In the opening game of the first round of the NCAA Big 12 conference basketball tournament, the number 8 seed Nebraska Cornhuskers (19-11, 7-9) take on the number 9 seed Oklahoma State Cowboys (18-12, 6-10).
Both teams will likely have to win the Big 12 tournament to make the NCAA tournament. The Oklahoma State Cowboys haven't helped their cause by going 2-5 in their last 7 games while the Huskers have also fell out of contention by going 1-3 in their last 4 outings. It won't get any easier after this one. The winner will survive to take on the number 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks.

In their last game, the Nebraska Cornhuskers bubble was bursted by the Colorado Buffaloes, 67-57. Nebraska was trailing 14-3 right from the start and gradually climbed back into the game. Costly turnovers and poor foul shooting helped lead to their team's demise. Lance Jeter led the Huskers with 10 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds. Toney McCray also added 10 points.

In Oklahoma State's last game, they were upset by the Oklahoma Sooners, 64-61. Oklahoma snapped an 8 game losing streak. The Cowboys were inept on the offensive end, shooting just 40% from the field and were just 2 of 11 from 3 point range while committing 24 fouls. Leading Oklahoma State was Marshall Moses with 16 points and 9 rebounds. Three other players were in double figures but it was a disappointing way to finish off the regular season.

"Holy Moses"

Forward Marshall Moses is the leader of the Cowboys offensive attack. Moses is a solid, consistent contributor that Oklahoma State can count on. He averages 14.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He's also accurate from the field, shooting 55.5% from the field. In his last 4 games, Moses is averaging 18.2 points and 8 rebounds per game. Moses will need to be at full force. Nebraska is tough defensively.

"Turning the Page"

That's exactly what guard Keiton Page will attempt to do as the Cowboys look to run the table in this tournament. In order to do that. Page will need to put up better shots as he's the second leading scorer on the team with 13.1 points per game. Page shoots a pathetic 37.6% from the field yet he's almost automatic at the free throw line at 90.2%. If Oklahoma State has the lead at the end of the game, they want the ball in Page's hands.

Save the Best For Last

Page and Moses are the only starters to have started 30 games this year. With the exception of them, the better players on the team who log the most minutes have only averaged 10 -12 starts this season. Forward Matt Pilgrim who averages 5 points, 5.3 rebounds per game, and is shooting 45.8% from the free throw line is 3rd on the team with 18 starts and guard Nick Sidorakis is tied with Pilgrim at 18 starts. Sidorakis averages 15 minutes per game and 2.4 points on 33.3% shooting. Both Sidorakis and Pilgrim are seniors. Oklahoma State wants their best players to be fresh at the end of games.

The suspensions of Ray Penn and Darrell Williams have hurt the team but and their starts were limited well before their suspensions.

Nebraska's Defense Is the Key To Victory

In 5 out of their last 8 games, the Huskers have allowed under 60 points per game. On the season they only allow 60.2 points per game on 38.6% shooting from the field which is 7th in the nation. Expect Cowboys guard Keiton Page to have problems offensively against this defense. This will be a tough task offensively for Oklahoma State.

While the Huskers defense is stingy, their offense is effective, shooting 46.9% from the field. Nebraska is a well rounded offense. There's no standout stars but they're a collective team of contributors. Eight players average 5.3 or more points per game. There's many options to go to, depending on who has the hot hand for that particular game.

Crunchtime

During pivotal moments of the game, Nebraska will look for their leading scorer Lance Jeter, who can do a little bit of everything. Jeter averages 11.5 points, 4.6 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game. Jeter is a solid go to guard. 

"Center of Attention"

All good teams need good centers and Jorge Brian Diaz gives Nebraska a guy that they can look to inside. Diaz shoots 54.6% from the field, while averaging 10.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. These aren't eyepopping numbers but they're decent numbers for a team that has lot's of options. Diaz's size at 6 foot 11 might play a factor in this game. Oklahoma State doesn't have a legitimate center. Look for Diaz to have a strong performance.

Look for guard Toney McCray to play well in this game. McCray has averaged 13.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in his last 3 games. McCray can shoot from behind the arc. He's shooting 42.5 % from 3 point range this season

Outcome of the Game

This will be a tough matchup. The winner moves on to face Kansas and the loser is likely headed for the NIT. I think that Nebraska's defense and their depth are the deciding factors in this game. My NCAA basketball free pick is to take the Cornhuskers to cover.

Free NCAA Big 12 Pick: Nebraska