After the most encouraging week of the season thus far, Penn State is back on the road tonight in Nebraska for the first time since they joined the conference. It will be an interesting contest as I would imagine many fans might be confident in PSU's chances at a W. The Cornhuskers have been dreadful to start their first Big Ten campaign, losing their first 4 conference games to Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State and Illinois. The first three were merciless blowouts, but their latest loss looks a bit more respectable (5 points in Champagne, the same margin of defeat OSU just suffered last night).
This is a game both squads would love to win, because neither team get these kinds of chances at a conference Ws very often. Nebraska certainly doesn't want to start 0-8, but that will be a very real possibility if they lose tonight with UW, IU, and OSU looming on the schedule. They will be ready to play.
As I mentioned, Doc Sadler's team has been atrocious in Big Ten play (a -0.30 efficiency margin!). However, they were without two key parts of their team in big man Brian Jorge Diaz and wing Dylan Talley. Both were battling injuries since mid-December, but they also both returned against Illinois, and lo and behold, the Cornhuskers were competitive. The senior Diaz is 6'11" 245 and gives the Huskers an inside presence. He is also a great shot blocker (2.4 BPG). Talley is in his first year in Sadler's program, as he transfered from a Junior College last year. He was one of more highly-touted JuCos and has made an impact right away. He averages 9 PPG, 3 RPG, and 2 APG off the bench.
The big playmaker for Nebraska is 5th year senior point guard Bo Spencer. Spencer transferred from LSU and sat out the 2010-2011 season. He's a good talent and scores 14.6 PPG, but he takes a lot of shots and isn't very efficient. Then again, neither is Tim Frazier, but Tim does a much better job setting up for his teammates. The matchup of Spencer and Frazier will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
The rest of Nebraska's rotation is filled out with role players who have great experience. Brandon Richardson, Brandon Ubel, and Caleb Walker all started last year. Richardson helps handle some of the point duties, Ubel provides rebounding and size underneath, and Walker can shoot the 3 (36%). Toney McCray has been big for Nebraska despite all of the injuries as he has scored 14 PPG in his last 6 games.
As a team, Nebraska actually has the worst offense in the league, but like Penn State, they play respectable defense. They keep teams off the offensive glass and the foul line. Their offense leaves a lot to be desired, however, as they struggle to do anything well. I'd be disappointed if PSU couldn't keep the Huskers to under a point-per-possession.
This is definitely a game PSU can win, but I do think Nebraska will be ready to play. I like PSU's advantage on the boards, and I think once again PSU will out-hustle their opponent. But I'm not sure how well PSU can shoot on the road, regardless of the venue or opponent. This could very well be an ugly, 58-possession game that goes down to the wire. The first to 55 could very well win.