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Michigan men’s basketball matchup: Nebraska

The Wolverines begin Big Ten play on the road.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Nebraska Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines will be dipping their toes into Big Ten play for the first time this season with the Nebraska Cornhuskers up first at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln.

After bouncing back with a win on Saturday against San Diego State at home, the Wolverines improved to 5-3 on the year. Their early season struggles plagued them again earlier last week in their loss to UNC, but their raw skill flashed and was apparent on Saturday. Michigan is a good team, but needs to reach its potential sooner rather than later.

Nebraska has gotten off to a decent start after going 7-20 last season, as the Cornhuskers are currently 5-4 this year. Over the offseason, Nebraska signed a top 15 recruiting class, good for the No. 3 recruiting class in the Big Ten. The Huskers are 0-1 in conference play after a loss to Indiana on Saturday, but are currently 5-2 at home.

Michigan is looking for its first road win of the season and first win in conference. Despite being the favorite in this matchup, and the power index favoring the Maize and Blue by 59.1 percent, Nebraska will pose a tough challenge. The Huskers are coming off two losses, with a particular heartbreaker in OT against North Carolina State last Wednesday.

The Wolverines fell out of the AP top 25 this week due to their blowout loss to UNC. This should provide ample motivation for the Wolverines to figure stuff out, and Nebraska is an excellent place to start. The stat leaders are pretty evenly split between the Wolverines and Huskers, with Michigan leading in field goal percentage, rebounds and allowing fewer points per game on average. The two programs average nearly the same amount of blocks, while the Huskers lead in points per game, assists and steals.

Nebraska averages 77.1 points per game despite the Wolverines having a higher field goal percentage (46.2) than the Huskers (44.1). Michigan averages 69.3 points per game, while allowing their opponents 64.6 points per game. Nebraska allows their opponents 72.3 points per game on average, but average eight steals per game to Michigan’s five.

Forcing turnovers will be to Nebraska’s advantage, as this has been a big issue for the Wolverines so far this season. To their credit, the Wolverines have started to clean up their play. They turned the ball over 13 times against both the Aztecs and Tar Heels last week, which is in stark contrast to the 21 they had against Tarleton State.

The Huskers play at a much faster pace than the Wolverines, coming in at 57th on KenPom for adjusted tempo, which starkly contrasts to Michigan’s 266th. Michigan did not play well in the previous game with UNC, who also had a significantly higher adjusted tempo compared to Michigan. Though the Wolverines have improved, this is still a major point of weakness for the team.

Nebraska has a higher make up of upperclassmen on their roster. Its starting five consist of two juniors, a senior transfer, a sophomore, and a five-star freshman. The Huskers are led by freshman guard Bryce McGowens, averaging 17.3 PPG and 6.9 rebounds on 43% shooting and 24.4% from three. He is followed closely by senior transfer guard Alonzo Verge Jr., who averages 15 PPG and 5.6 APG on 43.3% shooting and 23.5 from beyond the arc. Verge Jr. leads the team in steals, forcing 1.4 per game.

Derrick Walker, a junior forward, averages 9.9 PPG and 5.9 RPG on 78.7% shooting. Junior forward Lat Mayen and sophomore guard Keisei Tominaga round out the most recent starting five for the Huskers. Mayen averages 4.5 PPG and 2.9 RPG on 31.6% shooting and 25% from beyond the arc. Tominaga got the go-ahead bucket against Indiana; he averages 7.9 PPG and 1.3 RPG on 41.1% shooting and 36.6% from three.

The Huskers have a lot of guys on their roster who have garnered meaningful minutes this year. They have about 10 guys that average over 10 minutes a game. Kobe Webster, a senior guard, averages 8.3 PPG, which is good for fourth on the team. He shoots 45.8% from the floor and 40% from three. Another impact freshman lies in C.J. Wilcher, a guard, who currently averages 7 PPG and 3.8 RPG, shooting 41.8% from the floor and 32.5% from three. The Huskers utilize a lot of guys in their system, finding a lot of different methods to score on the floor and move the ball a lot more.

Michigan looked to have found some stability against San Diego State in the second half. Frankie Collins surpassed DeVante’ Jones in minutes for the point guards on Saturday, begging the question of whether or not he will get the starting job. He protects the ball while being aggressive on defense, and the offense seems to play more efficiently while he is on the floor. The difference in play was noticeable, and he might be called upon soon if he continues playing at this level.

The Wolverines have been working on turnovers, most noticeably in their effort this past Saturday. Should Michigan get into an early shooting rhythm and keep pace with the Huskers, it will make this game competitive.

The Huskers with the home court advantage and a wide variety of shooters who know how to control the pace of games should give Nebraska an edge. Michigan will have to make a concerted effort to keep turnovers low while staying out of foul trouble. Nebraska plays much faster, and that type of play got Michigan into foul trouble last time. The Wolverines will have to make the necessary adjustments so they don’t make the same mistakes again.

Both teams will search for their first conference win this season. The Huskers host the Wolverines tomorrow night at 7 p.m. eastern time at Pinnacle Bank Arena.