So I had an Q&A exchange with Corn Nation's David McGee - big thanks to them for being pleasant before the game tomorrow and for taking the time to answer these questions! Check it out for a scouting report. We'll have more coverage on the tournament later today.
Q: I have seen exactly one minute of Nebraska basketball this year and it was unintentional at that, who is THE guy (Terran Petteway?) and who are the role players and what role do they play?
Yeah, Petteway's the guy, but he's not alone. Petteway led the B1G in scoring, so he's been pretty consistent in his ability to put up points. Shavon Shields and Walter Pitchford have been huge in the Huskers making their run to finish the season. Petteway and Shields make their hay by driving and getting to the rim and consequently to the foul line. Nebraska is very good when they do that. Petteway and Shields are the leaders of this team in every facet. Along with Pitchford, a stretch 4 who likes to play on the perimeter more-so than the paint at 6' 10", those three set the pace. The Huskers go as that trio goes. Oh, and they're all sophomores.
Q: I recently saw that Nebraska has never won a game in the NCAA tournament, do you think that motivates this team?
They've talked openly about being the first team to win an tournament game at Nebraska. They're aware of it, no question. I think that's part of what motivates them. Also, they were pretty embarrassed by how they let the game slip away from them in the Big Ten Tournament vs. Ohio State. Coming back from that and atoning for that, somewhat, I think is more motivating.
Q: What exactly is Nebrasketball?
Well, it started as a marketing slogan. Since them, it's become a rallying cry for Husker fans, a unifier for fans who stuck around during the dark years and a bit of a punchline for Nebraska's rivals. Now that they're winning, it's become a motto and it's catching on. Really, it's perfect for twitter. It's a great little hashtag and you're not gonna get it confused with any other teams slogans or anything.
Q: How has Big Ten basketball differed from Big 12 basketball?
The Big 12 is more reliant on skill players. It's a more-- finesse is the wrong word, because the Big 12 is a physical league, too-- but it's more offensively oriented. In the Big 10, teams are more defensively based, it's extremely physical, though that is shifting somewhat, but it's a more deliberate league, with fewer players leaving early. The coaches in the Big 10 are pretty good too. It's much deeper than the Big 12 was when Nebraska was there.
Q: You had a string of five straight losses around the time that Baylor was faltering, what did the team learn from it that has led them to the tournament?
There were a couple of things that really were pointed out as the turning points of the season. The first was after they lost a game they controlled most of the way on the road to Penn State. Shortly thereafter, they dismissed their second leading scorer at the time, Deverell Biggs. He was a talented kid who couldn't keep his nose clean and appeared to not buy in to what Coach Miles wanted to do. Once he was removed from the equation, you could see the team come together almost immediately. They won their next two games vs. Minnesota and Indiana at home before heading to Michigan, a team they had narrowly lost to at home just a couple of weeks prior. They got hammered. Lost by 29 points, it could have been 50. They did nothing right nor well.
After that game, Miles, instead of holding a practice and reaming everybody out, he held individual meetings with the players and re-evaluated what they were doing and how they were doing it. They decided they wanted to win more than they wanted to do anything else. From there they shifted their mentality. They embraced playing defense. Guys like David Rivers and Benny Parker got more playing time and embraced their roles. They've been indispensable. Parker is a little guy, generously listed at 5' 7", but a spark plug and the best perimeter defender on the team. Everybody on the team acknowledges that time after the Michigan game and the shift in mentality as the turning point of the season. They won eight of nine to finish the season.
Q: Baylor wins if? Nebraska wins if? Prediction?
Baylor wins if Isaiah Austin keeps Petteway and Shields from finishing at the rim consistently, because Nebraska will try to attack it. If he does his thing and makes it a long day for those two, it will be tough for Nebraska to win. Also, they lose Brady Heslip in transition and he gets open jumpers. Those two things happen, Baylor probably wins going away.
Nebraska wins if Gallegos and Pitchford hit some outside jumpers. They're capable of doing that which should open up things for Petteway and Shields to get into the lane. They also need to hold their own on the boards, something that on paper, Baylor should have a significant edge in this area.
Prediction: The Huskers have responded from tough losses very well all season long. I expect that to happen again. This team is as tough mentally as I've seen at Nebraska in a long time and they've got some talent to go along with it. Even though they thought they were in, they weren't quite sure until they saw their name pop up on the screen on Sunday. They feel like they have an opportunity to do something that has never been done before. They'll have a good plan, they'll play hard. I expect they'll focus on taking away Baylor's transition game and force the Bears to run their offense. The Huskers are really good when they settle into their half court defense. This will be one of the most athletic teams the Huskers have faced, so this will be a big challenge. I think the Huskers start fast and hold on for dear life, setting up a matchup that sets Nebraska on fire vs. the Creighton Bluejays on Sunday.