Nebraska (2-0) is coming off a throttling of Arkansas Pine-Bluff (0-2), who won the play-in game of the NCAA Tournament last year. They also defeated South Dakota in their first game of the season. The Huskers last year went 2-14 and were dead last in the Big 12. They lost their leading scorer, Ryan Anderson, from that squad. However, Nebraska has benefitted from a couple of transfers they've gained (though one will not be playing against us, per ESPN) and are hoping that their size will be an advantage for them this season.
An interesting side note: The Huskers have really gone after international players and sport two Germans, a Brazilian, and the only Puerto Rican player in the tournament.
Nebraska's Front Court
The strength of the Cornhuskers is their size in the post. Three of Nebraska's international players are Centers and measure in at 6'11". But the biggest of these big threats is 6'11", 315 pound Andre Almeida, a brazilian player who transfered from JUCO last year. Almeida is averaging 12.5 ppg, 5 boards and 2 blocks. Joining him in the post is Nebraska's most dangerous player, 6'8", 210 pound Sophomore Christian Standhardinger, who is averaging 15 ppg and 7 rebounds per game. Standhardinger is really the only player on the Nebraska roster capable of lighting it up, as he put up 25 points against Iowa State last year, 15 points against Kansas and 13 against K-State.
Nebraska's Back Court
Nebraska's leading returning scorer is 6'0" combo guard Brandon Richardson, but the focus of the offense has clearly shifted from him. He's only averaging 3.5 ppg, and wasn't a huge scorer last season either, averaging a little over 8 points a game. Nebraska has a serious deficiency in its ability to score from the perimeter. Their best three point shooter is 6'6" junior Toney McCray, but he doesn't put the up from the perimeter very much. Their other major perimeter player is their 6'3" senior PG, Lance Jeter. Jeter can hit the 3 if left open, but is not a tremendous scoring threat, as he primarily gets the Huskers into their offense.
Style of Play
Coach Doc Sadler likes to slow the pace of the game down, forcing his opposition to get into half-court sets on offense, and then hoping to take advantage of his team's size down low on offense. They run a lot of back door cuts and screens, and typically want to keep the score of the game low.
Keys to the Game
1. Get out and run
There are few matchups this season against major conference schools where Vandy will be more athletically gifted, but this is one of them. If Vandy can come out and control the tempo of the game, they should be able to handle the Huskers with no problems.
2. Play Smart Post Defense
When the Huskers do manage to slow the game down on offense and get into their half-court set, the 'Dores must be alert to the back-door cuts and have to play good, smart post defense. The team is shooting well from the line this season at around 77% on the year, and letting them control the pace and get to the line is really Nebraska's only way of winning this game. Look for them to get it to Almeida frequently and for him to attack Ezeli quickly, trying to force the big man into foul trouble. It will be important for Festus to keep his feet on the ground and not let his arms flail to much, making the big Brazilian's shots difficult without letting him get freebies from the line, where he makes about 70% of his shots. The same goes for Steve T. when he's in the game.
3. Do Not Play Down
Not to be pretentious, but Vanderbilt should win this game, and should win it somewhat handily. Vanderbilt is deeper and more talented in both the front and backcourt. However, any team can lose if they fail to come out with the killer instinct to win. Vanderbilt must know they are the better team in this game from the outset, and must play that way throughout (compare last year's UT game at home to last year's game against a mediocre Western Kentucky at the Sommet Center). If Vanderbilt executes and takes control of the pace of the game, they should win this hands down.