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3 keys and a prediction for Nebraska basketball vs. Michigan

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Nebraska basketball
Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska basketball has a must-win game against Michigan on Saturday and here are three keys and a prediction.

The term must-win game is overused in sports, but the term is absolutely appropriate for Nebraska basketball on Saturday because if the Huskers want to make the NCAA tournament, they have to beat Michigan.

Nebraska is a nine-point favorite. Michigan is 8-15 overall but the Wolverines are better than their record. They have led in 10 of their 13 Big Tem games. They also just beat Wisconsin.

However, Michigan has struggled on the road this year, although it did beat St. John’s in the Garden. Yet, Dug McDaniel, the Wolverines starting point guard won’t be available due to suspension. That should benefit the Huskers who have lost three of four games. Here are three keys and a prediction. Tip-off is set for 5:30 PM CST on the Big Ten Network.

Start fast

Nebraska did the opposite of this against Northwestern. Fred Hoiberg switched up the starting lineup and it was a disaster. Turnovers were an issue, and so were offensive boards and the defense.

Nebraska basketball is a flawed team. But they have been dominant at home, losing just once this season and not at all in Big Ten play.

Michigan does start well though. They just struggle to finish. The Wolverines had lost four games in a row by double digits before the Wisconsin win, so they are capable of winning and getting blown out.

Without their starting point guard, Michigan will be looking for belief early. Michigan State allowed them to hang around for a half and the Wolverines are a strong 3-point shooting team, which is a big weakness for the Nebraska defense. The Huskers can’t let U-M get hot or start fast, otherwise a must-win could be much scarier than expected.

Value the ball

Just like with the Nebraska football team this fall, turnovers have become a defining issue for this team. If they have fewer than 10, they are likely to win. But if not, all bets are off.

Northwestern forced 17 turnovers and scored more than 20 points off of those turnovers. That’s been a common theme for the Huskers in losses this season. The good news on that front is Michigan forces just eight turnovers per game in Big Ten play.

The Wolverines are a terrible defensive team. Michigan allows 1.13 points per possession which ranks 346th out of 362 college basketball teams. So as long as the Huskers value the ball and their possessions, their offense should be able to shred the Wolverines.

Win the interior battle

In most games, the 3-point battle has been key. It will be important to watch on Saturday too, but I’m more interested in the points in the paint on Saturday.

Olivier Nkamhoua and Tarris Reed can be effective inside. Both teams are average defensively. Neither has a great rim protector. Reed and Nkamhoua are probably better defenders than Rienk Mast, but Mast is also a much more polished scorer and a better shooter.

But the frontcourt of Nebraska will have to outplay the frontcourt of Michigan. Nkamhoua, Reed, Will Tschetter, and Terrance Williams are all capable of having big days.

Michigan was disciplined against Wisconsin and they limited the Badgers, a pretty solid interior team to below 70 points and below 50 percent on 2-point attempts. Michigan also out-rebounded the Badgers and if U-M outrebounded the Huskers and win the battle in the paint, which it is capable of doing, this could get dicey.

Rienk Mast, Juwan Gary, Josiah Allick, and Brice Williams all need good days. The entire team does, because if the Huskers lose this game they will truly be on the NCAA tournament bubble.

Prediction: Nebraska 79, Michigan 68

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Chris has worked in sports journalism since 2005 writing for multiple newspapers and websites such as the Bleacher Report and Fansided before starting Husker Big Red, A fan site for hardcore followers of the #Huskers offering articles, podcasts, videos and more exclusive content on all things Nebraska

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