I've called several games this year "must wins" for various reasons: The Michigan State game was a "must win to prove you're a good team", the Michigan game was a "must win to prove you're elite", and the Wisconsin game was "must win to prop back up fan hopes." This Nebraska game is another must win, but this time it's a "must win to salvage the season." I still think this is a very good team and normally Nebraska at home should be an easy one, but there are a lot of bad things swirling around this team and sometimes when things go south they go south in a big way.
The team's lost four straight, including probably the most embarrassing loss in Tubby Smith's time here. The players are regressing with Rodney Williams turning into a jump shooter and Dre Hollins playing out of control more than usual. Tubby's assigning all the blame for the skid to his players and they're noticing. Tubby seems distant during and after games, like he's not really even coaching. The players seem a bit out of it as well, probably because of this. Now these are all observations from someone who doesn't see this team day-to-day so I could be way off, but I'm catching a whiff of some major issues. This Nebraska game can either dispel those concerns and we can worry about the Gophers getting a good seed, or it can confirm them and we can start reading Bubble Watch again this year.
Looking at Nebraska, there's no doubt whatsoever that losing to the Huskers would be an unmitigated disaster because this is a bad team. Their best win this year is probably their home win over Northwestern, and they balance that out with losses to Kent State and UTEP, along with a bunch of more understandable losses. The overall schedule is actually pretty good (8th best SOS in the country) but the problem is not only have they not beaten anybody but there haven't even been any close calls - a six point loss to Sconnie in the Kohl Center is the closest they've come. Mainly they just get blown out - Creighton (by 22), Oregon (22), Ohio State (26), and Illinois (20) have all blown out the Huskers this year, while a nine point home loss to Purdue is the only other loss they have where they've even kept the final margin in the single digits. Yeah, Nebraska is battle tested, but they've also failed spectacularly every time.
Playerswise they just don't measure up. Andre Almeida is interesting because he's 6-11 and weighs 314 lbs. (and honestly that might be light), but he also only plays 15 minutes per game because he's too big and he might be hurt or something, I didn't look it up. Their leading scorer is Dylan Talley, a 6-6 wing who is one of your classic "do it all" types and they have additional size with Brand Ubell who runs 6-10 234 and averages 12 & 7, and they supplement with some outside bombing from Rey Gallegos, who averages 8 three point attempts per game but hits a sad 29% of them. They don't have a point guard (only Talley averages more than 2.5 assists per game) and only Talley would start on many of the other Big 10 teams. Tim Miles is an oustanding coach and he's already improved recruiting in Lincoln, but they aren't there yet.
The Gophers should roll. Nebraska can't hang with them - or shouldn't be able too. The only way the Gophers lose is if it's true that the wheels have come completely off this season. I'm not ready to believe that yet when we're talking about the second best Gopher team of my lifetime. I think they'll be some scary moments tomorrow, but eventually the Gophers reassert themselves and I can breath again.
Gophers 68, Nebraska 56