- Allison Farrand/Daily
By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 8, 2014
Michigan sophomore forward Mitch McGary underwent potentially season-ending back surgery Tuesday, but for the rest of the Michigan men’s basketball team, Big Ten play will continue when the Wolverines take on Nebraska on Thursday night.
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Michigan (2-0 Big Ten, 10-4 overall) hopes to hand the Cornhuskers their first-ever loss at Pinnacle Bank Arena, which opened September 2013. Nebraska is a perfect 7-0 there, but the Wolverines will be the Cornhuskers’ first real challenge in defending their home-court advantage after playing a fairly easy home schedule thus far.
Michigan, on the other hand, faced a grueling non-conference schedule, including games against three teams ranked No. 17 or higher in the AP poll. But the Wolverines have kicked off Big Ten play against teams picked to finish in the bottom tier of the conference. Coming off of wins against Minnesota and Northwestern, Michigan will put a four-game winning streak on the line in Lincoln.
On paper, Nebraska (0-2, 8-6) shouldn’t pose much of a challenge. The Cornhuskers came into the season ranked last in the Big Ten preseason media poll. But that, of course, doesn’t mean Michigan coach John Beilein is taking them — or their two losses in conference play — lightly.
“They have played a very difficult schedule overall,” Beilein said in a radio interview with WTKA-AM. “They started off with two road games in the Big Ten. They came out 0-2 against two nationally ranked teams.”
Those programs — Iowa and Michigan State — downed the Cornhuskers handily, defeating them by 10 and 31, respectively. But both of those games were on the road, and Beilein knows full well how difficult it is to win away from home.
“They’re a good team. They added the point guard position with a kid from New Zealand with a lot of game experience,” Beilein said in the interview. “(Ray) Gallegos is an incredible shooter. They added another transfer at the wing that is their leading scorer right now.”
Nebraska’s biggest threat is sophomore Terran Petteway, who has deservedly earned the respect of his teammates and opponents. The 6-foot-6 forward leads the team with 17.3 points per game. Petteway — who transferred from Texas Tech and sat out last year — is a dual threat who has the ability to drive to the basket or step back for a jump shot, making him dangerous at the shooting guard position.
Gallegos, a fifth-year senior, has also been productive for the Cornhuskers, shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc.
On Michigan’s end, fifth-year senior forward Jordan Morgan and redshirt junior forward Jon Horford have both stepped up their play and leadership after being handed the share of McGary’s minutes since he opted for surgery. Beilein said both have continued to improve as they’ve gotten in better game shape. The coach also said he won’t hesitate to use redshirt sophomore forward Max Bielfeldt if either Morgan or Horford get in foul trouble.
Beilein refuses to admit he’s expecting a victory in Lincoln. But if the Wolverines can overcome their road struggles to play at a high level, they could blemish the Cornhuskers’ home record.
“Their talent is so much better than it was last year,” Beilein said. “(Nebraska coach Tim Miles) did a great job with that team last year. Now they have a really talented team. It’s going to be one of those games where we’re going to have to play absolutely our best to get a win.”
NOTE: Beilein said “everything went well” with McGary’s surgery Tuesday, adding that the sophomore would be back in class Thursday.