As of 8 am this morning there is still no spread on the game. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one struggling to predict this one.
Nebraska stands at 8-3 with two losses at home (UMass and UAB) and one on the road at Creighton. It’s safe to say that they aren’t exactly road warriors this year but it’s still early and they’ve demonstrated an ability to win. I believe that Cincinnati is their best opponent so far of the season they’ve probably had this one circled for a while and will bring everything they have. That being said, according to RealtimeRPI.com Cincinnati is ranked 48th this morning and UMass was ranked 15th on 11/21 when they played Nebraska and Creighton was ranked 33rd. Both of those games were losses for Nebraska so it’s hard to tell what that means.
The Cornhuskers have plenty of good, young talent. Their scoring is led by a pair of sophomores, Terran Petteway and Shavon Shield (a forward and guard). Both players average a shade over 30 minutes per game and over 10 points per game. Junior Forward Leslee Smith stands at 6 feet and 8 inches and leads the team in rebounding. Cincinnati will have to work it into the post against him and he’ll make them work for rebounds. Jackson should be able to match up with Smith but it will be an interesting match up.
As a team they have 8 (almost 9) players averaging at least 15 minutes of game time. That means they have some depth on the bench. Cincinnati has been exploiting teams without depth by trying to foul out some stars. While it’s always a good strategy it may not be as effective against a team that is used to rotating 9 players.
The next 3 games for Nebraska are at Cincinnati, at #22 Iowa and at #3 Ohio State. That hurts. It actually hurts Cincinnati too because this is likely the most winnable game for them of the three and no one wants to go on a 3 game losing streak this early in the year.
The Enemy Within
As far as I’m concerned this game belongs to the Bearcats but they have demonstrated the ability to give a game away. There are a few infuriating tendencies of Mick Cronin basketball teams that this team has already demonstrated. That being said, this year’s team has shown much better shot selection than last year’s team which would frequently hold the ball for 30 seconds and launch a low percentage three point attempt. There are a few keys to the game and each of these prove that the game is ours to lose:
- Justin Jackson. Which Justin will show up today? If we get the double double Jackson then we should win without any problem, if we get the Crosstown Classic Jackson then we will struggle mightily. Luckily, I think Jackson is very reliable this year and he has the power to change a game.
- Sean Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick strikes me as the silent leader type. Luckily we have Jackson to give us all the emotion we need and more. Kilpatrick seems to be our only true shooter. When he is on, he serves as a catalyst for the entire offense. When he is not, well, it looks like all of the Mick Cronin teams we’re used to seeing over the last few years. Kilpatrick can make or break this team, fortunately he’s been very reliable this year and looks to keep improving in that way.
- Shot selection. From what I can tell, Cincinnati is a superior athletic team. This should mean that can move around a lot on offense and create some good shots against a Big 10 defense. Nebraska won’t be pushovers but how many teams are prepared to guard someone as athletic and large as Justin Jackson?
- Rebounding. I sound like Chuck Machock. This is actually crucial, if the tendencies continue then rebounding will be key. We’ll likely have a low-scoring affair today which means you can only afford to give Nebraska one shot each time down the court and with the way we’ve been shooting lately (omitting the previous game) we will need all the second chances we can get.
All in all it’s difficult to predict but barring a catastrophic meltdown (something I’m not willing to rule out), this should be a good win for Cincinnati. I predict the final outcome to be something like 62-56. That being said, don’t surprised if it’s close at halftime or even if the Bearcats are down.