What to Expect: Nebraska

  • 12/27/2016 11:35 am in

Indiana opens conference play on Wednesday night with Nebraska at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Cornhuskers are 6-6 and are coming off an 81-76 win over Southern that snapped a three-game losing streak.

The game will be broadcast at 6:30 p.m. ET on BTN with Cory Provus and Shon Morris on the call:

Indiana’s regular season Big Ten championship defense begins Wednesday. The Hoosiers will tip off league play against a Nebraska team that is struggling to find an identity after losing its two best players in Shavon Shields (graduation) and Andrew White (transfer).

The Hoosiers have the two best non-conference wins of any Big Ten team in Kansas and North Carolina, but also have a head scratching loss to Fort Wayne and a neutral court loss at Butler. There’s still a chance to claim one more marquee non-conference win on Saturday, but the immediate focus is Nebraska on Wednesday.

Indiana won the Big Ten a season ago in part because it dominated games on its home court. The Hoosiers went 9-0 on Branch McCracken Court last season in league play, winning its home games by an average of 15.9 points. With a 26-game winning streak in Bloomington on the line, can IU continue the dominance?

MEET THE HUSKERS

Since a surprising NCAA tournament appearance in 2014, things have been moving in the wrong direction in Lincoln.

The Huskers are just 35-42 overall since the 2013-14 season. A 6-6 start this season suggests another losing season is likely. Given the investment Nebraska has in basketball with Pinnacle Bank Arena and an impressive practice facility, Tim Miles may be feeling some pressure to show some progress the rest of the season.

Nebraska is driven primarily by a pair of guards, senior Tai Webster and sophomore Glynn Watson. Webster arrived in Lincoln as a promising recruit from New Zealand, but was underwhelming in each of his first three seasons. As a senior, he’s one of the Big Ten’s best guards. In 12 games, Webster is averaging 17 points, 5.1 rebounds and four assists per game. He’s shooting 45.7 percent from the field, 34.8 percent on 3s and 76.9 percent from the foul line.

Webster is most effective as the ball handler in ball screens, according to Synergy Sports. In 79 such possessions, he’s scored 69 points. That ranks in the 70th percentile nationally. Webster is also very good at drawing fouls as he boasts a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 45.1 percent against Division I opponents (one of Nebraska’s wins was against a non-D1 team).

The 6-foot Watson is averaging 12.6 points and is Nebraska’s second most efficient offensive player behind Webster. Watson is also most effective as the ball handler in ball screen situations. In 74 possessions, he’s scored 62 points, which ranks in the 64th percentile nationally.

Evan Taylor, a 6-foot-5 junior college signee who took the scholarship vacated by White, has started the last two games in the backcourt. He’s a low usage offensive player who is shooting just 42.9 percent from the field.

Anton Gill, a transfer from Louisville who sat out last season, has been a disappointment. A former top 75 recruit nationally, Gill is shooting just 27 percent and is averaging 3.8 points in 17.3 minutes per game off the bench. (Update: Nebraska announced Tuesday afternoon that Gill is out for the season with a ruptured patella tendon.)

The two primary names to know up front are sophomores Michael Jacobson and Ed Morrow. The 6-foot-7 Morrow is a terrific offensive rebounder (15.1 OR%, 27th nationally). He’s third on the team in scoring at 10.3 points per game and leads the Huskers in rebounding at 8.4 per game. As great of an offensive rebounder as Morrow as has been, he ranks in just the 32nd percentile nationally in scoring off of putbacks. According to Synergy Sports, Morrow has scored just 31 points on 32 putback attempts.

The 6-foot-9 Jacobson is a solid shot blocker (4.9 block percentage), but brings very little offensively. Jacobson is shooting just 38.8 percent on 2s against Division I competition.

The remainder of the frontcourt rotation consists of three freshmen and a sophomore. Jeriah Horne, a 6-foot-7 freshman, has showed promise in limited opportunities. Horne owns a team-best 61.1 effective field goal percentage against Division I competition. In Nebraska’s win over Southern, Horne scored a team-high 18 points off of the bench.

Isaiah Roby, a 6-foot-8 freshman and Jordy Tshimanga, a 6-foot-11 freshman, should also see some time on Wednesday. Tshimanga is averaging 3.8 points and 3.6 rebounds in 10.3 minutes per game, but is averaging 8.5 fouls per 40 minutes. Roby is just 1-of-10 on 3s.

Sophomore Jack McVeigh, who has started 10 times, appears to be falling out of the rotation. McVeigh played just seven minutes against Southern and didn’t score.

TEMPO-FREE PREVIEW

As the numbers above show, Nebraska is really struggling offensively. The Huskers are just 313th nationally in effective field goal percentage and currently have the Big Ten’s worst offense according to Ken Pomeroy.

If Nebraska is going to make it a game on Wednesday, capitalizing on Indiana turnovers and playing solid defensively are the two keys. The Huskers do a decent job of defending without fouling, but have been very poor at defending the 3-point shot. Opponents are shooting close to 38 percent on 3s against the Huskers.

This should be a good opportunity to get an idea of Indiana’s defensive progress. Nebraska has scored over a point per possession in just one of its six losses. And four teams (Virginia Tech, Clemson, Creighton and Gardner-Webb) have held Nebraska under .90 points per trip. Against a below average offensive team, Indiana needs to put down the clamps defensively.

WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO

KenPom’s model projects a comfortable 15-point win for Indiana and Sagarin likes the Hoosiers by close to 17 when adjusted for home court.

With a pair of top 15 teams in Louisville and Wisconsin up next, this is an important contest for Indiana to stay sharp and avoid looking ahead. The Hoosiers didn’t have Juwan Morgan in the second half against Austin Peay and are still getting OG Anunoby back into the swing of things after he missed several games with an ankle injury. Both players are crucial to Indiana and the Hoosiers have beaten two of the nation’s elite teams when they’ve been completely healthy.

IU’s first three Big Ten games are at home and Wednesday’s is the first step in getting a win to begin a quest for a third league crown in five seasons.

(Photo credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images North America)

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  • BannerOrBust

    I expect Indiana to Steam-Roll those Cornhuskers! Hoo-Hoo-Hoosiers by 12, 79 – 67.

  • BL4IU

    Always looking for the same thing with this team, especially early in the season:

    1. Win; hopefully by 20+ in this game;
    2. Play intense defense and dominate the boards;
    3. Limit TO’s (fewer than 15); and
    3. Achieve balanced FGA’s (roughly 35% of total attempts from three).

  • TomJameson

    Well BL, your number one is kind of obvious. 🙂 The 20 plus would be nice, don’t want this to be a close one. It just wouldn’t look good. Hopefully IU will be focused and not looking ahead to Louisville.

    I really like your next 3 points, which I think should be keys for every game (which is really what you said). I’ve been worried by the TO’s all season and have always been “told” to not worry, they’ll go down. Well I do worry about them. Below 15 would be good for this team, and I would be really happy with anything below that.

    Simple keys, but very important IMO.

  • O.G.Ehman

    Good guys: 84
    Bad Guys: 68

    RJ and JBJ stay hot, Bryant gets a decent number of touches, and there’s no looking ahead to Louisville. Hope those in attendance make a lot of noise with the kids being gone!

  • VAHoosier

    I’ll be there… wife bought me tickets for Christmas. I haven’t been to AH in about 20 years, so I’m really looking forward to seeing all the improvements. Let’s hope the Christmas gift makes me happy and not sad!

  • Ms hoosier

    I’ll be there with ya VAHoosier!! Im also looking forward to seeing Assembley Hall!! I’m gonna get to Bloomington early and eat and Gonna tour Cook Hall! I’m like a kid in a candy store!!

  • pcantidote

    82-64 good guys.

  • Bill Graham

    Just win. Be gritty and get the win. It doesn’t matter by how much. This is BIG play even games with a 15 point spread can end up being nail-biters. Would like to see us just do the simple things. Limit turnovers, play team D, box out and rebound, and most importantly take good shots and if they don’t fall then work the ball inside. If we win this game 64-56 even…I’d take it…defensive consistency is key.

  • cbags05

    Got my xmas present too!

  • Fifer39

    Consistency all round is the key I would say. Difficult to know exactly where this team is right now given the up and down nature of the non-con in terms of performance and quality of opposition. We definitely aren’t consistent at the moment but I’m not too worried given there’s still a long way until March and these darn niggling injury issues are definitely having an impact.

    So I’m with you. Grind it out if need be, keep it simple, avoid looking for home runs, impose ourselves on inferior opposition and don’t let them dictate. A really solid, rather than spectacular, performance will be the best prep for Saturday.

  • VAHoosier

    Hope you have a blast, Ms Hoosier, and I hope we walk out smiling!

  • StudentHoosier

    I love it. Let’s get the real season going!

    Hoosiers by 24.