Miami visits Pinnacle Bank Arena at the end of the Hurricanes’ longest road trip of the season. The Hurricanes are 5-3 on the season after going 2-1 in the Wooden Legacy in Anaheim. After falling into the consolation bracket with a 71-63 loss to George Washington, the Hurricanes rebounded to beat host Cal State Fullerton (48-46) and Arizona State (60-57) to finish fifth in the tournament.
The Hurricanes enjoyed a historic season in 2012-13, going 29-7 and sweeping the ACC regular-season and tournament titles before reaching the Sweet 16. Miami was the first ACC team to win the outright regular-season title and tournament title in the same season since North Carolina in 2008.
Head Coach Jim Larrañaga’s squad graduated all five starters and the program’s top six players from last year, and the Hurricanes have been up and down during the early portion of the schedule. UM, which was picked to finish 12th in the ACC, saw a three-game win streak snapped against Central Florida in its final game before the road trip. Of Miami’s eight games in 2013-14, five have been decided by five points or less and another one went into overtime.
Senior Rion Brown leads three Hurricanes in double figures, averaging 12.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Brown was the only returnee who started any games in 2012-13, as he made six starts. Senior guard Garrius Adams adds 11.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.0 steals per night, while Donnavan Kirk, who began his college career at Miami, returned after spending two seasons at DePaul and averages 10.3 points on 55 percent shooting and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Larrañaga is 1-2 in his career against Nebraska with all three meetings coming during his tenure at Bowling Green. Nebraska won home matchups during the 1990-91 and 1996-97 seasons, but the Falcons knocked off the Huskers at the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic later in the 1996-97 campaign
Series History vs. Miami
The matchup between the Huskers and Hurricanes will be the fifth one in a series which dates back to 1951. The Huskers lead the series, 3-1, and have won the last three matchups, most recently an 82-67 victory in the Orange Bowl Classic on Dec. 30, 2006. This will be Miami’s second-ever visit to Lincoln and the first since a 85-58 Husker win on Dec. 18, 1970.
While Nebraska and Miami are not common opponents in basketball, there has been a lot of history between the two programs.
•-Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst served as Director of Athletics at Miami from April of 2011 until taking the Nebraska job in October of 2012. Miami A.D. Blake James worked at Nebraska in the Husker Athletic Fund Office in 1997 and 1998.
•-In football, the programs have split 10 all-time meetings with six of those matchups coming in bowl games. Of those six bowl games, four decided national titles (1984 Orange Bowl-Miami, 1992 Orange Bowl-Miami; 1996 Orange Bowl-Nebraska; 2002 Rose Bowl-Miami). In addition, the two teams will start a home-and-home series beginning this fall in Lincoln.
•-Miami is one of the four teams in this week’s NCAA Volleyball First and Second Round at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln. The two teams could meet in the second round on Saturday.
•–Nebraska’s baseball team earned its third College World Series appearance in 2005, defeating the Hurricanes at Hawks Field at Haymarket Park, which is just north of Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Big Ten/ACC Challenge
The 2014-15 season marks the 15th season of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The ACC won the first 10 editions of the event before the Big Ten won the next three challenges. Last year, the teams split the 12 matchups, and the Big Ten retained the title for a fourth consecutive year.
The winner of the event receives the Commissioner’s Cup. In the event of a 6-6 tie this year, the Commissioner’s Cup will remain with the conference that won the previous year.
Since 2000, the ACC (10) and the Big Ten (11) have combined for 21 Final Four appearances and six national titles: North Carolina (2005 and 2009), Maryland (2002), Duke (2001 and 2010) and Michigan State (2000).
Up for The Challenge
This the seventh consecutive year that Nebraska has appeared in a conference challenge event. Prior to joining the Big Ten in 2011-12, the Huskers went 3-1 in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series, equaling the best performance by a Big 12 school in the event during the event’s four-year tenure.
Last year, Nebraska’s win over Wake Forest marked the first time in seven Big Ten/ACC Challenges that the Demon Deacons had lost at home.
2012 Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Nebraska received career performances from Ray Gallegos and Andre Almeida, as the Huskers posted an impressive 79-63 victory over Wake Forest in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Gallegos and Almeida had 20 points apiece, as the Huskers broke open a close game with a 20-3 second-half surge in posting their largest road win margin since the 2003-04 campaign. Gallegos scored 17 of his career-high 20 points in the second half, hitting 7-of-8 shots in the final 20 minutes as the Huskers scored on 16 of its first 19 second-half possessions. Almeida had 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting, grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds and blocked three shots.
Last Time Out
Nebraska saw a 13-point second-half lead whittled to one, but got just enough plays in the final two minutes to hold on with a 63-58 victory over Northern Illinois Saturday afternoon.
Nebraska led 56-47 with 6:38 remaining, but the Huskies used an 8-1 run to pull within 57-55 after two free throws from Daveon Balls with 1:18 left. On the Huskers’ next possession, Deverell Biggs drove the lane and missed, but Leslee Smith ended the Huskers’ drought with a put-back bucket to give Nebraska a 59-55 lead with 47 seconds left.
Smith came off the bench and had a season-high 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting and a game-high nine rebounds, as three Huskers finished in double figures.
NIU came right back on its next possession as Dontel Highsmith’s long 3-pointer bounced off the rim and dropped into the net to put the Huskies within one, at 59-58 with nine seconds left. Biggs was fouled on the inbounds pass and converted both free throws, extending the lead to three points.
The Huskies (2-4) had one last chance to send the game into overtime, as Travon Baker’s 3-pointer was off the mark, and Biggs, who finished with a game-high 18 points and four rebounds, corralled the miss and sank both free throws for the final margin. Biggs established a career high with 18 points, as Nebraska got 35 points from its bench, as the Huskers battled foul trouble throughout the second half. Terran Petteway was the third Husker in double figures, ending with 12 points and five rebounds, as the sophomore totaled nine of his points in the first half to help the Huskers build a seven-point halftime lead.
NIU’s Jordan Threloff tied Biggs for game-high honors with 18 points and added six rebounds, while Highsmith finished with 13 points in a losing effort.
Quick Look at Nebraska
As second-year coach Tim Miles continues his rebuilding process at Nebraska, Nebraska’s roster is starting to take shape. Only two of the 12 players on scholarship have been at NU longer than two seasons (Ray Gallegos and David Rivers), while Gallegos is the only scholarship senior on the 2013-14 roster.
Miles, who was given a seven-year contract when he was hired in 2012, led the Huskers to a 15-18 record last year, as 14 of NU’s 18 losses came against NCAA Tournament teams despite having only eight recruited scholarship players available. Nebraska played one of the nation’s toughest schedules in 2012-13, facing 10 ranked teams while the strength of schedule was 13th nationally. The Huskers finished 10th in the Big Ten in 2012-13 after being picked to finish last by 23 of the 24 beat writers in the league.
This season, Nebraska is again picked 12th in the preseason poll of writers with a roster which is 271st (of 351 teams) in experience according to KenPom. Five of NU’s nine primary rotation players are in their first year of competition at Nebraska, although three of the newcomers (Pitchford-Florida; Smith-SMU; Petteway-Texas Tech) have previous Division I experience. Through the first six games, 80 percent of starts have been made by freshmen or sophomores.
Finding Offensive Pace
Despite having five new faces in Nebraska’s primary nine-man rotation, the Huskers have been a much more prolific offensive team in the early stages of 2013-14. The Huskers are averaging 11 points more per game than at this point last year, including a season-high 90 points against UMass on Nov. 21 - NU’s highest single-game total since the 2009-10 season.
•-Nebraska’s team scoring average of 74.9 points per game marks only the fifth time since 2000 that Nebraska has averaged more than 70 points per game through the first seven contests and the first time since 2006-07.
•-Nebraska’s average after seven games is the highest since the 1997-98 squad averaged 75.3 points per game in its opening stretch.
•-Nebraska has scored 80 or more points in consecutive games against South Carolina State and UMass, the first time that has happened since January of 2009 (vs. Maryland Eastern Shore and Florida A&M).
•-Nebraska has already put five players in double figures twice in the first six games and four players in two other games.
•-Nebraska has already scored 75 or more points three times after just reaching that plateau twice in 33 games last season, as the Huskers were 12th in the Big Ten in scoring offense, averaging 58.3 points per game.
•-According to KenPom, Nebraska ranks 40th in free throw percentage rate this season after ranking 331st nationally in the category in 2012-13. Two of Miles’ final three Colorado State teams ranked in the top 40 in that category.
Setting a Benchmark
As the Huskers have looked at different lineup combinations, one consistent thing during the first month of the season has been improved bench play.
Nebraska is averaging 29.3 points per game from its bench, a number which has been greatly helped by the return of Ray Gallegos and the addition of Deverell Biggs. Both players missed the first two regular-season games, but have been productive in reserve roles. Biggs is third on the team in scoring at 12.0 ppg and is shooting 46 percent from the floor and 63 percent from 3-point range. He is coming off one of his best efforts of the season, scoring a game-high 18 points and grabbing four rebounds against Northern Illinois. Gallegos, who started every game in 2012-13, has provided long-range shooting and is averaging 8.0 points per game, including a team-high 12 3-pointers.
The unsung hero of the Huskers’ bench has been junior college transfer Leslee Smith, who gives the Huskers a physical player off the bench. He is averaging 8.7 points per game while ranking fourth in the Big Ten in shooting percentage, while pulling down a team-high 6.7 rebounds per game.
•-Last year, Nebraska has three players averaging over 30 minutes per game, including Ray Gallegos and Dylan Talley, who both ranked among the top five in the Big Ten in minutes per game. This year, no Husker is averaging 30 minutes per game (Terran Petteway leads NU with 29.7), while nine Huskers average at least 15 minutes per game.
•-Against Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 8, sophomore Benny Parker had a career-high nine points and two steals in 27 minutes. He single-handedly sparked the Huskers in a 10-0 second half run with seven points and both steals.
•-In NU’s win over Western Illinois on Nov. 12, Smith had 10 points, five rebounds and a pair of steals in 20 minutes. Smith scored six of his points in a 23-7 first-half run, turning a one-point lead into a 17-point advantage.
•-Against South Carolina State, Nebraska’s bench combined for 51 of the 83 points, making the fifth time in the last decade NU has received at least 50 points from its bench.
•-In the loss against UMass, forwards Leslee Smith and David Rivers stepped up, as the duo combined for 22 points and 13 rebounds in a losing effort. Smith recorded his first double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and three blocked shots, while Rivers added 10 points, three rebounds and a career-best four steals.
•-Against UAB, Biggs led the bench with 11 points in 17 minutes, while Gallegos, who was not expected to play after suffering a knee injury against UMass, added nine points, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
•-In the win over Georgia, freshman Tai Webster added 14 points, including 13 in the second half, and three assists while Gallegos added 11 points, including three 3-pointers. Smith led NU with 11 boards and chipped in eight points, as the Husker bench combined for 38 points against the Bulldogs.
The Son Also Rises
Nebraska sophomore Shavon Shields is on his way to creating an impressive resume in his own right. While his father, Will, is one of the greatest linemen in college and NFL history, the younger Shields is carving out his own impressive career on the court.
As a freshman, Shavon overcame an early season elbow injury and averaged 8.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in 29 games. Shields was one of the few freshmen whose numbers improved during Big Ten play in 2012-13, as he upped his scoring and rebounding averages to 9.2 and 6.0 to rank among the Big Ten freshmen leaders. During the Huskers’ Big Ten Tournament run, the 6-foot-7, 219-pounder became one of the Huskers’ go-to players, averaging 16.5 points on 61 percent shooting in games against Purdue and Ohio State.
One of three captains this season, Shields picked up right where he left off and comes into this week averaging 12.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. He is 22nd in the Big Ten in scoring and is first or second on the Husker squad in scoring, rebounding and assists.
Shields enjoyed his best game of the year against Sweet 16 qualifier Florida Gulf Coast, scoring a game-high 28 points - one off his career high - on 8-of-13 shooting from the field and a perfect 12-of-12 from the line. The 6-foot-7 forward also led NU in rebounds (six) and assists (three) en route to earning Big Ten Player of the Week and the Lute Olson Award National Player of the Week. Shields’ 28-point night marked the most points by a Husker in a season opener since 2006.
Shields saw his streak of seven straight games in double figures snapped against Georgia on Nov. 24, but still made a major contribution with six rebounds, two assists and a career-high three blocked shots in the 73-65 win. On Saturday against Northern Illinois, he was held to seven points because of foul trouble, but had a pair of steals and two assists in just 17 minutes.
How Shavon spent His Summer
Shavon Shields spent part of the summer with the Denmark U-20 National Team, leading the country to the 2013 Nordic Cup Championship. He averaged 13.3 points per game in wins over Sweden, Finland and Estonia, capping the tournament with a 17-point, 12-rebound effort in a 101-94 double overtime win over Estonia. Shields had nine points in the opener against Sweden and 14 points in the victory over host Finland.
Transfers Make Immediate Impact for Big Red
While the Huskers were short-handed last year with just eight recruited scholarship players available for action, Nebraska knew that help was on the way in the form of transfers Walter Pitchford, Terran Petteway and Deverell Biggs. The trio led a scout team which regularly pushed the Husker starters in practice and set the stage for the 2013-14 season.
Pitchford, who played 13 games at Florida in helping the Gators to the Elite Eight in 2011-12, gives the Huskers an athletic big man with extended shooting range. The 6-foot-10 center is averaging 8.4 points per game on 48 percent shooting, including 10-of-22 shooting from 3-point range. Pitchford, who also is averaging 4.3 rebounds per game, is seventh in the conference in 3-point percentage. He led NU with 14 points in the win over Western Illinois on Nov. 12, including eight straight points in a first-half run, and has been in double figures in each of the last two games. He had 10 points and six rebounds against UAB and 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the win over Georgia. On Saturday, Pitchford was a force on the defensive end, blocking three shots and pulling down eight rebounds in limiting Northern Illinois to 36.7 percent shooting.
Petteway, who began his career at Texas Tech, has been one of the Huskers’ most valuable performers. He is ninth in the Big Ten in scoring at 16.0 ppg and is tied for second on the squad with 5.1 rebounds per game. He led NU at the Charleston Classic, averaging 22 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Against UMass on Nov. 21, Petteway topped the Huskers with 30 points, as he became the 25th player in school history to have a 30-point game. His performance is the second-highest total by a Big Ten player this season. Petteway had 17 points in the opener against Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 8, and nearly had a double-double in NU’s win over Western Illinois on Nov. 12, with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Biggs made his Husker debut in the win over South Carolina State, scoring 17 points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing out a pair of assists in 23 minutes off the bench. He has come off the bench, averaging 12.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game. Biggs had a game-high 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting in Saturday’s win over Northern Illinois, including four free throws in the final eight seconds to clinch the win. Biggs earned first-team NJCAA All-America honors at Seward Community College in 2011-12.
Petteway Puts Up 30 vs. UMass
Nebraska sophomore Terran Petteway enjoyed the finest offensive performance of his career in the Huskers’ loss against UMass on Nov. 21. Petteway hit 8-of-20 shots from the floor, including a trio of 3-pointers, and converted 11 of 12 shots from the foul line, scoring 30 points in 29 minutes of work.
•-Petteway became the 25th player in school history to have a 30-point game at Nebraska. Of the 25 players, only 12 have multiple 30-point games in their Husker career. He joins Ray Gallegos, who had a 30-point effort last season at Minnesota, as active Huskers with career 30-point games.
Value the Basketball
Under Tim Miles, one major emphasis is taking care of the basketball, and the Huskers were among the nation’s best in that category in 2012-13. Despite losing its top three point guards from 2011-12 and having a backup point guard (Mike Peltz) suffer a season-ending injury in January, Nebraska finished fourth in the Big Ten and 10th nationally with 10.7 turnovers per game - nearly three fewer than 2011-12. NU’s turnovers per game were the fewest in school history, bettering the 11.30 per game in 1984-85. Nebraska committed 10 turnovers or less 15 times in 2012-13. Nebraska set a school record with two turnovers against Purdue on Jan. 16, breaking the mark of three set on three previous occasions. In all, five of the top 11 teams in the country resided in the Big Ten, including Michigan and Wisconsin which ranked first and fourth, respectively, in that category.
This season, the Huskers have been among the national leaders in that category, ranking eighth nationally with 9.6 turnovers per game. The Huskers have only reached double figures in turnovers twice in seven games. Nebraska also ranks second in the Big Ten in turnover margin at +4.7 per contest.
Webster Makes a Point, Plays the Point
Tai Webster has found a home in the Huskers’ backcourt, averaging 9.0 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game entering Wednesday’s game against Miami. He has come off the bench the last two games and has a 6-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. The 6-foot-4 freshman enjoyed the best game of his career on Nov. 24 against Georgia, scoring 14 points and dishing out three assists in NU’s 73-65 win. Webster scored 13 of his points in the second half and went 7-of-9 from the foul line. It was his second double-figure effort of the Charleston Classic, as he totaled 12 points and two assists in NU’s loss to UMass.
With his start against Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 8, Webster became just the ninth true freshman to start a season opener in the last 18 years. Webster totaled nine points, two rebounds and an assist in helping the Huskers to a 79-55 win. He reached double figures for the first time in his young career against South Carolina State on Nov. 17, totaling 13 points, four rebounds and two assists.
Although he is a freshman, Webster was considered one of the top international guards in this year’s senior class. He played for New Zealand’s national team in qualifying for the 2012 Olympics, averaging 13.5 points per game in 52.5 percent shooting in three games. He also played in New Zealand’s National Basketball League, averaging 18.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game last spring despite being the youngest player in the league. Webster is among the five Big Ten freshmen to watch by ESPN’s Paul Biancardi, joining Indiana’s Noah Vonleh, Illinois’ Kendrick Nunn, Michigan’s Zak Irvin and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes.