NEW YORK CITY- To simply put it, Michigan was too much for Nebraska to handle. To elaborate, Moe Wagner, Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and Duncan Robinson shot Nebraska back home to Lincoln.
The Michigan trio each finished in double figures to pull their squad away from the Cornhuskers and into the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament. Robinson tallied 16 points off the bench and Wagner added 20 points of his own. But nobody shot the ball better than Abdul-Rahkman who finished with a game-high 21 points on 5-of-5 shooting from behind the arc.
The Wolverines took their first double-digit lead of the game with 7:33 left in the first half on a Zavier Simpson layup and never looked up. The lead grew as high as 18 before Michigan went into the break with a 34-24 lead.
Out of the break, Nebraska got back within single digits. A 5-0 run sparked by James Palmer Jr. brought the Cornhuskers within seven at 40-33 but a 7-0 Michigan run immediately followed and stopped any comeback attempt.
The Cornhuskers were led by Palmer Jr. and Isaiah Roby who each scored 16 points to lead their team. Glynn Watson Jr. chipped in 10 points as well to be Nebraska’s only other player that finished in double-digits.
Let’s see what we can takeaway from Michigan’s win.
What We Learned
Duncan Robinson is becoming a dangerous weapon
Michigan has a weapon on its bench that not many other teams in the conference have. A scorer who, in limited time, can put up 10-15 points in any game.
That player is Duncan Robinson.
But it was the move to the bench that made Robinson the weapon that he his. Since Michigan has gone with Isaiah Livers in the starting lineup over Robinson, he has been a different player.
So far in the Big Ten Tournament, we have seen him save Michigan against an inferior opponent in Iowa, and help the Wolverines run away from their opponent against Nebraska. The latter came Friday afternoon.
In 29 minutes off the bench, the senior scored 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 shooting from behind the arc. Those are numbers you would not expect from a player as one-dimensional as Robinson and in a limited roll.
Michigan needs more from Charles Matthews
Charles Matthews was once the go-to-guy for Michigan. The Kentucky transfer began the season as one of the best players in the conference, scoring in double-figures seven out of Michigan’s first eight games.
However, down the stretch he has become a streaky scorer. in his last 10 games Matthews has finished in double figures six times, while being held to five points or less three times. Against Penn State on Feb. 21, he finished scoreless. What was once a threat to step out behind the arc and connect on three-pointers, Matthews has made just five in his last eight games while missing 10.
Against Iowa in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, Matthews scored and scored often to the tune of 16 points. On a night where Michigan did not shoot well, he was once again an offensive bright spot. But Friday against Nebraska he was not. He finished with just four points, all coming at the free-throw line.
Michigan did not need Matthews against Nebraska Friday afternoon. Wagner, Robinson, and Abdur-Rahkman produced enough offense to put away the Cornhuskers early in the second half.
But for the Wolverines to get past Michigan State and get to championship Sunday, Matthews needs to get back to being an offensive threat.
Does Nebraska deserve to go dancing
Nebraska’s case to get into the NCAA Tournament is a tricky one . It will be one of the closest tournament resume that a bubble team can have. And it will all come down to if they have good enough wins.
Well, let’s take a look.
Unfortunately for the Cornhuskers, their near misses out-weight their wins. Multiple times this season, Nebraska has come within possession defeating tournament-bound opponents. They lost 73-72 against Kansas at home, 76-74 at Penn State, and 64-59 at Ohio State.
Nebraska’s best win came in mid-January when they pounded then No. 23 Michigan 72-52.
But what hurts Nebraska’s resume the most was not what they did, or did not do, but what another Big Ten team did, or did not do. On Dec 6 at home against then No. 14 Minnesota, the Cornhuskers took care of business to get a resume worthy 78-68 win. And then Minnesota fell apart. After struggling with injuries and suspensions to starting players, the Gophers finished 15-17, as far away from the NCAA tournament they could get.
Nebraska did their job, but unfortunately wont get any credit for it. And because of that the Cornhuskers will most likely not see their name called on Selection Sunday.
Michigan winning sets up what could end up being the best game of the Big Ten Tournament when the take on the 1-seeded Michigan State Spartans in the semi-finals. With the Wolverines winning the only matchup between the in-state rivals this season, Tom Izzo’s squad will be chomping at the bit to send Michigan home. This game provides every kind of story line that a college basketball fan could want and may be decided in the final possession.
For Nebraska, it is now a waiting game. Will they see their name called on Selection Sunday or will they be competing for a NIT championship. Either way, Tim Miles deserves all the credit for getting his group to where they got. The Cornhuskers were picked to finished 12th in the conference by the media and found themselves having a double-bye in the conference tournament. Whether they make the tournament or not, there is no reason for Nebraska to be down on what they accomplished.