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Preview: Michigan vs. Nebraska

The Wolverines look to bounce back from Saturday's close but no cigar defeat when Nebraska pays a visit to Ann Arbor tonight.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Who: 12-7 (4-3) Nebraska Cornhuskers

When: 7 ET (ESPN)

Where: Crisler Center -- Ann Arbor, Mich.

The Stage

Coming off a game in which Michigan was tantalizingly close to springing an upset against the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers, the Wolverines get the chance to recover with another home game, this time against the the 4-3 Nebraska Cornhuskers.

There's no use belaboring the point, but again, Michigan is not going to the tournament (barring a conference tournament title), so these games will continue to be about seeing guys improve and getting the youngsters used to the stage of Big Ten basketball.

Them

Nebraska is 2-3 against the RPI top 50, with nice wins against Cincinnati on Dec. 15 (a 56-55 double overtime win) and a two-point win against Michigan State on Saturday.

In the bad loss category, you probably heard about the loss to Incarnate Word on Dec. 10. They also lost to Hawaii 13 days later -- the Rainbow Warriors are No. 196. December was not the best month for Tim Miles and Co.

Things continued that way to close December, when they lost to Indiana at home on New Year's Eve, then fell at Iowa on Jan. 5. Since then, however, Miles's squad has righted the ship, winning four of their last five (the loss came at Wisconsin, 70-55). With that said, all four of those wins came at the friendly confines of Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Personnel

Like Wisconsin, the big guns on this team are also very familiar. Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields are back to lead the Huskers offense, scoring 19.6 and 16.7 points per game, respectively. Petteway is a solid 35 percent from three, while Shields is not much of a three-point threat (22 percent). If you somehow haven't watched them play at all, they're your classic high volume, sometimes not so efficient but usually fairly exciting scorers.

The 6-foot-10 Walter Pitchford, of Grand Rapids, was a guy I was fairly high on coming into the season, but his production is a little down in four more minutes per game. He's checking in at 7.2 ppg and 4.9 rpg. After shooting 41 percent from three last season, he's hitting just 31 percent this year.

Even worse, he was ejected from Saturday's game at MSU after throwing an elbow at Matt Costello, but according to this in the Omaha World-Herald, he'll suit up tonight. I've read rumors here and there indicating that he might not play, but who knows -- we'll find out tonight, I guess. For what it's worth, our friends over at Corn Nation note he isn't playing (although there's no link there, so I'm not sure what the source is).

If he doesn't play, that would be big, but don't get too excited; the Huskers managed to beat the Spartans, even with Pitchford playing just four minutes.

Junior guard Benny Parker shoots a solid 35.7 percent from three, albeit on just 28 attempts. He's had a rough go of it from the field in Nebraska's last four contests, shooting a combined 1-for-11.

David Rivers (4.9 ppg) is for sure out; he missed the MSU game with a knee injury. Guard Tai Webster scored 13 points against MSU, only the third time he's scored in double digits this season.

With Pitchford logging just four minutes against MSU, forward Leslee Smith stepped in admirably, scoring seven points on 3-for-4 shooting. Center Moses Abraham is another guy who'll step in in Pitchford's absence.

The 6-foot-2 guard Tarin Smith will also come in off the bench -- the freshman is averaging 4.1 ppg, and is 25 percent from three (just 12 attempts).

Game Keys

  • Mental toughness. I'm rolling my eyes even as I write this, but that doesn't mean there isn't any validity in those bolded words. After a loss like Michigan had Saturday, it would be very easy to sort of roll over
  • Attack the paint. With Rivers and Pitchford (?) out, Nebraska's frontcourt is seriously depleted. If Michigan can get Smith into foul trouble early, then Abraham has to protect the rim, who's only appeared in 12 games this year.
  • D up on Petteway. Nebraska beat Michigan State; unsurprisingly, Petteway scored 32 points. Simply put, Michigan has to find a way to contain him. Considering Michigan has scored in the 50s in its last four games (if you exclude the overtime period against Wisconsin), 32 points from one guy is a little much to overcome.

The Outlook

Well, the fight the team showed on Saturday was encouraging, but the Wolverines emerged without the signature win it needed (if not for tournament purposes, then for general self-esteem).

After losses to Incarnate Word and Hawaii, the Nebrasketball hype train seemed to slow down a bit, and rightfully so. However, the Huskers have hit their stride of late; can they translate the success they've had recently at home to a road venue?

As for Michigan, can they regroup after the always stinging "moral victory" and play 40 minutes of basketball that isn't just a hodgepodge of wild, flailing inconsistency? At this point, I wouldn't expect much of a change on that front.

With that said, with Nebraska's Rivers and seemingly Pitchford out, Michigan gets somewhat of a break (but, again, they did beat MSU without them).

Honestly, I could see this being another gritty, hard-fought win -- or I could see Michigan not having it and just getting blown out. The Wolverines come in as a 3.5-point favorite...hey, why not, I'm feeling lucky. Michigan 61, Nebraska 57.