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Maryland's first Big Ten road game at Nebraska stacks up as a real test

The Terps will face their sternest test since losing to Notre Dame when they travel to Lincoln to face Nebraska Saturday afternoon in their first Big Ten conference road game.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Maryland Terrapins @ Nebraska Corhnuskers

WHAT: Women's basketball B1G Conference game

WHERE: Pinnacle Bank Arena, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE

WHEN: Saturday, January 3, 2015 4:00 pm Eastern


Whence Cornhuskers

In its early years, Nebraska seemed to have something of an identity crisis. When Nebraska fielded it's first intercollegiate football team in 1890, they were known as the Old Gold Knights. The school adopted scarlet and cream as its official colors in 1892 and for the remainder of the decade the teams were known variously as the Antelopes, Rattlesnake Boys, and the Bugeaters with the latter being the most popular. Bugeaters referred to "insect-devouring bull bats that hovered over the plains."

The Bugeaters suffered their first losing season in 1899 and, according to Nebraska's website,

Lincoln sportswriter Charles S. (Cy) Sherman, who was to gain national renown as the sports editor of the Lincoln Star and help originate The Associated Press Poll, provided the nickname...

Sherman tired of referring to the Nebraska teams with such an unglamorous term as Bugeaters. Iowa had, from time to time, been called the Cornhuskers, and the name appealed to Sherman.

Iowa partisans seemed to prefer Hawkeyes, so Sherman started referring to the Nebraska team as Cornhuskers, and the 1900 team was first to bear that label.

Regarding their mascot, the website goes on to say,

There is no official symbol of a Cornhusker and various cartoonists have caricatured the mystical something that typifies Nebraska football - some winning fan approval and others arousing fan ire.

The cartoon character, "Herbie Husker," evolved out of Nebraska's trip to the 1974 Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Artist Dirk West of Lubbock, Texas, designed a Cornhusker cartoon for the Cotton Bowl press headquarters that caught the eye of former Husker SID Don Bryant. Later, Bryant contacted West for permission to use the cartoon, and West expressed a desire to refine his original cartoon and improve some of the character's features. As a result, West was commissioned to draw an original Cornhusker cartoon character that served as a mascot for all Husker athletic teams.

Here's a final interesting tidbit. There exists a process in linguistics called back formation. This happens when speakers of a language form a new word by removing a suffix. For example, the French (who ruled England for a time) word for a small red fruit is 'cerise.' The more Germanic speakers of English brought the word into their tongue as 'cherris.' Now, to the English speaking ear, the 's' indicated that the word must refer to some number greater then one. Thus, through the process of back formation, the English word cherry was born.

Well, in 1945, the state of Nebraska went through a process analogous to back formation. You see, in 1895, the Nebraska legislature adopted an official nickname for their state deciding that henceforward Nebraska would be known as The Tree Planters State. Fifty years later, a new legislature adopted a new official nickname and, nicknaming their state after their football team, Nebraska became the Cornhusker State.

Cornhuskers on the court

Saturday's game will match two nationally ranked teams. If your preference is the AP Poll, number 14 Maryland is facing number 12 Nebraska. If the USA Today Coaches Poll is more to your liking, the 16th ranked Cornhuskers are hosting the 12th ranked Terrapins. Or, if your taste runs to the more data driven RPI, then the Huskers are fifth and the Terps thirty-third. However you look at it, this will be by far Maryland's sternest  test since their loss to Notre Dame.

Nebraska opened the season 7-0 in a stretch that included wins at UCLA and Washington State and a 60-54 decision over Duke in Lincoln in the B1G-ACC Challenge. At home this season, the Cornhuskers are a perfect 7-0. While Maryland's loss to Washington State is a bit perplexing to Terrapins fans, Nebraska's loss on the road at Alabama must be stupefying to Cornhuskers backers. Washington State is a top 60 RPI team while Alabama is number 156. The Huskers' only other loss came on the road in their conference opener when they dropped a 72-69 decision at Minnesota.

Taking a statistical look at Nebraska, it's difficult to find an area where they particularly stand out. They allow the second fewest points per game in the Big Ten but do so as much by slowing the pace of the game, where they average the fourth fewest offensive possessions, as by defensive efficiency where they are firmly in the middle of the conference conceding 0.78 points per possession. The Cornhuskers are quite successful at keeping their opponents off the free throw line. Their opponents get to the line barely 10 times per game.

On offense, the Cornhuskers score 0.96 points per possession - seventh best in the league and considerably behind Maryland's 1.10 ppp. They average just under five rebounds more than their opponents but this again places them in the middle of the pack. Only Wisconsin forces fewer turnovers or has fewer steals and only Michigan blocks fewer shots per game.

Yet, for all these middling statistics, Nebraska has managed to match Maryland's 10-2 record and they have done so playing the 19th most difficult schedule to date. Maryland's schedule ranks as only the 110th most difficult. The GAMER prediction system projects a final score of Nebraska 73 Maryland 60 and predicts an 82.3 percent probablity that the home team will be victorious.

Players to watch

Rachel Theriot, #33, junior, guard, 6'0". Theriot is essentially the do it all player for Nebraska. She leads the team in scoring at 18.3 points per game and dishes out a team leading 5.2 assists per game. As a scorer, she makes 48.2 percent of her shots and, though she is selective with only 26 attempts on the year, she connects on over 46 percent of her three point attempts. She's deadly from the free throw line where she's made 43 of 45 for the season and she rarely comes off the court where she averages 36.2 minutes.

Emily Cady, #23, senior, forward, 6'2". If Theriot is the number one option, Cady is the clear number two. Second in scoring (14.3) and assists (2.8) she is the Cornhuskers' leading rebounder pulling down 9.5 per game. For a player without great size, Cady is extremely efficient making 55 percent of her field goal attempts. Like Theriot, she is also excellent at the free throw line where she shoots 82 percent.


Saturday's meeting will be only the third all-time between the schools and Maryland has won the first two. Nebraska came to College Park where they faced the Terps in the second round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament. The Terrapins never trailed in the game though the Huskers put together a 16-2 run to close to within one at halftime and were within four with five and a half minutes to play before Maryland pulled away for a 76-64 win. The teams last met in the 2012 B1G-ACC Challenge in a game played in Lincoln. The Terps won that game 90-71 behind 25 points and 8 assists from Alyssa Thomas who was more than capably supported by a 21 point 12 rebound effort from Tianna Hawkins.

In conclusion

There are some similarities between Nebraska and Maryland's first B1G opponent, Ohio State. While not quite as small as the Buckeyes, the Cornhuskers, whose tallest starter is 6'2" Emily Cady, will face a distinct size disadvantage against the Terps. However, the same was true when they faced Duke whose roster lists eight players over 6'3" tall. And Nebraska won that game.

Also like the Buckeyes, Nebraska lacks depth. Head Coach Connie Yori has not only utilized the same starting lineup for all 12 games but only six players have played in every game. At 29.4 minutes per game, Tear'a Landermill is the only starter to average fewer than 30 minutes per game. The one player who has come off the bench in all 12 Huskers games is 6'5" sophomore center Allie Havers. No other Cornhuskers player has played in ten games thus far. By contrast, 10 of the Terrapins' 12 players have appeared in at least 10 games. Then again, Duke had a similar depth advantage. And Nebraska won that game.

To come away with a win, the Terps will need to exploit the inside and control the boards. Maryland has had 18 or fewer turnovers in each of their last five games and will need to continue to protect the ball and value possessions. Shot selection could also play a key role. Nebraska's opponents have taken nearly 30 percent of their shots from behind the arc so Maryland will need to avoid settling for three-point shots especially early in the shot clock. The Terps should also try to use of their team speed, depth and athleticism to push tempo and wear down the Cornhuskers.