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January 13, 2010As if there were ever really a good time to have Kansas show up on your schedule, Nebraska may have picked some of the worst timing possibly this time around.
Tonight at 8 p.m., the Huskers get the luxury of playing host to the third-ranked Jayhawks just three days after suffering their first loss of the season to No. 10 Tennessee and lost their title as the nation's No. 1 team.
Not only that, KU is also coming off two straight lackluster performances, as it was almost upset at home by Cornell last week.
In other words, Nebraska is not only preparing to take on one of the best teams in college basketball, but also one of the angriest.
"Kansas just missed some shots (against Tennesse)," NU head coach Doc Sadler said. "I know we can't depend on the open shots that they missed against Tennessee. Kansas is still Kansas. They may have moved in the poll or whatever, but they're one of the two or three best teams in college basketball."
"They've got so much depth," Sadler said. "They've got basically two guys at every position that probably will end up playing in the NBA. You talk to NBA people - you're lucky to have one or two guys that may be pros. When everything is said and done, off this team there's going to be eight to 10."
However, it's not as if Nebraska has already marked the game as a loss. Even though tonight will arguably be the most difficult challenge of the season, NU's young players are more excited than anything to see what they can do against some of the nation's best competition.
"Basically, the lights are on, and if you want to be a big time player, you better show up," junior point guard Lance Jeter said. "I think I'm ready for that, and I think my team is ready for that."
Jeter will have one of the toughest tests of all, as he will likely handle the bulk of the task of defending Collins - one of the Big 12's top scorers. Averaging 15.6 points per game, Collins has an uncanny ability to create his own shots and connect on them more times than not.
In two meetings with Nebraska last season, Collins averaged 19.5 points per contest and was the Jayhawks' leading scorer both times. In a 68-62 win over the Huskers in Lincoln, Collins single-handedly saved the day for KU, as he converted four straight free throws and came up with a crucial steal in the final 30 seconds.
Jeter said he's made it a point to watch extra film of Collins heading into tonight's game not only because he's on the next opposing team, but also to try and learn what has made him such a standout player the past four years.
"You can learn stuff from him because he's been through this Big 12 situation for four years now," Jeter said. "I've just been watching him and seeing what I can take from him, because he is that good of a player. I look forward to playing against him."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
In last year's two meetings, Nebraska did an exceptional job of shutting down Aldrich and forcing Collins to take over the bulk of the work on the offensive end. By using aggressive double teams every time the 6-foot-11, 245-pounder touched the ball, NU kept him away from the basket and made him a limited factor in both games. With 6-11 Jorge Brian Diaz now in the lineup, keep an eye on how much the Huskers utilize the same approach on Aldrich or if they let Diaz try and handle him on his own.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE HUSKERS:
Judging from his eight 3-point attempts on Saturday against Texas A&M, it appears redshirt freshman guard Eshaunte Jones isn't hesitant at all to fire away from beyond the arc now that Big 12 play as begun. Though he made just 3-of-8 treys against the Aggies, Jones leads NU with 12 3-pointers on the season and leads the conference in 3-point percentage at 48.1 percent (26-of-54).
WHO'S HOT FOR THE JAYHAWKS:
While Collins and Aldrich get the bulk of the acclaim, freshman Xavier Henry has arguably been Kansas's best all-around player so far this season. Henry leads the Jayhawks with 15.7 points per game while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field. Not only that, he also leads the team with 33 3-pointers and ranks second in the Big 12 behind Jones at 45.8 percent. Oh, Henry is also averaging 4.2 rebounds per game and has a team-high 26 steals.