A Nebraska beat writer breaks down the Huskers ahead of their matchup with No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball
Forward Jalen Smith hangs on the rim after a dunk during Maryland men's basketball's 77-66 win over Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Illinois, on Jan. 21, 2020. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)
Maryland comes into its matchup against Nebraska riding a six-game win streak. The Huskers have not had such good fortunes, coming into the game having lost their last eight contests. Ahead of the contest, we spoke with Landon Wirt of The Daily Nebraskan. Our conversation has been lightly edited.
Coming into the Matchup on an eight-game losing streak, How will Nebraska look to right the ship against a Maryland team that is currently atop the Big Ten?
I really don’t know how Nebraska will right the ship in College Park tonight. This team is in a big-time funk, and KenPom gives the Huskers a 5% chance of pulling the upset. But Nebraska is successful when the offense moves quickly and the Huskers are moving the ball, as Hoiberg wants. Nebraska’s pace starts with sophomore point guard Cam Mack, who’s been having a fantastic individual season. He’s been hit-or-miss recently, evident by his scoreless outing on Feb. 1 against Penn State and his 13-point, five turnover effort on Saturday at Iowa.
In addition to keeping the tempo high, Nebraska will have to avoid the dreaded double-digit hole. In every game of this losing streak, the Huskers have fallen behind by 14 points. But with Nebraska being without junior guard Dachon Burke Jr. and potentially senior guard Haanif Cheatham, this has all the makings of a blowout. Avoiding an early deficit and keeping the pace high are good places to start, though.
What will be the matchup(s) to watch in this one?
How Nebraska controls the paint against sophomore forward Jalen Smith. He’s a nightmare to defend and Nebraska has an inexperienced frontcourt. The Huskers’ tallest player is 6-foot-9 freshman Yvan Ouedraogo, who is 17 years old.
So, head coach Fred Hoiberg will need to employ a similar strategy that’s given Nebraska some success in Big Ten play in order to slow Smith down. The Huskers will need to hit Smith with double and triple-teams inside and force a team that shoots 31.9% from 3-point range to knock down shots.
I’m also looking forward to watching Mack take on senior guard Anthony Cowan. Both of those guys can fill it up and seeing them battle will be a fun storyline in this matchup.
Maryland has been best known this season for its slow offensive starts to games. How will the Huskers look to attack early if the Terps offense stalls out of the gate?
If the Huskers have any shot in this game, they will need to knock down outside shots early. I don’t see the Huskers having much success scoring inside early with Smith patrolling the lane, so guys like junior guards Thorir Thorbjarnarson (44.6% on 3-pointers) and Jervay Green (30.7% on 3-pointers) will need to get the Husker offense kick-started with some deep shots.
If Maryland comes out cold, I could easily see Nebraska hanging around for a while in this one. But if the first 10 minutes go Maryland’s way and the Terrapins build a big lead, I could see Maryland running rampant on a team down two starters and a whole lot of confidence.
Jalen Smith and Anthony Cowan Jr. have been standouts so far this season. How will the Huskers look to limit them from having a huge impact on the game?
As I hit on earlier, doubling and tripling Smith is a really good place to start. If Nebraska can frustrate him into some bad shots and turnovers, it will keep Smith from dominating the game. With Cowan, I think the key is forcing him to take a majority of his shots from 3-point range. I don’t think Nebraska will stop him from getting to the basket, but forcing an average three-point shooter into six or more shots from deep is a good start for the Huskers.
I liken it to Nebraska’s last win, a Jan. 7 victory over Iowa. The Huskers had to slow down Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp, one of the best guard/big man combinations in the Big Ten. Garza had 16 points and 18 rebounds but went long stretches without being involved in Iowa’s offense. Wieskamp had 21 points but was 1-10 from 3-point range.
Smith and Cowan have different skill sets from Garza and Wieskamp, but employing a similar strategy to limit their effectiveness will be Nebraska’s goal tonight.
Maryland wins if…
It continues playing lights-out at home. The Terrapins are undefeated at the Xfinity Center and I’ll be stunned if the Huskers are the one to snap that streak. Mark Turgeon’s group has been stellar on the defensive end at home during Big Ten play, and if the Terrapin defense turns in another solid night Maryland will win convincingly.
Nebraska wins if…
A perfect storm of circumstance occurs. Mack needs to be lights out with a near triple-double, Green, Thorbjarnarson and senior guard Matej Kavas need to hit eight or nine 3-pointers combined and Nebraska avoids a double-digit deficit. That’s easier said than done, and with Hoiberg’s squad potentially being down two starters the Huskers could be in for a long night.
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