The Longhorns (15-6, 4-3) haven't lost three straight Big 12 games since the 2004-05 season in which the Longhorns lost then freshman LaMarcus Aldridge to a hip injury and sophomore P.J. Tucker to academics. On Saturday, Texas will be looking to avoid the same three-game losing streak against an improved Nebraska Cornhuskers (14-7, 4-4) team.
In Nebraska, the Longhorns will face a team that starts four guards two of which are under 6-feet tall. The Cornhuskers play just one player at 6'8" or taller in junior forward Chris Balham. With the height disadvantage Nebraska takes the floor with, it comes without surprise that the Cornhuskers are one of the nation's worst rebounding teams with a -4.5 margin on the season.
The top scorers for the Cornhuskers are guards Ade Dagunduro, 11.6 points, and Steve Harley, 11.8 points per game both in starting roles. Nebraska arguably has one of the top benches in the conference averaging more than 26 points per game from their top four reserve players.
The Longhorns come in reeling while struggling on both ends of the floor. In Wednesday's loss 69-65 to Missouri, head coach Rick Barnes said after the game that the Longhorns weren't very good defensively as well as offensively. Surrendering 77 points per game in back-to-back home losses to unranked teams, the numbers certainly back the statement up.
In the two losses, Texas has turned the ball over 35 times with the majority unforced. For a team that struggles to score and plays in many grinding half court games, the unforced turnovers are simply killers and very tough to overcome.
The inability to create points off of defense and then compounding the woes with unforced turnovers that lead to transition scoring for the opponent places Texas in a world of hurt.
The Longhorns and Cornhuskers have met 19 times all-time with Texas holding a 15-4 advantage, including seven straight victories.
Texas is 9-1 against Nebraska in the Rick Barnes era and has won the last three contests in Lincoln.
The game is set to tip-off at 1pm central and will be televised nationally on ESPN.
A Look at the Coaches
Rick Barnes, who is in his eleventh season at Texas, coaches the Longhorns. Barnes has a career record of 464-233, including 260-98 at Texas. Barnes is 124-43 in Big 12 games at Texas.
Doc Sadler is in his third season at Nebraska and enters Saturday with a 51-33 record in Lincoln. Sadler has a career record of 98-49 in five seasons.
A Look at the Numbers
Texas shoots 43.4% from the field, 31.2% from three and 65.2% from the free throw line.
The Cornhuskers convert 45.8% overall, 37.7% from the three-point line and 67.9% from the foul line.
The Longhorns surrender just 39.4% shooting and own a +5.3 rebound advantage.
Nebraska surrenders 42.3%% defensively and checks in with a -4.5 rebounding margin.
The Longhorns are committing 12.5 turnovers per game, while Nebraska is turning the ball over 11.8 times per contest.
The Longhorn Starters
G Justin Mason 6-2 Jr. (7.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists)
G A.J. Abrams 5-10 Sr. (16.6 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists)
F Damion James 6-7 Jr. (15.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals)
F Gary Johnson 6-6 So. (11.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.0 blocks)
F Connor Atchley 6-11 Sr. (5.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks)
Key reserves include 6-10 junior Dexter Pittman (9.1 points and 4.5 rebounds), 6-1 freshman Varez Ward (3.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists), 6-10 sophomore Clint Chapman (1.7 rebounds), 6-0 sophomore Dogus Balbay (1.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists) and 6-10 sophomore Matt Hill (1.5 rebounds).
The Cornhusker Starters
G Cookie Miller 5-7 So. (7.7 points, 2.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists)
G Steve Harley 5-11 Sr. (11.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists)
G Sek Henry 6-3 Jr. (9.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists)
G Ade Dagunduro 6-5 Sr. (11.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists)
F Chris Balham 6-8 Jr. (2.0 points and 2.3 rebounds)
Key reserves are 6-4 junior Ryan Anderson (6.3 points and 4.6 rebounds), 6-2 senior Paul Velander (8.4 points and 1.7 rebounds), 6-6 freshman Toney McCray (6.3 points and 3.0 rebounds) and 6-0 freshman Brandon Richardson (4.1 points).
What to Watch For
The Longhorns, simply put, have to win on Saturday if they have any hopes to earn a top four finish in conference play.
In Nebraska, the Longhorns will face one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. The Cornhuskers have a -4.5 margin and that means the Longhorns have to limit unforced turnovers and get as many shots inside of 15 feet as possible. This year, that is Texas' best offense.
On the flip side, Nebraska will likely employ the sagging man to man that manys team have played against Texas. They may not play just a sagging man, but Texas is likely to see some. With the Longhorns recent turnover woes, some early ball pressure to test the free falling Texas team wouldn't be a bad idea. Cookie Miller can be a pest on the ball and the Cornhuskers have several players that possess active hands.
When guard Paul Verlander checks in, Texas must know exactly where he is on the court at all times. Verlander shoots 44.3% from three and has made 51 three pointers on the season.
Nebraska isn't a very good free throw shooting team like Texas, so the Longhorns must make the Cornhuskers earn their points at the line. Steve Harley, Sek Henry and reserve Ryan Anderson all shoot less than 66% from the line.
Speaking of Anderson, he has knocked down just 28.1% from three this year, so Texas must close out under control and get a hand up. No need for an out of control close out and a subsequent drive to player that hasn't found a groove shooting the ball.
In recent games, Texas has the look of a team confused screening in the half court. Often times screens are late, not reactive to the defense and leaving a guard to over dribble with no where to go with the ball. James is hit and miss in this phase of the game with Atchley being the only consistent screener Texas has at this point.
Texas is going to have to be weary of switches on ball screens Saturday as Nebraska will likely be looking to force some switches into mismatch situations. Damion James and Gary Johnson have a tough task on Saturday as they will have a size advantage, but will be at a significant quickness disadvantage. James can't guess, but has to sit in a quality defensive stance and slide his feet playing off enough to be able to react to a hard dribble and pull up jumper. If James pressures the ball too much, the Nebraska guards will drive right by him creating scrambling situations.