from dangerous, and there just won't be a lot of reason to double the post as Mizzou likes to do.  Stick to the guards on the perimeter, tell J.T. Tiller to learn what flavor gum Ryan Anderson is chewing, and take your chances being a bit undermanned in the post.

  3. No letdown on the glass. Mizzou comes and goes on the boards.  They were great against Illinois, great against Texas, solid until the last six seconds against Baylor ... and iffy at best in plenty of other games.  Mizzou showed they could crash the defensive glass with a ton of guys and still race the other team down the court, and they can't suffer a predictable letdown in this regard against a lesser team.  If Mizzou doesn't let Nebraska get too many second chances (while locking down a few second chances of their own), NU has no choice but to get hot from the field to win ... and that's not something they do tremendously often.


When I decided to go with the beyond-predictable Admiral Ackbar reference for this game, I did a quick Google Image search for the great admiral ... and holy crap.  The Internet once again proved its worthiness.  Instead of posting them all within this post, I'm going to post some in comments and encourage you to do the same.  So post your trifecta pick AND your favorite Ackbar pic below.  Bandwidth be damned.

If NU wins ... remember last year, when NU beat Mizzou 56-51 in Lincoln?  Remember how horrendous that game was to watch?  Yeah, a NU win tomorrow would probably go exactly like that.  The game might be a bit more high-scoring, especially if NU gets hot from 3-point range, but it will unfold in a similar way -- lethargy (half-forced by NU), poor shooting, general frustration, and post-game interviews that contain a lot of phrases like "We beat ourselves" and "We just didn't have enough intensity." NU wins 68-64, and Mizzou remains two games away from clinching a winning conference record.

If Mizzou wins ... it's an ugly game early, with Mizzou attacking the rim like they did against Baylor and Texas, to only marginal success.  But the tempo of the game is set at a high rate, and while the game is close at halftime, Mizzou gets hot early in the second half, scoring a knockdown in Round 6 or 7, and holds off the Huskers, 77-66.

If I had to bet my life on this game, I would be really tempted to lean toward NU just because of a) the letdown factor and b) the Doc Sadler factor.  Whereas Mike Anderson currently owns Rick Barnes (three wins in a row), Sadler has coached his teams VERY well against Anderson's style. Anderson is just 3-5 against NU. I'm picking Mizzou because ... well, who cares who I pick ... but let's not assume this will be anything resembling easy.  NU is young and improving, and they always play Mizzou well, record be damned.  Mizzou 77, Nebraska 66.