The Layup Line: Nebraska

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Mick Cronin and company look to finish the non-conference schedule with a B1G exclamation point against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Who here had the Bearcats hitting triple digits on the scoreboard earlier this week? None of you, that's who. Within 6 days, the 'Cats showed they could score 44 and 102 each in 40 minute games - both resulting in wins. Good luck predicting this team's offensive output the rest of the year...

Cincinnati's next opponent, the Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-3), have taken care of business against the teams they were supposed to beat all while losing to the trio of decent teams they played this year. My hope is that Saturday's basketball contest is a great lead into what I'm calling "Cincinnati Bearcat Day" on the worldwide leader; 5+ hours of the Bearcats on the ESPN platform...

  • Game: Saturday, December 28 @ 12:00pm ET
  • Location: Fifth Third Arena/Shoemaker Center; Cincinnati, OH
  • TV/Radio: ESPN2 (Dan Dakich, yuck); 700WLW

The good news for Bearcat fans? Nebraska's a name program on the upswing. It's no longer the norm for a P5 school to visit Fifth Third Arena, so welcoming a Top-100 RPI team to Cincinnati should be cause to fill up the gym.

The bad news? Most of our diehard contingent will be in North Carolina for the Belk Bowl. Coupled with students still on winter break, and I don't think the crowd at Fifth Third Arena will be as significant as it should. Maybe I'll bring the wife?

On to Nebraska...

You can tell Tim Miles, the 2nd year head coach at NU, is in rebuild mode: the Cornhuskers' starting 5 features a freshman and 3 sophomores, and Nebraska fans everywhere are clamoring for a trip to the NIT. Remember those days, Bearcat fans?

Leading the Cornhuskers in scoring this year is 6'6" wingman Terran Petteway (#5 in your program). He averages just under 17 points a game, and he's scored at least 20 points 3 different times this year including a 30 point outburst against UMass. Most of Petteway's points come inside the arc, but he'll step out and hit a 3-pointer at least once a game.

The guy I'm most worried about, though, is 6'7" forward Shavon Shields (#31). This sophomore has scorched the stat sheet over the last three games averaging 18 points on 59% shooting. Overall, he's second on the team in rebounding, but, more importantly, he's also second in assists. And the Cornhuskers average double digit assists each game, so he's no slouch.

Here's the biggest problem for Nebraska, though: they get out-rebounded on the regular. Their rebounding margin this year is -1.7. If they can't rebound against the teams they've played so far this year, they'll have to shoot lights out if they want to knock off the Bearcats in Cincinnati.

The guy that leads them in rebounding, though, comes off the bench: JUCO transfer Leslee Smith (#21). The 6'8" forward averages almost 7 boards a game and has pulled down 29 offensive rebounds. That offensive rebounding number would be good enough for 2nd on the Bearcats.

Overall, the Cornhuskers aren't a big threat from the outside, but they do knock down a few more free throws than UC each game. And Nebraska can spread the scoring around; they've had 8 different players reach double digits at least once this year.

What the 'Cats have to do to win:

  • Win the Turnover Battle. The Huskers have yet to lose the turnover struggle this year. Senior guard Ray Gallegos has had a 13 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio since entering the starting lineup on Dec 4, and, overall, Nebraska ranks 19th nationally in turnover margin. Heck, they average as many steals as the Bearcats each game.
  • Keep NU under 40% from the field. They don't rebound well, but the Cornhuskers will turn you over. Bearcat opponents are averaging 38% from the field, so I like Cronin's chances on Saturday.
  • Get Justin Jackson going early. SK will get his, but Jumping Jack has been the key to victory in almost every game if you ask me. And, well, you did come here to read this, so you did kinda ask me. Jackson has to go for at least 10 & 7 for the 'Cats to win.

My prediction: The Bearcats will do all three of the things above, and they'll come out victorious. Dan Dakich will do his best to talk down the AAC while promoting the almighty Big Ten. Bearcats win anyway: 68-62.

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