Nebraska has a big opportunity waiting for it on Thursday night as the Michigan Wolverines (16-4, 5-2) come to town.
The Huskers are sorely lacking in quality wins, and this game at Pinnacle Bank Arena is one of the best opportunities remaining on Nebraska’s schedule to secure one. However, all Coach Tim Miles is thinking about is last year’s 93-57 loss to the Wolverines at the Vault with Michigan shooting 14-of-27 from 3-point range.
“The only thing I say is this team walked in here and we set a school record last year,” Miles said. “If that’s what we want our legacy to be, then Ill be damned — that’s not the way it’s going to happen. I’ve talked a lot about that. My father’s what, 91 years old? He calls me yesterday and said ‘Those kids better be mad.’ So that got me mad, when your old man’s stepping in trying to help coach the team, but he’s right. I guess that’s what I’ve thought most about.
“You never know how the season’s going to play out, either. If Minnesota gets their mojo back, how the Big Ten tournament slides, what games you might get there — you can overthink that too.”
Michigan lost a lot — point guard Derrick Walton, wing Zak Irvin, forward DJ Wilson — from last year’s team that lit the Huskers up, but the Wolverines did bring back significant contributors in stretch-five Moritz Wagner, dynamic wing Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and sharp-shooter Duncan Robinson, and added big-time pieces in Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews and 4-star freshmen Jordan Pool and Isaiah Livers.
“They’re really good,” Miles said. “Coach [John] Beilein — I wish I just had one one-hundredth of his power on offense because he’s a wizard and he does a really nice job. Moe Wagner is a really difficult matchup. Charles Matthews has settled in very nicely. Rahkman’s playing well. The [Zavier] Simpson kid runs the team. Jordan Poole, who we recruited, has done a great job for them off the bench and Isaiah Livers is a nice player, too. You blink and you’ve got a guy like Duncan Robinson coming off the bench where you know he can go crazy on 3s. They’ve got plenty of firepower and they’re good defensively; I’m sure we’ll see a combination like we did against Illinois of man and zone alike and we’ll be ready to go.”
The Huskers have not beaten Michigan since joining the Big Ten, the only team for which that can be said. Beilein’s spread-out offense has given Nebraska’s pack-line defense fits in recent years.
“I think that system that we’ve seen in the past, that five-out with four shooters, we’d struggled in the pack-line and now we play the 'modified pack' is what I call it just so Coach [Jim] Molinari doesn’t have a heart attack,” Miles said. “We’re spread out a little bit more, but I think we can be spread out a little more — a littler longer, a little more athletic, we’ve got more rim protection. But these guys spread you out anyway so it really doesn’t matter. I think we’ve got a solid game plan, I think the guys understand it and I think we’ll handle it better than we have in the past.”
Junior point guard Glynn Watson Jr. said the Huskers feel good about their game plan and the opportunity to take on a tough opponent in front of their home crowd.
“I think we have a lot of confidence,” Watson said. “We have the right game plan for it; I think we’ll be OK. And we’re at home in front of our fans … It helps us a lot. The fans bring a lot of energy to the game and they help us a lot. Sometimes we don’t shoot that well, but we always play defense so that’s a major key for us.”
Tip-off at Pinnacle Bank Arena is set for 8 p.m. on BTN with Kevin Kugler and Robbie Hummel on the call.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.