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First Thoughts: Nebraska Cornhuskers

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After a narrow escape in Boulder Wednesday night, all that matters is that head coach Bill Self and his boys left with the W and are still on track for an unprecedented sixth straight Big 12 regular season championship.  A win on Monday night in Austin against the Texas Longhorns would give the Jayhawks a three game lead over the entire conference and all but seal the deal, given the fact that Kansas will then hold a de facto four game lead over Texas with the tiebreaker.  A trip to Missouri to finish the regular season seems the only way that there could be a possible slip up and lose the crown - that assuming that they find three other games to lose first.  So, in other words, win Monday and it's, for all intents and purposes, over.

But, of course you know that I'm going to reel you back in now and say that we can't forget about Saturday's rematch with the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  I mean, we sort of (some of us, at least) overlooked Colorado and looked what nearly happened there.  After all, this is the Big 12, and anything can happen on any given night.  Just look back to our recent history in Lubbock, Texas for proof of that.  That said, this one will be played at the site of the nation's longest home-court winning streak.  And, things generally seem to go a little smoother inside Allen Fieldhouse.

Currently speaking, the Cornhuskers are in the middle of a brutal stretch of their conference schedule. (five straight ranked teams - KSU, @KU, Baylor, @UT, @KSU)  For a team that doesn't look, to the eye, to be so bad, there could be a 1-10 conference team by the name of Nebraska come February 17, after they play at Kansas State.  Hopefully head coach Doc Sadler can get an upset in there somewhere (just not Saturday) and win three of the last five and finish 5-11 and not feel too much heat about keeping his job this summer.  Saturday, though, will be a tough one of those five to pull out for Doc and his team.  The Cornhuskers haven't won in Lawrence since 1999 and haven't beaten Kansas, period, since 2004, which would be the only win since 1999, when they actually took the regular season series before losing the third matchup in the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City.  The Jayhawks hold an all-time series advantage of 60-15, (76.9 percent) with the average score being 78-67, advantage Jayhawks.

If there is one belief that I fall back on with regularity, it is that "the laws of averages always work themselves out."  And, that is often the case.  It is something that I say during games when opponents are shooting 67 percent from three in the first half and winning by two.  "The laws of averages will work themselves out, they will shoot 18 percent in the second half and we will win by fifteen," and it generally happens.*  So, you look at that all-time win percentage and see it is basically 75 percent - three out of every four.  Meaning, that Nebraska has to be due against Kansas really soon, right?  Well, to put this kindly, that might be the biggest thing in favor of Nebraska going into this game.  As we saw in the first game in Lincoln, they have the ability to shoot lights out for a half (eight-of-eleven in the first half) and scare the living you-know-what out of you.  But, averages work themselves out, (three-of-ten in the second half) as stated, and the Jayhawks won fairly handily in the final eight minutes or so.

* Looking back and reading through the Yahoo! recap of the first game with Nebraska, (after I had already written the above paragraph) this comment happened to catch my eye:

"Law of averages, it’s amazing how it works," Self said. "They missed a lot of shots in the second half they made in the first half. Fortunately, we got it inside and stayed hot."

I won't say it.  I'm just sayin'....

Since it is a widely known fact that Nebraska's gameplan tends to be to try and slow the game down and "ugly it up," in the comparisons of the two lines, I have included also the percentage of the team's total accounted for by said line.  It is really the only way to fairly determine where they rely upon for production to come from, in a level way compared to a team that plays at a much higher possession rate, such as the Jayhawks.

 

Backcourt Comparison

Kansas - Sherron Collins, Brady Morningstar, Xavier Henry, Tyshawn Taylor, Tyrel Reed and Elijah Johnson
Nebraska - Lance Jeter, Sek Henry, Ryan Anderson, Brandon Richardson, Eshaunte Jones, Ray Gallegos and Myles Holley

Kansas Nebraska
PPG 49.5 (58.7%)** 39.1 (58.9%)
RPG 14.0 (33.4%) 19.9 (62.0%)
SPG 6.3 (72.4%) 5.9 (84.3%)

 

Frontcourt Comparison

Kansas - Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey
Nebraska - Brian Diaz, Brandon Ubel, Quincy Hankins-Cole and Christian Standhardinger

Kansas Nebraska
PPG 36.4 (43.2%)** 26.4 (39.8%)
RPG 26.7 (63.8%) 12.8 (39.9%)
BPG 5.8 (92.1%) 1.7 (56.7%)

 

** Kansas has a total points per game percentage of over 100%.  This may seem strange and it baffled me for a bit, but it it due to Brady not playing the first semester, so the points per game is lower for the season as whole than what it is with his added 5.9 points per game since returning.  In fact, all statistical percentages are a bit off due to this.  Points just stick out so much because it is actually over 100%.  In fact (Version 2.0), both teams (all I assume - without being a math wiz - that all teams) points per game look a bit off due to players playing and not playing, since they only per game accumulate stats during games in which they do play.  Standhardinger is the biggest culprit of this for Nebraska, since his numbers are the highest of players used in this example that has only played a partial season.

As seems to be a reoccurring theme, an opponent doesn't: a) have the inside depth of Kansas, and b) rely nearly as heavily on the bigs for production as Kansas.  Funny what having and not having a first-team All America talent center will do in comparison to strategies.  As seems to be a reoccurring theme, an opponent a) isn't as prolific a rebounding team as Kansas, and b) has a guard as its leading rebounder - this time Ryan Anderson for Nebraska. (Alec Burks, who didn't play, was for Colorado)  Now, as I said before the Colorado game, this should be a HUGE advantage.  Missed shots should be gobbled up by the men in white.  Such was not the case (actually it was because Kansas wore blue in Colorado, while the Buffs wore grey, which is a lot closer to white.  But, I digress.  Point taken.) in that game.  Lots of three point attempts and extra effort led to an outstanding performance on the glass for Colorado.  Since they didn't shoot well, for the most part, against Colorado, a better shooting performance so as to progress to the mean should be expected; assuming they actually miss some this game, those misses need to be taken back and put to good use on second and third tries. No more fourth and fifth shots in a row, please, Marcus.  It was fun to watch and great effort, but one or two tries is enough to make it.  Colorado hung around because they were able to rebound misses and make good on those extra chances.  Not letting Nebraska get those chances will go a long way to winning.

Since when did we talk so much about rebounding all of the time? The only real difference between the two respective frontcourts is the amount in which they are responsible for crashing the boards.  The Nebraska guards rebound at nearly twice the per game percentage that their counterparts from Kansas do.  Scoring is just a big apart and both teams accumulate steals at about the same rate per game.  Each team shoots in the 39-40 percentage range from three and assists on right at 60 percent of their teams made baskets.  Nebraska goes a bit deeper into their bench for guards, so keeping his guards rotated and fresh will be important for coach Self.  Expect to see Elijah Johnson play a few minutes, or Xavier Henry log a few more minutes.  Not to sound like a broken record or anything, but the guards do not need to help double down on the big men in the paint and leave shooter wide open at the three point line.  This happened again against Colorado.  Still, for the life of me, I don't understand it.  The Kansas bigs are far superior to those of Nebraska, and most of the country for that matter.  Just stop doing it, okay?  Really, they don't get as many points down there as the wide open guys at the three point line do.  Besides, is someone more likely to miss a shot while wide open for three, or with Cole Aldrich's long arms in the air, swatting at the ball?  No more, please.

 

Record: 13-9 (1,6)

Best Win(s): @USC, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Worst Loss(es): @St. Louis, @Creighton, Iowa State, @Colorado

 

Informative Nebraska Links

Corn Nation

KenPom Page

StatSheet Page

Player rotation from their Yahoo! team page:

Player Rotation:  Usual Starters—F Brandon Ubel, C Jorge Brian Diaz, G Sek Henry, G Ryan Anderson, G Lance Jeter. Key Subs—G Brandon Richardson, F Christian Standhardinger, F Quincy Hankins-Cole.

 

Against Common Opponents

Kansas Nebraska
Iowa State @ W, 84-61
vs L, 53-56
Missouri vs W, 84-65
@ L, 53-70
Kansas State @ W, 81-79 OT
vs L, 57-76
Colorado @ W, 72-66 OT
@ L, 60-72

 

College Basketball Stats by StatSheet.com

 

Random Stat Musings about the Cornhuskers

  • Nebraska is one of the least turned-over teams in the country.  They give it away just under twelve times a game, which is around the top 30 in the country as far as turning it over yourself goes.  Kansas averages 13.1 a game.  Just to show how different the two styles of play are between the teams, with a 1.2 difference of turnovers per game, (which is a nine percent difference in number of possessions) the two teams turn it over at exactly the same rate per possessions - 18.5 percent.  Also, Nebraska is the twelfth most stolen on team in the country, so nearly half of their turnovers are forced by way of steal.  Otherwise, they protect the ball very well.
  • Nebraska only rebounds 29 percent of their own misses, while Kansas gets back 39 percent of theirs.  Again, rebounding will determine whether this game is close or not.
  • Nebraska is 11-3 at home, but only 1-5 on the road.
  • Nebraska possessions per 40 minutes- 64.4; Kansas - 71.  Nebraska points per possession - 1.03 (142nd nationally); Kansas - 1.18 (third nationally)