Getting to know: Nebraska basketball
After facing ranked opponents Michigan State and Minnesota, then traveling to play in-state foe Creighton, Nebraska will host No. 13 Kansas at 7 p.m. Saturday (TV: FS1) at sold out Pinnacle Bank Arena. It’s the first time the Jayhawks will play in the downtown Lincoln arena.
The Huskers (7-4) have lost two of their last three games — beating then-No. 14 Minnesota at home on Dec. 5 — heading into their matchup against the Jayhawks. It’ll be their third ranked opponent in the last two weeks. Kansas is looking to avoid its first three-game losing streak since 2013.
"We played two really good teams, but there's something special about Kansas," senior guard Anton Gill told the Lincoln Journal Star. "It's hard to explain, but it's a team everybody wants to beat."
Nebraska had to replace three of its top five scorers from last season, receiving a boost from a couple of transfers: leading scorer James Palmer and leading rebounder Isaac Copeland.
Fun fact: Nebraska’s starting forward Copeland, from Raleigh, N.C., was an AAU and prep school teammate of KU’s Devonte' Graham. The two played together at Brewster Academy before he opted to play at Georgetown. He sat out last year with a back injury.
Series history: Kansas leads 171-71. The Jayhawks have won the last 18 meetings, including a 89-72 victory last season at Allen Fieldhouse. The last time Nebraska won the matchup was in 2004.
BREAKING DOWN NEBRASKA
No. 5 — G Glynn Watson Jr. | 6-0, 173, jr.
The only returning NU starter from last year’s game against Kansas, Watson is averaging 13.9 points on 41.2 percent shooting. He hasn’t found his stroke from the 3-point line, connecting on only 28.3 percent of his 46 attempts from behind the arc.
Watson, a three-year starter, adds 3.5 rebounds and a team-best 3.6 assists per game. More of a shooter than slasher, he hasn’t earned a trip to the free throw line in five games this season.
From Bellwood, Ill., he had five points on 2 of 6 shooting against KU last year in 29 minutes.
- “He'd rather lead by example,” NU coach Tim Miles said. “If you never put him in front of a live mic, he'd be happy. But at the same time, the kid is a winner. Everybody wants him to have the ball at the end of the shot clock or a game.”
No. 24 — G James Palmer Jr. | 6-6, 210, jr.
Shooting 31 percent from the 3-point line, Palmer leads the Huskers with 14.2 points per game. He leads the team with 52 free throw attempts, where he’s made 69.2 percent of his shots at the charity stripe.
A transfer from Miami, Palmer averaged 3.5 points and 1.2 rebounds on the Hurricanes’ Sweet 16 squad in 2016. He has 13 steals this season, second-most among Nebraska players.
No. 14 — F Isaac Copeland | 6-9, 221, jr.
Nebraska’s top defensive rebounder, the transfer from Georgetown is averaging 12.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. He missed the first semester last season because of the NCAA transfer rule and then sat out the remainder of the year recovering from back surgery.
Copeland’s father, Ike, played at East Carolina and helped the Pirates to the NCAA Tournament in 1993.
ONE THING NEBRASKA DOES WELL
The Huskies rank 13th in the country with 62 blocks through their first 11 games. According to hoop-math.com, more of those rejects occur on jump shots than plays in the paint. Three of Nebraska’s forwards have recorded at least 13 swats this year.
ONE AREA NEBRASKA STRUGGLES
In the past four games, Nebraska has posted a 2-2 record while struggling to shoot the ball from the 3-point line. The Huskies have made 20 of their last 78 attempts from behind the arc (25.6 percent). In an area where the Jayhawks allow a lot of shots, the Huskies haven’t punished other teams for allowing those same opportunities.
MEET THE COACH
Known as one of the most active coaches on Twitter, Tim Miles is in his sixth season at Nebraska with an 82-90 record and one NCAA Tournament appearance.
Miles was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2014. He previously coached at Colorado State and North Dakota State.
Kansas by 11.5. Two straight losses don’t happen often for the Jayhawks, who will look to win their first game since Dec. 2. Unlike Washington and Arizona State, which both had strong guard play, I think the Jayhawks can play more to Nebraska’s weaknesses.
My prediction: Kansas 77, Nebraska 61. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 5-3.