This here preview is going to be short but sweet for two reasons—Nebraska isn’t complicated and I’m playing Johnny Lawrence to my employer's Crane technique this week it seems. My attempts to sweep the leg thus far have been unsuccessful.
But back to the topic of import--traveling to Nebraska’s dojo with
the all-Valley Championship a national number one ranking on the line. Do we really want to be number one? "No Sensai!" is what I’m hearing from our Barking readership. It’s as if a sudden rise to the top of the ranks nets you Elizbeth Shue’s cankles. Look, I get the poison cheese aspect of top billing, but let’s keep our eye on the prize here, a number one seed. As long as we don’t lose the conference crown, we’re getting a one seed based on what we’ve done vs. the Cobra Kai of the nation, so let’s just keep winning and let the rankings take care of itself. We'll be in San Antonio regardless.
As for Nebraska, they’re the Texas A&M Aggies, only they have better guard play and less athleticism on the wings. Like the Ags, they’ll guard up in your chest for 40 minutes, bumping cutters, harassing dribblers, while not giving up anything easy. But unlike TAMU, they can be had between the keys because neither their front court or back court have better than average quickness. In fact their bigs are plodders and we can find offense exploiting that inability to run with our own thoroughbreds between the circles.
As for NU's players, the personnel you need to know about goes thusly, but keep in mind all of Doc Sadler’s players will guard.
The key player is Lance Jeter, their lead guard. He’s actually a lead Sherman Tank. He can handle and move pretty well for a 6-3 225 pound man, but he creates offense by being more clever with the ball than quick. Give him a gap and he turns from point guard to goal line tailback with his strength. Texas guards must stay in front and not allow him to get to Thompson or Johnson’s chest on a drive or he will draw fouls and get And-1 opportunities. The good news is that Jeter has been miserable shooting from deep at home, so there should be on the ball cushion available to whoever is defending the Husker lead guard.
Defensively, he can be taken off the dribble which makes Brown so important this game. If Jeter is allowed to play a one man zone vs. Doge, he’s got the size and strength to cause real havoc to our paint-testing sets and cuts. You can kiss our bread and butter flex looks out the window. It also limits any hopes of wearing out the Huskers' primary ballhandler.
NU's off guard is Caleb Walker and he’s a decent athlete and a streaky shooter. I think Cory Joseph might be able to find some cracks against him in our open post looks with Brown in the game, but Walker has the kind of size that can hurt Joseph if Cory is relegated to the perimeter, because Walker can get to CJ’s shot. We’ll need some driving lanes to free up Cory and that involves having Brown on the floor.
The third guard is Toney McCray and he must be defended on the catch because while he shoots it over 40% from deep, he’s not much of a threat to put it on the deck. McCray is undersized for a wing so I’m interested to see how he fares against Hamilton and the things we do to exploit size mismatches there. Again, along the mismatch front, keep in mind what I said about our flex game because it’s one of those things we use to ensure Hamilton gets paint catches.
Finally, there are 4 or 5 bodies in the frontcourt at Doc Sadler’s disposal. Big ones at that. A good analog for the two that matter most would be UConn’s Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu to Nebraska’s Diaz and Almeida. Diaz is more of a post scorer and Almeida is a big kid that wants to bang and block shots. It’ll be interesting to see who gets the most out of the Gary Johnson mismatch, UT or NU. UConn won that matchup against Texas and Barnes had to adjust accordingly. A lot of who wins the mismatch on Saturday will have to do with which team's guards can control tempo the best.
J’Covan Brown. He has to play and play well in this game to open up what has been a stingy Nebraska defense. If Texas gets in a grind it out game playing 4 on 5 in the halfcourt, we become ripe for an upset. If Brown can help spread out the slower Huskers and open the floor up for Hamilton, Johnson, Joseph, and Thompson, the game becomes a mismatch.
Tempo. We don’t want this game in the 50’s, we have an advantage in quickness 1 – 5, and we’re playing a team that wins games playing half court defense. What tempo do you want to play at if you’re Rick Barnes? Exactly. Sure, we can guard with the best of them, but we have the athletes to both run and guard, so why not do both.
Prediction. I haven’t liked what I’ve see out of J’Covan these last two weeks so I doubt he’s a big factor in this game. If we play Doge for 30 minutes in a halfcourt setting, we’re asking for trouble because we’ll be playing right at what Nebraska does best—grind it out halfcourt affairs. If J’Covan plays big, productive minutes, then you can ignore this prediction. Texas 63 Nebraska 61.
If Brown plays well, then it’s "Get him a body bag, yeah!"