Now two games into the Big Ten season, the Wolverines have shown no signs of stopping their ferocious and undefeated train so far in the best conference in the country. Perhaps that is because those two wins have come over a decimated Northwestern team and a fast-paced Iowa team that simply couldn’t keep up with Michigan’s athleticism while the meat of the schedule lurks around the corner. Or perhaps that is because Michigan is simply a dominant team right now, clicking on all cylinders. Truthfully, it is probably some combination of those two factors, and with games at Ohio State and Minnesota next week, Michigan is about to be seriously tested. Tonight, however, comes one final tune-up with a home game against the lowly Cornhuskers of Nebraska (7pm on BTN). It’s no secret that Nebraska was brought to the Big Ten for their football prowess – first year head basketball coach Tim Miles could tell you that – but the team from out west has been downright awful since leaving the Big 12 two seasons ago. Here are a few keys to the gimme game tonight:
- Work for Open Looks: Look, Michigan has been simply blowing the roof off of most opponents so far this season, winning games by well over 20 points per game, including 28-point margins in the first two conference games. If John Beilein really wanted to, he just might have the power to beat Nebraska so bad tonight that Tim Miles will quit on the spot. That will not happen, however, because Michigan should work on their potent offense in preparation for the rest of the Big Ten season. Watch for Michigan to really focus on getting wide-open looks every trip down the court, not simply settling for contested jumpers that would probably fall anyway. Michigan certainly isn’t going to give up fast break opportunities to fall into the half-court set where they can work on the offense, because practice will make the already deadly run-and-gun all the more lethal, but look for Beilein to try to slow the game down once Michigan grabs a 20-point lead or so. The reality is that Michigan won’t be able to run all over every team in the Big Ten, and some of the big boys are on the docket.
- Key in on the Trio: Nebraska has three players that average from 12.5 to 13.5 points per game and comprise about two-thirds of their scoring, nearly half of their rebounding, and more than half of all available minutes on the Huskers’ roster. Seniors Dylan Talley and Brandon Ubel and junior Ray Gallegos are the only hope this team has of keeping tonight’s game within 20 points. None of them shoot the ball particularly well (Talley makes 35 percent of both his threes and twos, Ubel makes just over half of his field goal attempts), but then again, the team as a whole is dreadful in that department, shooting just 30.7 percent from downtown and 42.4 percent from the floor. Keying in on this trio is about more than bludgeoning Nebraska, though. There will be times this season that Michigan will have to focus on shutting down the opposition’s biggest talents, particularly with guys like Deshaun Thomas, Brandon Paul, Keith Appling, Trevor Mbakwe, and so on. By focusing on the scouting report and making sure the players that can beat you don’t, Michigan will do well for itself in preparing for future, more intimidating tasks.
- Rest up for the Grind: Big Ten season is a grind on college players, plain and simple. Including tonight, Michigan has 16 more conference games to play in exactly eight weeks, an average of a little more than one physical game every four days. And while the Wolverines are certainly deeper than in years past, Michigan still rolls out five guys that play more than 20 minutes per game and three that play more than 30. The good news for Michigan is that Trey Burke is playing about three fewer minutes per game right now than he did last year, and Tim Hardaway, Jr. is logging about one and a half fewer minutes, but you can expect to see those numbers rise as Michigan finds itself in closer battles. Look for Beilein to dole out legitimate minutes to around eight players tonight (including Jon Horford, who may be returning from injury) as he looks to keep everyone fresh for Ohio State on Sunday.
Prediction: Nebraska, alongside Penn State, will be in the cellar of the Big Ten all season. If the Cornhuskers manage to keep the game close for more than 10 minutes it would be a huge surprise. Their 59.1 points per game average will simply not cut it when the Wolverines are blazing the nets to the tune of 82 poured in per game. Look for Caris Levert’s game to continue to stand out as Hardaway, Burke, and company continue to roll. Michigan wins it, 79-46.
Also, students are encouraged to wear your best (or worst) jorts for the Maize Rage jort-out.