|WHAT|| #18 Michigan (16-4) vs
#85 Nebraska (14-5)
|WHERE|| The Bank
|WHEN||9 PM EST|
|LINE|| Michigan –4 (KenPom)
Michigan –4.5 (Vegas)
Some men should not wear hats. Welcome to the club, Tim Miles.
Michigan's packed week continues with a winnable-but-also-loseable road contest against Nebraska. You're probably thinking "Nebraska, pah!" after beating MSU and going toe to toe with future one seed Purdue, but Kenpom only gives Michigan a 63% shot at a win here.
This is a sneaky swing game for the season. Win, and take care of business against Rutgers at home and Michigan goes into Mackey seeking an upset that would mean game on for a Big Ten title chase. Lose and Michigan's playing for seeding the rest of the year.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.
|G||5||Glynn Watson||Jr.||6'0, 173||72||24||100||Sort of|
|Excellent A:TO ratio; defensive pickpocket. Inefficient, especially from two (42%). Gets stuck with the late clock shots.|
|G||13||Anton Gill||Sr.||6'3, 195||52||16||122||Not at all|
|Just A Shooter canning 46% from deep.|
|F||11||Evan Taylor||Sr.||6'5, 208||69||15||107||Not at all|
|Low usage wing gets to the line frequently and is also hitting 46% from 3, but on just 28 attempts.|
|F||24||James Palmer||Jr.||6'6, 210||72||28||106||Sort of|
|Meh alpha dog. 30% usage in Big Ten. Drawing 6.2 fouls/40, needs to get to line to be efficient.|
|F||14||Isaac Copeland||Jr.||6'9, 221||72||20||109||Yes|
|Stretch four except he's hitting 28% on 3s, and playing a lot of center. Excellent on 2PT jumpers.|
|F||15||Isaiah Roby||So.||6'8, 225||49||18||113||No|
|Bouncy low usage post has top 100 block rate and 20% DREB rate, unremarkable otherwise.|
|C||32||Jordy Tshimanga||So.||6'11, 268||34||20||85||Very|
|True C is miserable offensively and fouls a ton. Excellent OREB guy. Missed Nebraska's last game, availability questionable.|
|G||12||Thomas Allen||Fr.||6'1, 180||27||19||106||No|
|Literally the only bench player < 6'8". Reasonably effective in 15 minutes a game.|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
Palmer is the alpha
Nebraska's cobbled together a team out of spare parts this year, and it shows in the roster composition. Their two highest usage guys are transfers. There are just three guys who can be plausibly described as guards. There's not enough shooting; floor spacing is at a premium; the offense is overly dependent on free throws and transition to keep its head above water.
But they sort of have? Ugly losses to St. John's and UCF in the nonconference plus a 30-point beatdown at MSU portended an ugly year in Lincoln, but since then they've approached downright respectable. Nebraska was a bucket away from beating Kansas and down just one at Creighton with four minutes left; nearing the midway point of the conference season they're 4-3 in the league with an OT loss at Penn State and a 12-point defeat at Purdue the other blemishes. They haven't beaten anyone good, it's true, and just squeezed out a one-point win over Illinois at home. But Kenpom has them headed for 18-13. With a bucket here or there they could be a bubble team.
Alas, they are not.
Anyway, back to that roster. Nebraska's main problem is that all of their high usage players can't shoot. Miami transfer James Palmer is your typical slashing wing sort. At 28% usage he gets to the line, shoots reasonably well inside the arc, and has a PG-like assist rate offset by an acceptable TO rate. There is a major catch with his stats, though: his eFG drops from 68% in transition to 42% in the half court. He is capable of getting his own shot... his own bad shot, usually.
Point guard Glynn Watson is in the same boat, with a 63% transition eFG plummeting to 37% in the half court. He ends up dribbling into midrange J territory and pulling up for half his shots. I probably don't have to tell you that these don't go very well. But I will: they don't go very well.
C/PF Isaac Copeland is the member of Nebraska's big three that suffers the least when the offense fails to get a transition opportunity; he spends a lot of time hitting jumpers that the aforementioned duo sets up. He is a Good At Bad Shots guy who is legitimately excellent at hitting midrange jumpers but doesn't do much else well except dunk it when the defense has rotated away from him.
What do all these guys have in common that collectively ruins Nebraska's offensive efficiency? 28% shooting on threes in the half court. And these shots are not rare. These dudes have launched 159 halfcourt threes between them.
Nebraska does have a couple of shooters. Anton Gill gets the Just A Shooter designation since he's got twice as many threes as twos and he's hitting more frequently from outside the arc than inside (46% vs 38%). He'll be designated sit-in-the-corner guy. Wing Evan Taylor is also hitting at 46% but has just 28 attempts on the season, which is frankly bizarre since he too is worse inside the arc.
Nebraska's bench is large and not great. Sixth man Isaiah Roby is the exception with decent efficiency on 18% usage; he's a downhill player who gets almost half his shots at the rim but finishes just adequately. Unlike everyone else on the Nebraska roster, his efficiency does not collapse and die in the half-court. He's getting about 20 minutes a game and gets the occasional start. He's a shotblocking threat as well.
Freshman guard Thomas Allen is the only guy under 6'8" on the bench; he is a relatively nondescript point guard sort at this juncture in his career. Center Jordy Tshimanga's only asset is his rebounding; he's hitting 35% from two. He's tough to keep on the floor with his foul rate and missed Nebraska's last game. He's also not a great matchup against Wagner, so Michigan might not see much or any of him.
Three 6'8" jabronis fill out the depth. For the record, they are Jack McVeigh, Duby Okeke, and Tanner Borchardt. Collectively they get about 20 minutes a game, during which they try to rebound and stay out of the way. McVeigh shoots some threes. Okeke and Borchardt are 8-21 at the line combined.
Nebraska's offense is one of the worst in the Big Ten because of the aforementioned shooting problems. Their two shooters bring them up to about average when it comes to hitting threes but they struggle to get them off, something that should continue against a quality 3-aversion D like Michigan's.
Their other components are okay. They don't turn the ball over; they're dead average at OREBS, they get to the line fairly frequently.
The Cornhuskers are a swat-at-all-costs team on defense. Roby, at right, is particularly long-limbed and dangerous. UNL's eFG D is 28th in the country in part because they're blocking 13% of opponent shots and undoubtedly altering many more. Despite this enthusiasm for challenging shots they do a very good job of keeping opponents off the line.
The cost there is in rebounding, where Nebraska is in deep red SWAC territory on Kenpom. Nebraska is 333rd in DREB rate. This might not help Michigan much given their usual aversion to offensive boards—but as we'll see any OREB sacrifices will be well worth it.
Like Michigan, the Huskers do an excellent job of forcing opponents off the line. Under 30% of opponent shots are threes, 9th nationally.
Transition again. All teams lose efficiency when going from transition to the half court but few have such a steep drop: Nebraska goes from 60% eFG to 46% once you get them into the final 20 seconds of the shot clock. If you can get them to the last five there's another grim cliff down to 35% eFG. Michigan's transition defense has been outstanding and should provide Michigan a major advantage. (Here's a bonkers stat: just 26% of Michigan's transition shots allowed are at the rim.)
Make some of your layups? I guess? I would recommend this course of action instead of not making any of your layups like the first half of the Maryland game. But seriously folks, Nebraska also played on Monday so Michigan shouldn't feel as bizarrely sluggish as they did for much of the Maryland game.
Free throw line, again. Michigan won against Maryland thanks to their defense and the bit of their defense that was the most critical was their ability to keep the Terrapins off the line. Like Maryland, Nebraska has a couple of guys who struggle with efficiency if they can't draw fouls. If Palmer a had non-transition eFG/true-shooting splits somewhere I assure you it would be a vast gap. This is a road game but it's not at Breslin, so Michigan's got a better shot of avoiding the parade to the line that game turned into.
Mo problems for the opposition. Nebraska's swat-heavy defense will be significantly compromised if Moe Wagner can continue his shooting renaissance. He's come back from early season struggles to get up to 42%, and opposing defenses are once again baffled at how to defend Beilein when he's got a Pittsnogle at his disposal.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 4.