After his team held Michigan to their lowest point total of the season, Nebraska coach Tim Miles revealed his bold defensive strategy: the power of statistics.
"We thought, hey, they've been shooting the three great. They've got to return to the mean."
Did they ever. Michigan connected on just 3-of-17 three-pointers, and the Huskers succeeded in taking away their transition game, holding the Wolverines to a single fast break bucket. The Crisler Center crowd expected a blowout; instead, they got a slow-paced affair that was closer than the final score would indicate.
While the Wolverines didn't trail after the opening seven minutes, their lead didn't reach double digits until just 4:39 remained. Up to the final stretch, Miles's plan worked to perfection, with Michigan missing an uncharacteristic number of open looks from deep and failing to get out on the run.
That changed with just under eight minutes to go, when Glenn Robinson III picked Dylan Talley's pocket near the scorer's table, then took flight from not far inside the free throw line for a highlight-reel dunk. After Nebraska responded with a three, Robinson came out of nowhere to tip-slam a missed three by Caris LeVert, snapping the crowd out of a game-long funk and opening a 15-5 Michigan run to close the contest.
Robinson was the only Wolverine to shoot better than 50% on the night, scoring 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting while adding six rebounds. Hardaway, Trey Burke, and Nik Stauskas scored 46 of the team's 48 remaining points, but they also shot a combined 15-for-39 from the field. The Wolverines could not find a rhythm in their half-court sets, tallying just six assists on 21 made shots.
Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan scored just two points between them, but their work on the boards kept Michigan in front—Morgan finished with 11 rebounds (eight defensive), McGary six (three defensive), with the latter repeatedly hitting the deck for loose balls. With just over six minutes left and Michigan holding on to a nine-point lead, McGary threw himself into a pile of three Nebraska Cornhuskers and one orange sphere, coming away with a held ball—possession arrow, Michigan.
As he walked to the other end of the count, McGary threw his hands in the air, summoning perhaps the loudest roar of the night. Moments later, Stauskas found McGary under the hoop, and he banked home a right-handed layup. The Wolverines finally had their double-digit lead, sparked not by Burke and Hardaway, but a pair of freshmen.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, chants of "Beat Ohio" rang out from the Maize and Blue faithful. Michigan survived their first bout with regression, pulling away from a conference cellar-dweller.
If the trend continues on Sunday, they won't be so fortunate.
Taylor Lewan surprised everyone by announcing he'll return for his senior season at Michigan. When All-American left tackles unexpectedly stay for another year, it's time for muppets.
And you can't have one without the other...
Welcome back, Taylor.
In lieu of handling the Nebraska preview today, Brian tasked me with "Important Business"—namely, capturing the best Gus Johnson noises from the Iowa game. The results, if I may say so myself, do not disappoint (the title, on the other hand, is a work in progress):
The next BTN broadcast is January 27th against Illinois. Might want to go ahead and mark your calendar.
|WHAT||Nebraska at Michigan|
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|LINE||Michigan –23 (Kenpom)|
The N stands for "nope."
Brandon Ubel must have gotten lost on the way to Wisconsin.
Also, two years ago Nebraska played something called Peru State.
According to Kenpom, the Huskers are the worst team in the league and only a Tim Frazier-less Penn State is anywhere close. A plurality of Nebraska's attempts will come from 6'5" senior Dylan Talley, who has Burke-like usage but shoots 35% from two. No doubt he is the guy saddled with late shot clock heaves that Nebraska's slow-it-down offense obtains plenty of. When he gets a three he knocks it down at a decent 35% clip.
Backcourt partner Ray Gallegos is mostly a standard-issue distance gunner—shots are two-thirds threes, no TOs, assists, or free throws. Unfortunately for the Huskers his plentiful threes are dropping at a 32% rate. When he does get a shot from inside the arc it tends to go down.
Center Brandon Ubel is probably Nebraska's best player. he gets to the line pretty well, hits 80% from there, and hits a little better than half of his relatively frequent twos. His rebounding is only okay and he doesn't do much defensively, but if there's a spot on the floor where Nebraska has any sort of size/athleticism advantage it's in an Ubel-Morgan matchup.
5'9" freshman point guard Benny Parker is almost nonexistent on offense. A third of the time he registers in the box score, it's because he's turned it over; in 15 games he's launched a total of 52 shots. For context, he shoots less often than Spike Albrecht.
There isn't really a fifth starter. Wing David Rivers gets just over half of available minutes; he is a statistical non-entity. 6'6" wing Shavon Shields is a turnover machine as well; his game looks like rim or nothing. Andre Almedia is the most interesting bench player because he's frigging enormous—6'11" and at least 350 despite being listed at 314—and manages to get off the ground enough to have a top-100 block rate and be the team's most effective rebounder on both ends of the floor. He only gets 40% of available minutes, likely because any more would kill him. I'd look for Michigan's athletic bigs to run the floor against the guy.
Finally, junior Mike Peltz makes me wish Kenpom tracked lowest usage: in 15 games he has put up 14 shots despite being on the floor a third of the time.
Nebraska's best wins are against Valpo and Tulane, fringe KP100 teams. They've lost to Kent State, Creighton, Oregon, and UTEP by double-digits and got blown out by OSU in their Big Ten opener. They did beat Wake Forest and USC—two of the worst major-conference teams in the country—and led Wisconsin at the six-minute mark before falling 47-41.
This is a major-conference version of EMU with a grim offense and okay defense:
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||46.8 (216)||18.6 (75)||25.6 (321)||29.2 (300)|
|Defense||48.2 (176)||18.7 (265)||24.9 (7)||36.2 (187)|
An okay defense relative to the rest of college basketball, that is. Nine Big Ten teams are 52nd are better; only Northwestern and Penn State are worse. They are the worst offense in the league by some distance.
They can't shoot threes, don't shoot many, keep opponent threes to a relative minimum, and offensive rebounds are minimal at both ends of the floor.
Drilling down, the best news for Nebraska is that they own the country's 18th-best free throw defense. Clutch, you guys, clutch.
Show up. The game will proceed from there.
Sag if you want to. Talley's the only guy on the team who's even mediocre at threes.
Iso Burke if you want to. This Parker kid is going to have to check Burke, which good luck, or switch on to a 6'5" player. Either way, he doesn't have a prayer of not getting lit up.
Don't wander off at halftime. Challenge: challenging.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 23
Why even pretend Burke has to compete for the Bob Cousy award? Moreover, if there are 20 "finalists," what do you call the guys when you cut it to ten and then five? I hate award PR.
NESBITT ASKS THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
When did it become OK to coo about Michigan basketball?
MY ANSWER IS SIX
Well, Mr. Baumgardner, I think Michigan will respond to adversity by not having any.
Gasaway: Michigan is good on offense. #science