As you all know, tonight the Hawks head to Lincoln to take on Doc Sadler's Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Devaney Center. The first part of that sentence may not mean much to you, but the final two words should. Over the series history we have completely dominated the Huskers, much like they have done to us in football. However, whereas we have evened the playing field lately on the gridiron, the games indoors have become much less competitive with us pulverizing them over the last five years – winning 11 straight and 20 of 21 (though that one was an embarrassing loss up there). But Sherron has contributed to that, with Matt Kleinmann having the second most career points against the Huskers – with 8. And even with all that domination of late, we still only take a 16-16 Devaney Center record into this game. Knowing that and of the pesky defense Sadler will have them playing, this will not be an easy game.
Having surely read our mini-preview a few weeks back, you know that Nebraska lacks what is commonly referred to as size. On the season, the only guy above 6'6" that's consistently seen the court is Chris Balham (6'8") – and even he only gets about 10 minutes an outing. Quite frankly, Balham isn't that good. He was solid in high school because of his size and athleticism, but it hasn't yet translated to this level and for the year he accounts for 2 points & 2 boards a night. So without a big to rely on, Doc will usually use a trio of guys down low. The first, and best is Ade Dagunduro (6'5"). Ade is really just an athletic wing – without a shot – that's stuck playing down low, but he will create some matchup problems for us defensively and for the year has come up with about 11 points and 4 boards a game. Freshman Toney McCray (6'6") is their tallest guy playing over 10 minutes – and much like Dagunduro he's horribly out of position defensively and will only score facing up, or driving by a slower big. And lastly, is Ryan Anderson (6'4"), who is a bit of an enigma. He came to them as an outside shooter, but that has gradually deteriorated over time – though his frequency of taking them has not. On the year, he's averaging 6 & 5 to lead the team in rebounding.
(Note: The one caveat to this is if Brian Diaz (6'11") plays tonight, as could happen. Diaz was recently admitted to school after meeting their English speaking requirements and has begun practicing with the team, though he has yet to play and can elect to retain his redshirt in order to preserve himself a full season. Him playing would certainly be a boost, though I'm not sure of the effect it would really have as they've barely played with him and he's likely nowhere near game shape. If he were to play, I'd predict no more than ten minutes and no less than 2 fouls, but I know nothing about this guy, so I won't pretend to.)
Despite who they're guarding, nearly everyone is a backcourt player. Cookie Miller (5'7") is their primary distributor, and he's a decent one. Quick and shifty, Miller racks up over 4 assists per game and takes pretty good care of the ball with a near 2:1 A:TO ratio. It will be important to keep him out of the lane. Steve Harley may be their best all-around guy because of the effort he gives and his quickness with the ball. He only hits 1/3 of his outside shots, so we should give him some space as he's looking to blow by and mix it up on the inside – which is where he gets most of his team leading 12 points and nearly 4 boards. The final two pieces are Sek Henry and Paul Velander. Henry comes up with 9 & 3 and needs to always be defended, but there's not one thing he does very well. Velander, needs to be watched like a hawk. Enter Brady. Both Henry and Anderson will shoot a couple, but Velander is their only real three point threat on a consistent basis. And quite a threat he is, last I checked, leading the nation at over 47% on 104 attempts. For the year, he's shot 9 two-point FGs, 2 of them coming in league play – so it's not a difficult scouting report.
1. Keep the feet moving. Whether it's Brady chasing Velander, Tyshawn trying to stay in front of Harley or whoever we have on Dagunduro, we have to keep them in front. A few of them can hit the three, but only Velander is going to hurt us from out there. The rest simply employ proper spacing and try to get by their man. Our primary advantage in this game is Cole and we can't be putting him at risk of foul trouble by having to defend a tiny driving guard every play. Make this team shoot jump shots and they won't score.
2. Box out. For a team that really doesn't do much of this, we win the rebounding battle more games than I'd think. However, that's usually based on our athleticism and having bigs around the basket. With the Huskers spacing us out and relying on quickness, it will be important to actually get a body on them when the shot goes up or there's a good chance they could beat us to the ball. This isn't a great shooting team and our size should make it tough on them, but too often even when we play good first shot defense, we let teams get an easy one by stealing an extra possession. That shouldn't happen tonight.
1. Work through the post. Cole is our primary advantage, but Mario, the Morris' and even Quintrell have a size advantage as well. They'll be clogging this space, trying to deny entry passes and converging on the catch – but it's still something we need to try and exploit. This means posting hard and on the block from the bigs and getting the passes up where they can do something with it on the catch. Whether this means shooting over the top or kicking out to an open shooter, they need to keep the ball high.
2. Be smart with the ball. This key is two-fold. First, the Bugeaters play very tough, pressure defense. Lately, we've handled that much better and limited our turnovers (save a couple stretches), which has led to some pretty high scoring games. Tonight might not be high scoring, but if we handle the ball well and get it where it needs to be, we have a tremendous advantage on the offensive end. The second part is our shot selection. If we're working through the post properly, we're likely to have a whole lot of open looks from the outside. To start, the big needs to recognize when he has a good look and when he needs to kick it out. From there, guards need to step up and make shots, or swing to the open man, because Nebraska is very good rotating out of their double teams. If they make you prove you can hit it, knock it down. If they close out hard, pump fake and go right by for a closer look, but always be willing to take what they give you and make them pay for their decision.
This is likely going to be a very well contested game that is good for our guys either way. If we utilize our advantage properly, there is no reason we shouldn't come out with a win, but the Huskers shouldn't be underestimated and if we let them slow it to a crawl, they'll just gain more confidence as it goes along. We need to match their intensity from the start, exploit their lack of size and retain focus throughout. This is the kind of win that really separates a team from the pack and is an absolute necessity if they want to win the league. From what I'm told, they do. Rock Chalk!