The Big Ten Tournament tipped off Wednesday night with two match-ups featuring the conference's bottom 4 teams. In the late game, the 11 seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers took on the 14 seeded Rutgers Scarlet Knights. While neither team has a realistic chance to win the tournament, both teams would like a good showing to gain momentum in to next year.
In the end, Nebraska proved they were the better team, as they took down the Scarlet Knights for the third time in as many tries this season. Let's take a look at what we learned from Nebraska's 89-72 win Wednesday night.
What We Learned
1. Nebraska Moves On
The Cornhuskers narrowly missed a first round bye in this tournament, and ended up in the 11 vs. 14 game. Ultimately, this wasn't an issue for Tim Miles' team as they rolled over Rutgers for the third time this season.
As a matchup with Wisconsin Thursday night looms, the Cornhuskers are hoping they can carry some momentum over and come out hot against a Badger team that was idle Wednesday. In their only matchup of the season, Nebraska fell to Wisconsin by 11. The good news for the Cornhuskers is that Shavon Shields will be available Thursday night, unlike the first game between the squads.
2. Shavon Shields Refuses To Let His Career End
Senior Shavon Shields was a beast Wednesday night as the 6'7'' forward didn't want his college career to end against Rutgers. Shields filled up the stat sheet all night as he made 7-15 shots for 20 points including 2 three pointers.
The most impressive part of the senior's game Thursday, however, was his rebounding and defense. Shields added 101 rebounds including 5 on the offensive end. He also contributed 4 steals and 4 assists. The clear leader of this Nebraksa team proved Wednesday night that they will be a tough out in this tournament.
3. Rutgers Can't Play Defense
Rutgers played 19 total games this season against Big Ten opponents. The Scarlet Knights allowed 79 or more points in 16 of these 19 games. Yes, the shot clock is shorter and the pace of play is up this year, but that doesn't excuse this kind of defensive lapse on a nightly basis.
Until Rutgers builds a team of players who buy-in defensively and come out every night and bring it on both sides of the ball, they will continue to see themselves playing as a bottom 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. There are plenty of teams in the Big Ten that don't have as much talent as the top tier teams, but survive by playing tough defense every night. Rutgers has yet to prove they can do this.
4. Corey Sanders Needs To Be The Leader
Freshman guard Corey Sanders saw just 3 of his 12 shots drop as he turned the ball over 4 times. The freshman saw his first season at Rutgers end in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Sanders is clearly the most talented player on a Rutgers team that struggled all season long. Overall, it was an up and down year for Sanders, who averaged 16.2 points per game, but also faced a 2 week suspension toward the end of Big Ten play.
In the end, it is important for Rutgers to build on one of the few bright spots in their program, and that is Sanders. He still has 3 years of eligibility left. In order for this team to have success in the future, their best player has to be a leader, not only on the offensive end of the floor, but also on the defensive end. When your best player sets an example in all areas on and off the court, it goes a long way toward building your program.
Wednesday wasn't a big surprise, as Nebraska handled Rutgers for the third time this season. For the Scarlet Knights, it will be a challenge to come back and be competitive after such a tough season, but if Corey Sanders is back, they have a player to run the offense through.
Nebraska will face Wisconsin on Thursday 25 minutes after the conclusion of the Penn State, Ohio State game which starts at 6:30pm.