Big Ten Geeks: Preview of Nebraska vs. Baylor

With the rest of the conference’s NCAA tournament teams already done with their first games, Nebraska will be the lone representative in action today. At 12:40pm ET, the Huskers will seek the first NCAA tournament win in program history as they take on 6-seed Baylor in San Antonio.

Baylor’s strength is its offense, and it’s a mighty good one. The Bears are tenacious on the offensive glass, and they keep three good offensive rebounders on the floor at all times. This will be a fascinating challenge for Nebraska, which was the Big Ten’s second-best defensive rebounding team in conference play. It will be all hands on deck when it comes to securing caroms.

On the perimeter, Baylor relies heavily on two players: point guard Kenny Chery and sharpshooter Brady Heslip.

The undersized Chery excels in the midrange, thanks largely to a floater that has allowed him to shoot 49 percent on twos this season – an impressive figure for a 5-11 player. Chery is also one the nation’s leaders in assist rate.

Heslip is one of those players that does just one thing well, but he does it so well that he’s still valuable. For Heslip, that one thing is three-point shooting. The 6-2 senior has made 47 percent of his threes this season, and he attempts nearly seven per game. Heslip is even more dangerous in transition, where he has shot an unreal 53 percent on threes. The three-point shot is Brady Heslip’s layup, and the Huskers would be wise to stay cognizant of his whereabouts at all times. Nebraska hasn’t been all that good at preventing open threes this season, so Heslip might be in line for a big day.

On defense, Baylor isn’t nearly as good as you’d expect given the size of its frontline, headlined by 7-1 shot-eraser Isaiah Austin. The Bears play a sagging zone that sometimes looks like a 1-3-1, preferring to make teams beat them from the perimeter. Too often, opponents have done just that. Big 12 opponents shot a staggering 38 percent on threes against Baylor, and that’s not a conference that is particularly accurate from three. Some of that is bad luck, but the Bears also give up a lot of open looks from outside.

The tradeoffs are that Baylor rarely sends opponents to the foul line, and opponents have shot only 52 percent on layups and dunks this season. Nothing inside comes easy against Austin and company, so Nebraska will have to make some jumpers to win. Given the Huskers’ iffy field goal accuracy, that might be a problem.

KenPom projects a 68-66 win for Baylor – basically a toss-up – but I think this is a worse matchup for Nebraska than the headline efficiencies say. I’ll take Baylor by eight.

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