The Nebraska men’s basketball team (7-4) will finish a brutal five-game stretch with one of the most anticipated games of the season. The Huskers will tip-off against No. 13 Kansas at 7 p.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
After losing 18 straight games to the Jayhawks, Nebraska will host Kansas in front of a sold out crowd of over 15,000 expected fans. The game can be seen on FS1 or listened to live on Fox Sports Go and the IMG Husker Sports Network with Kent Pavelka and Jake Muhleisen.
The 13th-ranked Jayhawks will play their true road game on a two-game losing streak, the first time Bill Self has lost consecutive games since December 2013. In its last two games, Kansas fell to unranked Washington 74-65 and No. 16 Arizona State 96-85.
“They’re [Kansas] going to come in eating a bowl of nails for breakfast and snorting smoke out of their ears and nose because they’re mad, and they’re Kansas and they’re not going to lose three in a row,” Miles said. “I think you have to look at it both ways: One, not getting caught up in ‘oh gee, they’re going to come out Kansas,’ and say ‘okay, here’s how we beat them and here’s how they beat us,’ let’s concentrate on those facets of the game and let’s figure out what we can do to be good on offense and great on defense.”
Kansas is led by Preseason All-American 3rd-team selection Devonte’ Graham, who averages 16.9 points per game and 7.7 assists per game (ranked 6th in the country). In addition, all five projected starters for Kansas average in double figures, featuring Lagerald Vick with a team-high 18.7 ppg. Sharp-shooter Sviatoslav Mykhailuk averages 15.8 ppg on 46 percent shooting from 3, and Udoka Azubuike adds 13.9 ppg with a team-high 7.4 rpg.
The four-guard lineup for Kansas scores over 60 points a game and is responsible for over 70 percent of the team’s scoring.
“They have a really good backcourt; guys that can put it in the basket, guys that have the freedom to play to the best of their abilities,” senior Anton Gill said. “We have to realize they’re good so we’re not going to be able to completely take them out of the games, we just have to make stuff difficult for them, try to wear them down and if we do that, we’ll have a shot.”
While the backcourt play has been effective for Self’s team, Kansas has just seven players that average over 10 minutes per game.
Kansas has also announced that Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe will now be available after transferring to Lawrence at the end of the first semester last year.
Nebraska comes into Saturday night’s game going 2-2 in the first four games of a brutal five-game stretch, with both losses coming on the road to No. 2 Michigan State and in-state rival Creighton, and both wins coming at Pinnacle Bank Arena against Boston College (who just took down No. 1 Duke) and No. 14 Minnesota. This is Kansas’ first true road game of the season.
James Palmer Jr. leads the Huskers at 14.2 ppg, while Watson is second on the team in scoring at 13.9 ppg and leads the team in assists (3.6) and steals (2.0).
The emergence of junior transfer Isaac Copeland Jr. has proved big for the Nebraska as Copeland has scored in double figures in five of NU’s last six games. When Copeland scores in double-digits, Nebraska is 5-1. Last time out, Copeland tallied 20 points and 11 rebounds, his first double-double in a Nebraska uniform.
Sophomore Isaiah Roby has also proved to be a do-it-all guy for Nebraska, averaging 6.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, and a team-high 1.5 blocks per game. Miles said Friday that he is really impressed with Roby and his contributions on both ends of the courts. Given that Roby has been solid defensively and a threat offensively, Miles has thought about inserting Roby into the starting lineup to help his team.
“There have been thoughts,” Miles said, “but with Isaiah’s foul trouble, I just want him on the floor more. We met this week and I’m like ‘we have to have to you on the floor.’ We certainly could start small, we just have to find a way to get Isaiah on the floor more.”
Miles said that he could potentially start Roby for struggling center Jordy Tshimanga – who has shot just 30 percent from the field with three fouls and 1.4 turnovers per game – or Miles could start Roby at the wing and go big. The sixth-year head coach said he doesn’t expect to make a change to starting lineup on Saturday or the near future.
Also off the bench, Miles said that he has been impressed by Gill and said he has been pleased with having a scorer like Gill off the bench.
When Gill was asked about his 6th-man role, the senior said that he hopes to be on the floor at the end of the game, or crucial moments of the game, rather than the starting lineup. Gill said he just does everything he can to help his team win. The Louisville transfer leads Nebraska in 3-point shooting and has been one of the more efficient players for Miles’ team.
Last year after finals, Nebraska struggled after the long break and lost to unranked Gardner-Webb. Gill and Watson said Friday that the team is focused and ready to go, and they said that other than one player missing one practice, everybody was able to make practice during a busy finals week.
By The Numbers
2 – Kansas has the second ranked defense in the country. Miles said his team has had its struggles offensively and facing the Kansas defense will be a challenge.
90 – Nebraska is 90-11 in its last 101 games at home against non-conference opponents.
Roby and Copeland
Nebraska is 5-1 in games where Copeland scores in double figures, and after a rough start, the Georgetown transfer has scored in double digits in five of his last six.
Given that Kansas plays a smaller lineup with four guards, Roby and Copeland will have size advantages on both ends of the court for NU. Their size and athleticism could play a big role for Nebraska tonight.
Avoid Halfcourt Offense
Since Kansas is the second-ranked defensive team in the country, Nebraska will have to get stops and find easy baskets in transition to keep up with Kansas. If Kansas can slow down Nebraska into a half-court game, Nebraska will have a difficult time scoring.
Carter’s Prediction (1-0):
Kansas 85 – Nebraska 69
“We’ve played two really good teams but there’s something special about Kansas. It’s hard to explain but it’s a team that everybody wants to beat. We’ve had this game circled for a while.” – Anton Gill
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