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The comparisons on film were almost impossible for Tim Miles to ignore, and they certainly didn't ease his stress in preparing No. 11-seeded Nebraska for its first-round NCAA Tournament matchup with No. 6-seed Baylor on Friday.
More than any team the Huskers have faced in their 19-12 road to their first trip to the Big Dance since 1998, Miles said the Bears reminded him much of what his team saw back on Dec. 28 at Cincinnati. The Huskers were out-muscled and out-matched in a 74-59 route by the Bearcats, and in terms of overall size, length and athleticism at all five positions on the floor, Miles said Baylor presented many of the exact same challenges NU faced two and half months ago.
"I think they're longer, too," Miles said of Baylor. "We've got every trick in the book going out there in practice… That's where you've got to be crafty and use your post moves and your fakes and your pivots and understand that you can't just go out and out-quick these guys, because you're not going to out-quick their length. They're going to be there. They're just there already. Whether we stick a broom in the air and make them shoot over the broom or - I'm thinking about doing the foam finger thing. Two tennis rackets? That'd be good."
The main issues that Baylor's long and talented roster presents come with the Bears' 1-3-1 zone defense, which ranked second in the Big 12 Conference in scoring defense at 68.4 points allowed per game. Miles likened the scheme to former Fresno State coach Jerry Tarkanian's famous "Amoeba defense", which was more of a 1-1-3 look with the wings playing far enough up court that at times it looked almost exactly like BU head coach Scott Drew's strategy.
Miles said he felt comfortable about his staff's plan to attack the 1-3-1, but that would really all depend on how the Huskers reacted to Baylor's impressive length in the front court and in the low post. Cincinnati boasts a lineup similar in size to the Bears, and while Nebraska has grown a lot as a team since that loss in December, there's no denying how much NU struggled with the Bearcats. Not only did Nebraska shoot just 35.7 percent from the field in that game, it was out-rebounded 40-30, out-scored 34-14 in points in the paint and 21-9 on second-chance points. The Huskers also sent the Bearcats to the free throw line 30 times on 23 fouls in the loss.
The good news for NU is that having a full season in the Big Ten Conference has helped it adapt much better to that physical style of play over the past two months. Sophomore forward Terran Petteway, who played his freshman season in the Big 12 at Texas Tech before transferring to Nebraska, said he didn't think Baylor would present them with anything they hadn't already seen this season.
"They're a physical team, but we play in the Big Ten, so I don't think we'll see any team (in the tournament) that's any more physical than any team in the Big Ten," Petteway said. "The Michigan States, the Ohio States, Wisconsin. So physicality, I don't think we're worried about that."
Nebraska is also hoping to bounce back from it's epic 18-point collapse against Ohio State in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament last week. Miles said the team spent Monday watching film of that game and that he "rubbed their face in it for and hour and a half". Miles also said two Huskers - which he did not name - even stood up and apologized to their teammates for their play and their behavior in the loss.
"I thought that was a good sign, because we fell under frustration real easily," Miles said. "Some of the reasons we were having trouble with the press didn't have anything to do with schematics."
Petteway said he was confident the Huskers wouldn't run into a situation like that again, not only the rest of the way in the NCAA Tournament, but as long as this group was around to have a say in the matter.
"When we watched film, you could just feel it in the room that everybody was just like, there's no way that's happening again," Petteway said. "The way we played, the emotions that we were showing, including myself, you could just feel it in the room with the coaches and the players, like, that's not happening ever again. Like we said, we're glad that happened in the Big Ten Tournament instead of the NCAA Tournament, because now we can learn from it and move on."