It’s senior night at Williams Arena! The night that graduate transfer Akeem Springs and walk-on Darin Haugh are celebrated for their time and commitment to Golden Gopher Basketball.
Both are playing for their third college basketball program. Springs was at Northern Illinois, transferred to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and then graduate transferred to the University of Minnesota. Akeem has been better than expected averaging ten points a game shooting a career best 39 percent from the arc.
Haugh is a walk-on who was given a scholarship for his final season in maroon and gold. He’s a local product from Eastview High that played at UW-Platteville and then Bethany Lutheran as an underclassmen followed by three seasons as a main part of the Gopher scout team that prepares the team for games each day. Darin has played in ten games as a Gopher scoring once last year against Illinois.
Minnesota enters the game hoping to hold on to the 4th spot in the league and also hoping to move up. The difference between 1-4 and spot five is the double bye in the Big Ten Tournament which helps the team stay rested (and helps the rest of us not get in trouble watching basketball during the work day).
Minnesota is currently in fourth place a half a game ahead of Michigan State and a half a game behind Maryland (the Terrapins and Spartans will play Saturday). Minnesota is also a game behind Wisconsin (who the Gophers play Sunday) so in the next four days a lot can still happen.
The Gophers are being talked about nationally as a five or six seed in the NCAA Tournament at the moment. Rankings wise the votes put them at 26th and 32nd in the country. Is it a head scratcher? Without a doubt. But who really cares. What matters are three things: 1) Big Ten seed, 2) NCAA Tournament seed, and 3) continuing to play great basketball as few teams in the country are as hot as Minnesota right now.
Nebraska is having a tough year at 12-16 with a Big Ten record of 6-10. Tai Webster is playmaking with 17.8 points and 4.1 assists per game while Ed Morrow is grabbing 7.6 boards and blocking 1.2 shots a contest (plus scoring 9.3 a game).
Morrow was a starter until he hurt his foot in early January. He’s been coming off the bench ever since and isn’t 100 percent yet. The Huskers are also without Anton Gill who has missed much of the year with a knee injury. Starting in Morrow’s place up front is freshman Jordy Tshimanga, a player Minnesota looked hard at last spring. Jordy gives the Huskers 5 points and 4 boards a game.
Nebraska started the Big Ten season with three victories defeating Indiana, Maryland, and Iowa. There was excitement in Lincoln but it was short lived. Losing streaks of five, three, and most recently two games has led to this 6-10 record with two games to go.
The Huskers simply do not have that many offensive weapons right now. Six-foot-4 195 pound senior shooting guard Tai Webster is hitting 31 percent of his threes and 43 percent of his field goals and considering the amount of contest late shot clock attempts he’s had to take the percentages are okay.
Six-foot sophomore point guard Glynn Watson Jr is Nebraska’s main shooting weapon at the arc. He’s made 41.7 percent of his treys taking about four a game leading to 13.4 points per contest. Jeriah Horne has made a third of the two treys he takes a game and 6-foot-8 sophomore stretch four Jack McVeigh has made 35 percent of his four threes a game. Jack is the Husker fourth leading scorer at eight a contest.
Nebraska is hard working team that wins the rebounding edge by two a game and play solid defense inside the arc. That said opponents are shooting a wild 42 percent from the three point line against Nebraska in Big Ten play. Minnesota on the other hand allows only 31.6 percent of opposing threes to drop.
The biggest Minnesota concern coming into the year was three-point shooting. The hopes were that this team would make at least a third of their shots from the arc. In Big Ten play they have made just under 35 percent which is better than expected. Nate Mason is at 35 percent from the arc, Springs is just under 39 percent, Dupree McBrayer 37 percent, and Amir Coffey has made 20 of 49 Big Ten threes for a team high 40.8 percent.
One. Glynn Watson against Nate Mason. Similar sized guards, both juniors, both playmakers. Mason is the more talented player having an edge in being a bit stronger, quicker turning the corner, better pull-up, and has created for his teammates better than everyone in the Big Ten but one guy. Watson is the better shooter with range and the better shooter with feet set. Edge: MN
Two. Tai Webster vs Akeem Springs. Both 6-foot-4, Springs is the stronger player of the two. The New Zealand born Husker is a top three scorer in the Big Ten so Springs will be counted on to keep a hand in Webster’s face. This is the make or break match-up. Springs seems about as talented but is on the better team. Nebraska will reply on Webster a lot. Edge: NB
Three. Amir Coffey vs Evan Taylor. Amir is about to be All Freshman team in the Big Ten. He’s a double figure scorer. Amir is much taller and longer than Taylor although Taylor is more physical. Amir is a scoring option where as Taylor is best described as a worker. Edge: MN
Four. Jordan Murphy vs Michael Jacobson. Jacobson is bigger and has started all year but that is about the only edge he has on Murphy. Jordan is recording double-doubles like most players record 5 point/5 rebound games. Murphy is at a serious physical edge. Edge: MN
Five. Reggie Lynch vs Jordy Tshminga. Lynch has three years of college experience, he’s more mobile, is having the best shot blocking season in the history of Gopher basketball, and is better with his back to the basket. If Reggie stays out of foul trouble it will be a tough day for the freshman Husker. Edge: MN
Bench1. Eric Curry vs Ed Morrow. A full strength Morrow would be starting for Nebraska and giving them great minutes. The 6-foot-7 sophomore is still hurting from his foot injury though. Curry and Morrow are both high energy, active, and agile underclassmen power forwards. Edge: Push (unless Morrow’s foot is feeling better).
Bench2. Dupree McBrayer vs Jack McVeigh. McVeigh is a shooter a team must locate, McBrayer is a former starter averaging in double figures and coming off three fantastic games. Edge: MN
Bench3. Jermiah Horne vs Bakary Konate. Very different players. Huskers only have only the one center while Minnesota has two. Horne is more of a four. Both play roles. Edge: Push
Bench4. Isaiah Roby vs Michael Hurt. Both are frosh, Roby will likely play more minutes, both have struggled from the arc. Roby has been on the floor every game where as Hurt has split with Ahmad Gilbert but Hurt is playing lately. Honestly Roby is a 14 a minute guy where as Hurt or Gilbert play about two or three minutes so it’s really tough even give an edge considering Coffey will likely see Roby more than Hurt of Gilbert.
Nebraska plays hard. How long will they compete hard tonight? That’s the question. How they handle a Minnesota run will tell the tale of the game. It will be another packed crowd at Minnesota with a ton of recruiting guests in the stands on senior day. I expect Minnesota to win in a strong way.
Minnesota 84 Nebraska 68