OK, it isn't Michigan vs. Indiana or anything, but for two teams looking to get something going after falling on tough times Tuesday represents a prime opportunity for retribution. Minnesota, which seemed almost infallible for 16 games, now sports a hefty four-game losing streak while experiencing an AP free fall.
Nebraska, no stranger to tough times on the hardwood, has already nabbed two conference victories and faces the possibility of leapfrogging Illinois and/or Iowa with a win in Minneapolis. Small potatoes compared to the marquee matchup happening at the top of the conference, but a game worth noting in terms of conference positioning.
Jesse Collins momentarily donned his scarlet and cream goggles to provide a Husker perspective and join me in another OTE blogger roundtable as we prepare for Tuesday's showdown.
1) The Huskers are coming off a home victory over Northwestern but have struggled overall to begin the conference season. With the Gophers also falling on hard times, what do you see as the biggest story lines heading into Tuesday's game?
Jesse Collins: The question, as always, is if Nebraska's offense can score points. On the other side, can Minnesota take care of business. Nebraska has played admirably at times against superior competition -- mainly Michigan and Wisconsin, but has ultimately not been able to close out games due to a deficit in talent. Still, they can beat Northwestern and Penn State... not that either of those wins is worth writing home about. I'm guessing Minnesota beats Nebraska handily, but look out for Tim Miles to have a good game plan.
zipsofakron: The last two games for Minnesota have been downright atrocious. They've scored 48 and 44 points against teams that aren't necessarily known for their defense. Is that becoming a trend? I hope not. The Gophers ran up 81 and 75, respectively, against Indiana and Michigan, so they know how to score against good teams. I think the biggest story line here is whether or not Minnesota can get back on track from an offensive standpoint. They've had no trouble shutting teams down on defense this year, but offensive consistency is what's holding them back from the top of the conference. Hopefully Nebraska is just the tonic they need for their ills.
2) Heading on the road is always a tall order during conference play. How do you think Nebraska can pull this one off in Minneapolis?
JC: As I kind of alluded to already, the keys for Nebraska are offensive play making. I think the defense can play with most anyone, but if they continue to shoot terribly and go long gaps without scoring, this game will get ugly in a hurry. I'm expecting Miles to continue his slow down approach with this team, and maybe we'll even see some more set plays for freshman Shavon Shields to get him hot early like he was against both Purdue and Penn State.
z: If Nebraska can keep the Gophers' offense in a funk then they could cause some problems. Minnesota thrives on runs and are prone to long, painful slumps when they have the basketball. Considering they've had back to back games where they have had trouble obtaining any sort of offensive consistency, Nebraska has the opportunity to get in their heads in the beginning and take Minnesota off its game and kill their confidence. If they let Minnesota get out to a fast start then they'll be in trouble since I'm not sure they have the offensive firepower to mount a comeback on the road.
3) What does Minnesota need to do to take care of business against the Huskers?
JC: Play average. I don't mean to demean the Huskers, but the reality is that Minnesota has enough play makers on both sides of the court to handle this team at home. Nebraska is a below-average shooting team with very little ability to handle comebacks against good teams. They are shooting 41% from the field, 29% from behind the arc, and are still only scoring 59 or so points a game. Unlike games against Wisconsin, Northwestern (still don't get that one), Michigan, and Indiana, this is a team that doesn't have a lot of gimmicks except that they play hard. If Minnesota plays an OK game, they should be fine.
z: The Gophers just need to lean on Nebraska defensively and play decently on offense. What they can't afford to give up is easy points off turnovers or too many second chances. They have an athletic and talent advantage which gives them the ability to pretty much just play and let the game take care of itself. Their defensive prowess should keep the Huskers under 60 points, meaning they don't need to blow the doors off the place on the offensive side of the ball. If they cut down on mental mistakes they should be fine.
4) What's the feeling in Lincoln this year as the season has developed?
JC: I think the overall feeling is positive directions under Tim Miles, but disappointment that it hasn't translated yet. Most everyone I have spoken to understands that this is a work in progress and that there is quite a bit of talent both coming in and redshirting. Patience is tough, but moral victories are okay in a season like this. Heck, a lot of people wondered if Nebraska would win one game in conference play and now we have two, so yay! But seriously, with a new arena opening up next year, excitement is up in basketball at a level we have not seen in a long time. The fact that fans keep showing up more or less to the Bob is a testament to the marketing and PR job Tim Miles has done.
5) Which players do you think we should we be paying attention to on both sides?
JC: For Nebraska, I think you'll hear a lot of Dylan Talley. He's our leading scorer and can get into some hot streaks. If his shot starts hitting early, Minnesota could be in for a longer night. Another guy to keep an eye on is Shavon Shields who could've been player of the week a couple weeks back. He's a freshman, though, so he can come and go like this whole team. I'm interested to see how Nebraska deals with the Minnesota back court. Obviously Andre Hollins is a beast and has a potential to beat Nebraska off the dribble, so who knows what happens. I'll be honest, I'm not intimately knowledgeable with the Gophers, but another guy who scares me is Joe Coleman. I think he could do to the Huskers what D.J. Richardson did in the Illini game.
z: I'm really excited to see that huge, 300 lb. Brazilian dude for the Huskers, Andre Almeida. Seriously, that guy is HUMONGOUS. Ray Gallegos seems like exactly the type of guy who could kill the Gophers if he gets hot since he likes to shoot so many three pointers. I'll be watching him in hopes that he chucks bricks. For the Gophers I'll be watching Trevor Mbakwe. He hurt his wrist in the game against Wisconsin and wasn't a huge factor in that game. When things are going well for Minnesota he sees the ball a lot and puts up a lot of attempts. If he's not seeing the ball that means the Gophers are probably settling for jumpers, which tends to give me hives.
6) Prediction time: how do you think this game plays out in the end?
JC: I don't see this ending well on the road, sadly. Nebraska should slow this game down a bit and ugly it up. I'm guessing Minnesota pulls away late for a 13-point win or so. Let's say 68-55 Gophers.
z: The Gophers are finally done with the gauntlet of games that opened the conference season, so we're all looking forward to seeing someone like Nebraska come to The Barn instead of, say, Michigan. The bleeding needs to be stopped and I'm thinking Minnesota can take care of business. I'll take the Gophers 69-60