Know Your Enemy: Penn State Men’s Basketball vs. Nebraska
With Sandy Barbour’s recent vote of approval for Penn State men’s basketball head coach Pat Chambers, the Nittany Lions will now look to takeaway any positives they can into next season following a sub-par 13th-place finish in the conference this season.
The Blue and White get a rematch with the Nebraska Cornhuskers at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon on ESPN2 in the first round of the B1G Tournament following its 82-66 road loss in Lincoln on Valentine’s Day.
What They’re Saying
Coming off the Cornhuskers’ worst home loss in program history, a 93-57 dismantling at the hands of Michigan on Sunday night, head coach Tim Miles was adamant that the team’s mentality was just not in the right place. The coach, in a similar seat-warming situation to that of Coach Chambers, said he wasn’t worried about his job security following the result.
“I’m worried about this team and getting their butts in gear,” Miles said. “I’m upset that we weren’t more competitive tonight, cause you can’t allow that in life. Where can you do that in life and be successful? It doesn’t work that way, I don’t know where that’s acceptable in anything you do.”
Then, the press conference got awkward about five minutes in, when Miles noticed that Cornhusker stars Isaiah Roby and Tai Webster had been watching on from the audience before they came up to take questions from the media. “Come on up you two, no reason for you to be in the audience,” Miles said as the two players awkwardly took their seats next to him. Miles, for reasons unknown, then muttered to Webster “Your father-in-law really bitching at me? Tell him to get over it.”
Webster, the team’s lone senior, went on without batting an eye as the press conference moved on. “It’s disappointing to see, but it is what it is and its no one’s fault but our own,” Webster said when asked about the defeatist mentality that seems to be clouding the team.
Roby told reporters that the feeling of defeat was one he wouldn’t soon forget. “Personally, I won’t forget this. This feeling sucks. I didn’t want to have this feeling at all this year, to have it now at the end its even worse. I know everyone in the locker room feels the same way. Yeah, we’re young, but like Coach said this isn’t acceptable anywhere. If this isn’t fueling us, I don’t know what will.”
Zeroing In On “Nebrasketball”
The Cornhuskers, much like the Nittany Lions, have been inconsistent all year long. The team owns three wins over top 25 RPI teams – at Maryland, home against Purdue, and at a neutral site against Dayton. However, they also dropped to Gardner Webb in December, a team ranked No. 182 in RPI. Despite their poor record, Nebraska played the third strongest schedule in the country, losing to Big Dance-bound teams such as Kansas, UCLA, Creighton, and Virginia Tech in non-conference play.
Webster, a 6’4 guard, leads the team in scoring and assists with an average of 17.2 points and four assists per contest to go along with 5.1 rebounds. Webster, the third-leading scorer in the Big Ten, is joined in the backcourt by sophomore Glynn Watson Jr., a sharpshooter who’s 40.2% success rate from three-point range has enabled him to score 13.2 points per game.
The Cornhuskers use a very deep rotation, as 10 different players average double-digit minutes on a nightly basis. The team ranks near the bottom in most statistical categories in the conference, with their highest ranking being third for offensive rebounding. Sophomore forward Ed Morrow leads the charge on the boards, leading the team with a 7.4 rebound average and leading the conference with 3.2 offensive rebounds per game.
A lot of speculation is surrounding Miles’s future with the program, as athletic director Shawn Eichorst has declined comment on Miles’ future with Nebraska. The coach currently makes more than $2 million a year, slightly more than that of North Carolia head man Roy Williams – a two-time national championship coach for the Tar Heels and six-time conference tournament champion with UNC and Kansas.
The Cornhuskers shot lights out on Valentine’s Day, using a 55.4-to-39.7% advantage from the field over the Nittany Lions en route to an easy 82-66 win in Lincoln. Nebraska out-rebounded the Blue and White 40-29 in addition to tripling the Penn State assist total (18-6). A prayer half-court shot from Jack McVeigh even managed to go down as the sophomore reserve poured in 15 points off the bench for Miles’s squad. Watson Jr. had a big night as well, tying McVeigh as the Cornhuskers’ leading scorer with 15 points, five assists, and four rebounds.
— Kevin Sjuts (@kevinsjuts) February 15, 2017
Meanwhile, as has been the theme for much of Penn State’s season, no one that took more than four shots from the field made at least 50% of their attempts other than freshman point guard Tony Carr. Carr added seven rebounds to his 15 points, a tally that tied the game high.
The difference was made by the teams’ bench output. The Nittany Lions put up a respectable 17 points from their reserves, but Nebraska benefited from a stellar 32-point performance from their substitutes, led by McVeigh. Since that night, Penn State has lost four more games as Nebraska managed to win their next game over Ohio State before beginning a four-game skid of their own.
The Cornhuskers and Nittany Lions have been two of the coldest “Power 5”-conference teams over the last month, so something will have to give in the Verizon Center on Wednesday. For Penn State, its coming off an Iowa performance where four of its top six scorers combined to shoot just 10-42 from the field.
Nebraska, coming off the worst ever defeat on its home floor, seems to be going through a lot of problems that translate beyond the bright lights of the arena at tipoff.
Penn State has struggled recently, but there is little to no possibility that they can have back-to-back dreadful shooting performances and Pat Chambers likely got on his team about stepping up defensively after the outstanding shooting of both the Hawkeyes this weekend and the Cornhuskers four weeks ago.
Expect this to be an ugly game between two young teams battling for anything to salvage positives from its respective disappointing campaigns. The key to this game has to be the interior players for Penn State. Mike Watkins was exceptional in the loss to Iowa last Sunday and Lamar Stevens can’t possibly shoot any worse than he did at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Add in a finally healthy Payton Banks and hope that progress has been made with Julian Moore’s hyperextended left knee from the last game, and we should expect to see the Nittany Lions barely edging out Nebraska in a game in the high 60’s, low 70’s score range.