On Wednesday evening (6:00 P.M., MSN) the #15/#12 Missouri Tigers (14-2, 0-1) play host to the Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-2, 1-0). The Cornhuskers come in off of a 63-62 conference opening win over Iowa State, in which Nebraska was led by 6'4" junior G Caleb Walker's 13 points and 8 rebounds.
This is Nebraska's first true road game of the season. Nebraska Head Coach Doc Sadler talked about playing at Missouri.
"I've enjoyed being home. I can promise you that," said Sadler. "(Missouri) is a very good basketball team. Obviously, everybody knows (Missouri) is very difficult to beat at their place......................... They're committed to a certain style, and we're committed to a certain style. And, it's fun to play against them."
Sadler's team has a new look this year. In addition to the junior-college transfer, in Walker (6.3 points/game, 4.9 rebounds/game), the Cornhuskers' line-up features considerably more size than in the recent past. Joining Walker in the starting line-up, are returning players, in 6'3" senior G Lance Jeter (10.1 points/game, 4.1 assists/game), 6'11" sophomore C Jorge Brian Diaz (10.5 points/game, 4.7 rebounds/game), and 6'6" junior F Toney McCray (5.7 points/game, 4.3 rebounds/game). McCray missed most of last season with an injury, and has been coming on of late.
Alongside Jeter is 6'0" junior G Brandon Richardson, who is an experienced back court player for the Cornhuskers, and a likely game time decision, after missing the conference opener with a knee strain. Against Iowa State, he was replaced in the starting line-up by 6'4" senior G Drake Beranek, a walk-on who has worked his way into the playing rotation for Doc Sadler's club.
Leading the charge off of the bench for Nebraska is 6'11" junior C Andre Almeida (6.3 points/game, 3.5 rebounds/game), and 6'10" sophomore F Brandon Ubel (6.6 points/game, 3.7 rebounds/game). It's a deep bench, that includes experienced players, in 6'4" sophomore G Eshaunte Jones, 6'2" junior G Kamyron Brown, and 6'2" sophomore G Ray Gallegos.
The giant Brazilian, Almeida, is a two-time Junior College All-American, and with Diaz, They form a tag-team duo at center for Doc Sadler's crew. With a combined 16 points/game, and 8 rebounds/game, that's good production out of the center position. And, with a combined 2.9 blocked shots/game, those two centers are a big part of Nebraska's number two nationally-ranked scoring defense (53.5 points/game allowed), and the Cornhuskers' number one national ranking in field goal percentage defense (33.9%).
Obviously, Doc Sadler's team wants to walk it up, and play a half court, possession game. They want to pound the ball inside to their big men on offense, and pack it in on the defensive end. On offense, the Cornhuskers will, at times, go inside out. When they do, the guys who will shoot it from behind the arc are Jeter (38%), Jones (31%), Richardson (29%), Walker (35%), McCray (38%), and Beranek (38%).
The Cornhuskers want to avoid getting into a fast-paced, full-court game with the Tigers. During Monday's Big 12 Teleconference, Doc Sadler experessed concerns over Missouri's 38.5% 3-PT FG success rate as a team.
"With 38-39% (3-PT shooting) as a team, (that) makes them very difficult," explained Sadler. "Because, with (Ricardo) Ratliffe, and (Laurence) Bowers, and those guys being able to get to the basket inside, and with a good low post game, I think it changes the way that maybe you've defended them in the past, when you've got to do both."
This is a huge game for Missouri, who dropped their conference opener at Colorado, by the score of 89-76. Maybe some home cooking will cure what ails the Tigers, but the CU loss was of concern, especially because for much of the game, Missouri failed to play with the requisite defensive intensity.
And, it's going to require defensive intensity to create the pace at which Missouri wants to play, a pace that will reduce the effectiveness of Nebraska's big men, and neutralize the Cornhuskers' size advantage. For Missouri, dictating the pace begins on the defensive end.
Marcus Denmon continues to lead Missouri in scoring, at 17 points/game. Denmon's 48.9% 3-PT FG% ranks 7th nationally.
Missouri has five players scoring in double-figures, and seven players who average at least 7.7 points/game. Missouri can score. The Tigers rank fifth nationally in scoring, at 85.8 points/game.
But, it's Missouri's defense that just hasn't been up to snuff.
"Hopefully, we can play a better brand of defense than we played in our last game," said Coach Anderson. "We took a step back, in our last game....................... We're still a work in progress."
It sounds like Missouri fans can expect to see even more of Phil Pressey going forward. His shooting will continue to be compromised, until he's able to shed the splint covering his right hand, but Coach Anderson likes his defense, and the way that he pushes the pace of the game. Coach Anderson was asked what to expect when his Tigers face the Cornhuskers.
"Every year, it seems like it's one of those games that is a dog fight," concluded Coach Anderson. "I expect nothing less."
FGM: 502 386
FGA: 1049 792
FG %: .479 .487
3pt FGM: 122 75
3pt FGA: 317 246
3FG %: .385 .305
FTM: 246 192
FTA: 337 279
FT % .730 .688
Points: 1372 1039
Per Game: 85.8 69.3
Reb./Gm 37.6 38.4
Steals 10.2 6.7
Assists: 18.4 13.6
Blocks: 5.8 4.6