Oklahoma State Advances Past Nebraska

March 9, 2011

In a first round game that had plenty of NCAA implications, the Oklahoma State Cowboys beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 53-52. OSU advances to the second round, where they will play top ranked Kansas. Nebraska will now await their post season destination, most likely the NIT.

It was a fairly well-played game defensively for both teams, and both offenses struggled for long stretches of the game. Nebraska got off to a terribly slow start, and it looked like Oklahoma State might run away with the game, but they hit a shooting drought as well.

Nebraska had a lead coming into the final two minutes, before two three pointers from Keiton Page put the Cowboys up for good. Page missed the front end of a one and one with 15 seconds left though, and it opened the door for Nebraska to win. Lance Jeter slipped in the lane though, losing the ball and the game.

It was a shame too, because it looked like Jeter either had an easy pass to his teammate, who would have had a pretty easy layup, or Jeter could have taken an eight foot jumper in the lane. Either option would have given Nebraska the win and kept their NCAA hopes alive.

Instead, Nebraska has played their final Big 12 game. They will play a game or two in the NIT before moving on to the Big 10 next season. Oklahoma State is now just three more wins away from stealing a NCAA bid, though I expect Kansas will knock them out tomorrow afternoon.

Colorado-Iowa State is up next.


Kansas State at Nebraska preview

February 23, 2011

Kansas State at Nebraska – Wednesday 8 p.m. ESPNU

Kansas State had hoped to begin salvgaing the season with a big home win against KU last week. The Wildcats (18-9, 6-6) took care of business again at home Saturday vs. Oklahoma. Now they have a road game, and face the other team looking for an unlikely NCAA rally – Nebraska, who scored arguably an even bigger upset beating Texas.

Will Spradling needs to continue solid point guard play for Kansas State to make the NCAA Tournament. Source: FloridaToday.com

KANSAS STATE: Obviously the Wildcats’ season-long problems have extended far beyond the play of guard Jacob Pullen, but his efforts the last two games have shown how much better he makes K-State overall. Even if you didn’t see the Kansas game live, you surely saw highlights of his magnificent, gritty 38 point performance against the Jayhawks.

However, K-State did not cruise against Oklahoma, and the Sooners began to cut into the margin early in the second half. Pullen hit some shots and K-State got more aggressive defensively, and they pulled away for a 77-62 win.

As always, it won’t be easy controlling the pace at Nebraska (18-8, 6-6). It’s only fair to expect a good game from Nebraska, which played very well this past weekend against Texas, establishing a strong low post presence. K-State has not been as strong down low as we expected early in the year, but it will be awfully interesting to see who takes advantage there.

NEBRASKA: The Huskers are 5-2 in conference play when they allow fewer than 70 points in a game. They are 1-4 in the other games. Interestingly, though, one of those two losses was to Kansas State in Manhattan, 69-53.

You would think Nebraska’s style would lead to protecting the ball, and it usually does, but against K-State the Huskers committed 22 turnovers. They had just six assists, and those lost possessions are part of the reason Nebraska ended up with just 17 first half points. 

Nebraska would be well served to get the ball to Jorge Brian Diaz inside, as he is a reliable scorer (though it’d be nice if he weren’t such a dreadful free throw shooter at 56 %). Additionally, guard Brandon Richardson looked quite comfortable slashing late in the Texas game, probably partly as a result of adrenaline. Good to see.

Bottom Line

The tough thing here is what happens to the loser. It’ll be hard to expect an NCAA bid for a team sitting at 6-7 with three games to go, though there will still be a chance. K-State will host Missouri and Iowa State, with a road date against Texas in between. Nebraska is at Iowa State and at Colorado, hosting Mizzou for Senior Night in between. The winner, already feeling good, gets to extend its rally.

Nebraska 70, Kansas State 66

What does Nebraska’s win mean?

February 19, 2011

Now that everyone is off the court at the Devaney Center, it’s time to discuss the significance of the biggest upset of the conference season.

Or at least the biggest upset since Monday night.

Strong contributions from Jorge Brian Diaz will give Nebraska a better chance in its last two home games, against Kansas State and Missouri. Source: Getty Images

Nebraska is 18-8, 6-6 in the Big 12. The Huskers beat Texas on Saturday by hitting 47% of their shots. Note that they didn’t make many three-pointers, and their 18 for 25 freet throw shooting was satisfactory but not outstanding.

They got the ball to Jorge Brian Diaz, who had 11 points, and fellow big man Andre Almeida hit all five shots he took. An inability to find easy shots has hurt teams like Oklahoma State and Kansas State all season, but today Nebraska figured it out.

The Huskers have won three straight games. Their remaining four before the league tournament:

Kansas State, @ Iowa State, Missouri, @ Colorado

Kansas State, too, is playing for its at-large viability. Nebraska didn’t get its offense going in a 69-53 loss at Bramlage earlier in the year. Iowa State has only won one conference game this year, but seems to give everyone a tough game in Ames. Nebraska beat the Cyclones by one way back at the start of conference play.

The Huskers have a reasonable chance to beat Missouri if they utilize their big men as well as they did today. Missouri’s frontcourt is relatively thin, with only two consistently effective inside scorers. As they often did in football, the Huskers face Colorado in the season finale. They handled the Buffs at home earlier this year, but Alec Burks and Cory Higgins can be tough to contain, and Levi Knutson isn’t a bad player, either.

Of these four opponents, the stronger two come to Lincoln, while the weaker two host Nebraska. In its last year in the league before going to the Big Ten, Nebraska has been able to slow the pace of games down against weak teams and strong teams.

Some credit goes to coach Doc Sadler, who has had trouble getting the Nebraska program to the top half of the Big 12. Perhaps this year Nebraska can

With three wins in the following four games, Nebraska would have a very winnable first round game in the Big 12 tournament, and might just be in position for an at-large NCAA selection. The Huskers last played in the tournament in 1998.

Last Night in the Big 12

February 10, 2011

Three games last night, two real fun ones, and one involving Texas.

Texas 68 Oklahoma 52

OU has been better lately, but they never stood a chance in this game. Texas had control the entire time, and got one step closer to being unbeaten in conference play. All five Texas starters scored in double figures, led by Jordan Hamilton with 20. Dogus Balbay even scored 12, on 5-6 shooting.

Andrew Fitzgerald led the over matched Sooners with 16.

Baylor 74 Nebraska 70

One of the two really good games from last night, the Bears needed a last second block from Anthony Jones to keep Nebraska from pulling off the upset. The game was close throughout, and Baylor nearly gave it away with some sloppy play late, but Nebraska returned the favor, falling just short again.

LaceDarius Dunn hit a big lay-up to give Baylor a 71-67 lead, then Nebraska’s Toney McCray had his three pointer blocked by Anthony Jones, a sequence that sealed the game for the Bears and put them at 6-4 in conference play. Dunn finished the night with 24 points, mostly from the free throw line, to go with four rebounds and four assists.

This game summed up a lot of the Nebraska games this season, they fought hard the whole time, kept it close, but in the end they just didn’t have the raw talent to win the game. Watch the Anthony Jones play again, and it is literally the case of him being really long and athletic, something the Huskers just don’t have. Until Doc Sadler starts getting more talented recruits, Nebraska is going to continue being this team. Close, but not close enough.

Now Baylor is sitting in the driver’s seat towards the third seed in the conference tournament. They’ve been playing better lately, making the plays they need to make at the end of games. It will be very interesting to see if they can keep it up, since this isn’t the first time they’ve shown flashes of being a good team.

Texas A&M 73 Colorado 70 OT

The game of the night, and maybe the best Big 12 game I’ve seen in a few weeks. Colorado was in the control the entire game, but you could tell that TAM just needed a few extra minutes of basketball to take control. B.J. Holmes hit a three pointer with 1.4 seconds left to tie the game and send it to overtime, and TAM was able to escape with a big win.

Colorado just couldn’t score in overtime, running bad set after bad set, and TAM did a great job making sure Alec Burks took tough jumpers. It was very impressive that the Aggies were able to get the win, especially since they did their best to give it away with two dumb technical fouls in the second half (one of those was on Mark Turgeon, who doesn’t seem to time his technical fouls very well). Still, the Aggies overcame it, were able to keep the game close with good defense on Burks, and then set up Holmes for the big shot.

It was the Aggies ability to force Burks into contested jumpers that ultimately won them the game. He was getting to the foul line with ease, but the Aggies allowed him to catch the ball, then collapsed on him around the foul line. He made some moves, but still couldn’t get free.

The loss means Colorado is now 4-6 in the Big 12 and in need of some wins. The NCAA tourney is still in reach, they just need to start pulling out some of these close games. For TAM, they get the win the so desperately needed, and now have a soft schedule to finish out the year.

Kansas – Nebraska preview

February 5, 2011

One line in the KU fight song says “Husk some corn and listen to the Cornhuskers wail.” This will be the last chance for that before Nebraska heads to the Big Ten, unless they meet in the conference tournament or something.

Let us go back to the teams’ previous matchup January 15 in Lawrence. In the week prior, the Huskers had edged Iowa State by a point and dropped a road game at Missouri by eight. They entered halftime against KU with a five-point halftime lead, but were outscored in the second half 38-30. Kansas won the final game of its 69-game home winning streak.

Lance Jeter would like to lead Nebraska to its first NCAA Tournament since 1998. Source: JournalStar.com

We’ve written here before about Nebraska’s consistent strategy of slowing the game down and limiting both its own possessions and the other team’s. The style of games involving Nebraska is pretty predictable. While the Huskers are 3-4 in conference, their strategy has been largely successful outside of their last game, a 16-point loss at K-State. It was the team’s first blowout loss of conference play. Simply put, most Big 12 teams look uncomfortable playing Nebraska.

Nebraska is very balanced. They score evenly, they rebound evenly, and they spread out their minutes, too. No one averages more than 11 points, six rebounds or thirty minutes a game. Lance Jeter, at guard, might be the most prominent player, but the Huskers can probably go 11 or 12 players deep without losing much.

It’s not surprising the Huskers shoot fairly well (47.5%), because at such a slow pace they can’t really be tempted to take bad shots.

No. 2 Kansas looked great over the last week, but wasn’t challenged. They blew out K-State at home on Saturday night, which reflects how much damage the Jayhawks can do when people expect them to be challenged by a team that’s not quite as good. Few teams handle perceived upset threats in the regular season better than KU. They also walked all over Texas Tech in Lubbock, 88-66. It was not competitive.

The Jayhawks are playing better overall than they were when they beat Nebraska by three last month. The Morris twins are still difficult to contain (Marcus in scoring, Markieff in rebounding) and I think a lot of people don’t realize how good Thomas Robinson is.

The longer Nebraska feels comfortable playing the possession game, the better for Doc Sadler’s team. For KU, making a few early three-point shots could help Nebraska feel the pressure.

Bottom Line

Kansas might have enough talent to survive the difficult Nebraska defense, but most Big 12 teams need to beware of Nebraska the rest of the way. This is a decent team that can make the NCAA Tournament. Texas A&M was a quality win, and this would certainly be another one.

Thinking long term, this will be the last regular season matchup in a series that’s been comically unbalanced. So ends a rivalry that, like the football version, really never was.

Kansas 70, Nebraska 59

Good defense, bad offense: K-State-Nebraska preview

February 2, 2011

Nebraska at Kansas State, 7 p.m. CT, ESPN3

The Huskers and Wildcats meet up for the first time this season, with both teams traveling in surprisingly different directions. I almost feel dirty for saying this considering the game is in Manhattan (where K-State has been unbeatable recently), but the matchup does not look favorable for Kansas State. This will be my first foray into the world of advanced basketball stats (I have enough trouble with baseball) so bear with me.

Lance Jeter and the Huskers have been dynamite on defense this season.

It seems simple: Nebraska has been exceedingly effective on defense this season. According to kenpom.com, they’ve held opponents to 30.1% from three  point shots and 41.4% from shots within the three point line. Those numbers are good for 22nd and 8th best in the country, respectively. Texas, as a comparison, has been playing elite-level defense, holding opponents to 27.2% from three (3rd best) and 39.5% from two (also 3rd best). Basically the metrics confirm what the eyeballs suggest, Nebraska is a good defensive team and they’ve been playing like it all season.

On the flip side of that coin, Kansas State hasn’t gotten it down on offense this year. Their 2 point percentage ranks 237th in the country (46%) and of their players that log significant minutes, only Curtis Kelly is making over 50% of his field goals.

Jorge Brian Diaz (16 points against A&M) may not find it as easy inside against the K-State frontline of Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels. Despite the Kansas debacle, in which Marcus Morris and Thomas Robinson ran wild, K-State’s frontline had done a decent defense job recently against Baylor and A&M. The Diaz-Kelly matchup will be pivotal…that is if Frank Martin lets Kelly play.

After the spanking K-State got in Lawrence Saturday and the Wally Judge situation earlier this week, who knows where the team’s collective psych is. Perhaps it’ll all inspire the team and they’ll go on a nice run. Or they could just easily keep slipping in what is already a hugely disappointing year. Either way I’ll be interested to see how K-State responds to all the adversity and what their body language looks like early in this game. I hate analyzing the mental makeup of people I’ve never met, but their has been a soap opera going on in Manhattan this season and I’m drawn in.

Bottom line: When Jacob Pullen got benched earlier in the year, the big story was Martin coming out and saying that he wasn’t ready to lead. The Wildcats are in a low place right now and Pullen’s leadership certainly will be put to the test the rest of the way. This is the type of game that I could see Pullen going out and showing why he was a pre-season All-American. But I think enough games have been played that the identities of both of these teams are solidly set. Nebraska has proven it can play well in tough environments this season and I think this is a road game they grab. I’ll take the Huskers to win 55-51.

Nebraska and the NCAA’s

January 30, 2011

Take Nebraska as proof that all it takes is one marquee win to transform a team’s season.

Doc has a lot to smile about right now.

A week after dropping a winnable-game in Lubbock, the Huskers pulled off a big upset in beating #11 Texas A&M 57-48 in Lincoln. The win added an exclamation mark to Nebraska’s solid but certainly not spectacular tournament resume (15-5, 3-3). Before yesterday their best wins were home wins over middling Creighton and up and down Colorado. The A&M win should continue to carry weight because besides games against Texas and Kansas, the Aggies should be favored to win the rest of their games.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t giving Nebraska the respect it deserved in the last few power rankings. Aside from that loss to Texas Tech the Huskers have played well in the Big 12. They nearly-Texas’d Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse and played a tight game against Missouri in Columbia.

The Texas Tech loss is looking more and more liked a missed opportunity because the schedule is tough the rest of the way, here is how I break it down:

Should win games: @OU, OK-State, @I-State, K-State

The Huskers shouldn’t (that’s the operative word here) lose these games if they keep defending the way they have this season. But having two of your three easiest games left on the road isn’t the most ideal situation.

Toss-up games: @K-State, @Baylor, @Colorado

I think Nebraska is a more complete, better-trending team than these any of three, but the Jekyl and Hyde acts make them hard to predict. If Pullen, Dunn or Burks have a big game their respective teams get very tough to beat, especially when they are at home. Isn’t it nice having an NBA player on your team?

Tough games: Kansas, Texas, Missouri

The way I see it, these three games work in Nebraska’s favor. All will be in Lincoln, and seeing how well the Huskers did in Columbia and Lawrence, they’ll have to be feeling good about themselves going into games against Missouri and Kansas. If they go 0-3 in these games, so be it – it was expected. But should they steal one of them they’ll suddenly have another bright, shiny win on their resume.

Verdict: If the Huskers can get to 9-7 they should have no trouble grabbing a bid. 8-8 might get them in too and 7-9 plus a win or two in the conference tourney could work as well. If they can take care of business in the “should win games,” win one of the “toss up” games with their consistent defense and steal a “tough” game at home, there are your six games.

Right now I like Nebraska’s chances of making their first NCAA tournament since 1998, but in a week their arrow could be trending in the opposite direction. That’s what makes college basketball so fun.