Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Huskers Preparing for Michigan’s Duo of Dickinson and Howard

February 07, 2023

Nebraska snapped its four-game losing streak on Sunday with a home win over Penn State. Now the Huskers will hit the road looking to build on that win as they head into the final such of the the regular season.

Nebraska (11-13, 4-9 Big Ten) heads to Ann Arbor for a Wednesday showdown with Michigan (13-10, 7-5), the teams’ only meeting this season.

“A good opportunity to go on the road,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’ve got to come out with the same mentality we did against Penn State, have to come out with some type of edge. They’re very good in that building. Jett Howard is one of the most impressive freshmen that I’ve seen and the way he scores it, a three-level scorer with his size, makes it very tough. 

“We’ve got to get back in transition and we have to take care of the glass; they’re really good crashing. Then for us, taking care of the basketball — I think you saw in the last game, 17 assists, seven turnovers was a formula for winning, but if we turn it over you don’t have much of a chance on the road.”

Howard, the son of Michigan head coach Juwan Howard, is second among all Big Ten freshmen (and 13th overall) in scoring at 14.6 points per game, shooting 38.8% from 3 on nearly seven attempts per game. As talented as he may be, however, everything runs through third-year center Hunter Dickinson.

At 7-foot-1 and 260 pounds, Dickinson is fourth in the Big Ten in scoring at 18.1 points per game, shooting 55.4% overall including 37.1% from 3 (on .5 attempts per game). He’s also grabbing 8.4 rebounds per game (2.5 on the offensive end) and blocking 1.7 shots per game.

“I think the thing where Hunter’s game has really evolved is his perimeter game, and he sees a lot of different coverages,” Hoiberg said. “Some teams play him one-on-one, most teams have to double just to have a fighting chance down there against him, but he’s a really good passer and he does a great job with a little retreat dribble. They dive their four man and have great spacing on the backside. He’s obviously one of the toughest challenges that you have and putting the game plan in just to try to throw different things at him where he’s not seeing the same coverage for 40 minutes is very important.” 

Michigan is a slightly above-average 3-point shooting team at 34.3% (167th nationally), but Howard is third in the conference in attempts and the attention Dickinson commands on the interior can make it difficult to lock in on the star freshman wing who stands at 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds.

“They do a great job mixing and running actions for both of those guys,” Hoiberg said. “Jett can get his own as well as anybody in our league and he’s got such great size. He’ll take and make tough shots and we can’t get deflated when that happens. The biggest thing for us is we have to make them tough shots, we can’t give him uncontested looks; it’s going in if that happens and a lot of his work is in transition. He’s really good off the dribble, a majority of his points come off the bounce, whether it’s isolation situations or whether he’s in a pick-and-roll. He’s what you look for in a player when you’re looking at the next level. That size, how fluid he is on the floor, the game is effortless for him and I’ve really been impressed with with his overall mentality.”

Keeping Derrick Walker out of foul trouble is always a key for Nebraska, but Nebraska will need frontcourt contributions off the bench now matter how many minutes Walker plays. Hoiberg said Blaise Keita in particular will need to be ready to go so the Huskers can throw a bigger body at Dickinson off the bench rather than asking Wilhelm Breidenbach to play the back-up five minutes. Keita has played a total of 20 minutes in the last month-and-a-half since suffering a high-ankle sprain.

“When Derrick missed those early games, Blaise gave us some some really good minutes,” Hoiberg said. “A lot of those games were at home, and on the road with a crowd and the atmosphere and the noise, we have to do a good job of relaying things to him on the floor. When you look at at some of the things he’s done in our home building, he helped us win quite a few games early on in the season and it’s too bad when he had his setback. But what I’ve seen in the last week is he’s starting to get some explosiveness back, he’s getting his lateral mobility back and you look at our defensive analytics, we’re pretty good with Blaise on the floor, so we just have to keep building with him.”

Hoiberg said Keita was available but did not play against Penn State because of the Nittany Lions’ penchant to play small. That won’t be the case in Ann Arbor, and Hoiberg credited assistant Ernie Ziegler for the skill work he’s done with Keita to get him back in shape and up to speed.

Sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin is the other Wolverine averaging double figures at 12.2 points per game and 3.0 assists per game, second on the team behind freshman guard Dug McDaniel’s 3.7. Duke transfer Joey Baker (43.1%) is the team’s best perimeter shooter off the bench.

“They’re very, very talented, obviously,” Sam Hoiberg said. “You look at their starting five, there’s no one that you can sag off of and even their bench guys, they all can shoot it. Obviously they’ve got Jett Howard who is extremely talented, a really good scorer, and then Dickinson is just a monster in there. So we’re going to have to be on our best game defensively and then hopefully take advantage with good pace on offense like last game.”

After struggling mightily to put the ball in the basket for much of the season, Nebraska has shot the ball well from 3 over its last four games (36%, 42.9%, 40% and 40%). The big problem has been turnovers (50 of them against Northwestern, Maryland and Illinois), which Nebraska cleaned up against Penn State on Sunday, resulting in Nebraska’s first point total north of 70 since the overtime win at Minnesota.

“I think we’re about 48% over the last five games, so when we get a shot up, we’re doing a better job of converting right now,” Hoiberg said. “I think we’re almost 37 from the 3 in the last five. We’re still struggling, we’re 58 from the line and that is contributing to some of the offensive woes and the numbers. But the important thing when we looked at that last game, we didn’t play in a crowd, we didn’t get sped up, I thought we had great pace. Our cutting, every guy out there, I thought, cut with purpose. We screened well and we got the ball to the right guy. If you’re going out and playing rushed and getting it into a crowd, that’s when we get ourselves in trouble. 

“You look at the first half against Illinois, we were great offensively and then the second half, we just come out with four out of five possessions that ended in turnovers. For us, we feel pretty good when we can get a shot up right now with the way our guys are playing with more confidence.”

Like Penn State, Michigan isn’t a team that looks to force a lot of turnovers (331st in the country in opponent turnover rate at 15.7%). Michigan is fifth in the country in turnover rate on its own end, so Tuesday’s game will likely come down to half court execution.

Tipoff Wednesday is set for 5:30 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network with Kevin Kugler and Robbie Hummel on the call from the Crisler Center.

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