LINCOLN — Here’s the setup for the Nebraska men’s basketball game Saturday night against The Citadel:
It’s the last contest before the Huskers (7-3) take four days off for Christmas. It’s at home. And the opponent has lost twice as many games as it has won.
So cue the victory music at Pinnacle Bank Arena, right?
That’s the mindset all coaches try to counter at this time of year. If fans or players from Nebraska need their memories refreshed on not overlooking anyone, flash back to Dec. 23, 2008.
A Husker team that eventually won 18 games and reached the NIT lost 66-64 to mighty Maryland-Baltimore County. The same night, Iowa State, under now Creighton coach Greg McDermott, lost 65-58 at home to salty South Dakota State.
That led to a late-night, misery-loves-company phone call between Doc Sadler and McDermott, the details of which are sworn to secrecy.
Current Husker coach Tim Miles knows the potential difficulty of late-December games.
“Sometimes at Christmas break, guys get one foot out the door,” he said Friday. “So you have to stay on top of them, stay focused and concentrate on the task at hand.”
This was final exam week, which led to an altered practice schedule. Miles, between recruiting trips, researched information on kenpom.com, a site that tracks basketball analytics and advanced statistics.
The site projects that 11 of Nebraska’s remaining 19 games are likely to go down to the final two possessions. Two others are picked as seven-point games.
“So our ability to play good defense and great offense at the end of games is going to be really important,” he said.
To work on that, in Wednesday’s practice, Miles put 1:30 on the clock and had his team scrimmage in that compressed time 17 times to get familiar with time-and-score and end-game pressure.
Anything to sneak out a victory will be important to the Huskers, who after Saturday night will be underdogs in the next six games, starting with a trip to Cincinnati and then Big Ten play.
“When you look at the big picture,” Miles said, “this particular team has the ability to play ‘up’ with some teams but also to play ‘down’ to some teams. Hopefully, we’re able to rise to the occasion. We weren’t able to against Creighton. UMass, we were.”
Massachusetts (10-0), ranked No. 22 this week, nipped Nebraska 96-90. Creighton (8-2), which has been ranked, leaped to a 38-8 lead and rolled on an 82-67 win.
Nebraska’s strength of schedule on kenpom.com is 246th out of 351 schools. NU has no wins against teams more than one game above .500. Its best victories are over Georgia (5-4), Miami (6-5) and Arkansas State (5-4).
The Citadel (4-8) has only one win against a Division I team (Presbyterian College). The eight losses have been by an average of 16.8 points.