First, the strong suit of both teams is defense. The Lobos feature a tough, relentless, fast-reacting defense that was the best in the this season. And the are in their opponents' faces from the get-go, allowing just 59.6 points per game, the best in the Big 12.
The Lobos have allowed an average of 65.8 points, but on their home court they've held five opponents to their lowest point production of the year.
Both teams are playing in the NIT for the second season in a row. Last year, Nebraska went 1-1. The Cornhuskers beat Charlotte 67-48 at home before losing in overtime to Ole Miss 85-75 on the road. New Mexico narrowly lost its first round game at California 68-66.
Both teams are led by 6-5 seniors from Southern California. UNM's scoring leader is forward Tony Danridge from San Bernadino, Calif., an all-MWC first team player who averages 15.2 points a game. Nebraska's scoring leader is guard Ade Dagunduro from Inglewood, Calif., who made the Big 12 defensive first team while averaging 13 points a game.
Ade DagunduroBoth teams also exceeded expectations this season. New Mexico was picked to finish fifth in the Mountain West Conference, and overcame a slow start to finish in a three-way tie for the league championship with a 12-4 mark. And the Lobos' success earned the MWC coach of the year honors. Nebraska was expected to finish ninth or tenth in the Big 12, and finished 8-8, just one game out of fourth place.
The Omaha World-Herald sports writer who covers the Cornhuskers, Lee Barfnecht, says Nebraska's players feel they've already exceeded their expectations, and should come into the game as a loose and relaxed bunch.
New Mexico's offense is a fairly balanced attack, with four players averaging in double figures. UNM's scoring leaders are Danridge, senior post Daniel Faris at 11.5 points per game, junior Roman Martinez at 10.8 and senior Chad Toppert at 10.7 ppg.
Nebraska is said to be the "shortest team in Division I," and almost always gets outrebounded. But the Huskers are very quick. Dagunduro gets strong support from two small, spark-plug guards -- senior Steve Harvey averages 10 points a game, and sophomore Cookie Miller chips in 7 ppg.
Nebraska's Steve Harvey
Harvey is generously listed at 5-11, and Miller is 5-7. Maybe. Miller leads Nebraska with 105 assists and 44 steals. Harvey is a close second in steals with 43, and is third in assists. The Cornhuskers reportedly play with a five-guard offense 35 out of the game's 40 minutes.
The Pit, UNM's legendary home court, has a capacity of 18,018 and the game is expected to draw a near sellout crowd. Nebraska coach , now in his third year at his team's helm, previously coached a couple of years at UTEP in El Paso, Tex., and is 0-3 in games played in The Pit.
The two NIT selections have three common opponents -- Creighton, Texas Tech and TCU. Nebraska seemingly has a small edge, with wins over all three. New Mexico is 2-2 against the trio. The Huskers edged Creighton by two points, while the Lobos lost at Creighton after leading for most of the game. UNM lost at Texas Tech, and swept home and away games against MWC foe TCU.
The winner of the first round NIT game will play the winner of the UAB at Notre Dame game played the same night.
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