What to expect: Nebraska
Indiana opens Big Ten play on Saturday afternoon when it hosts Nebraska Saturday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
The Cornhuskers are coming off of a 104-100 quadruple overtime loss at N.C. State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Nebraska is 5-3 and two of its losses came in Lincoln (Western Illinois and Creighton).
Saturday’s game will tip at 12 p.m. ET on BTN:
Indiana will look to rebound from its first loss of the Mike Woodson era when Nebraska comes to town this weekend.
The Hoosiers put up a valiant effort in a 112-110 double-overtime loss on Tuesday at Syracuse, but couldn’t overcome 26 turnovers that led to 33 points for the Orange. The focus now shifts to Big Ten play for two games as Indiana hosts Nebraska before traveling to Wisconsin next week.
MEET THE CORNHUSKERS
Nebraska retooled its roster again this offseason as it welcomed several transfers and a five-star freshman guard to Lincoln.
The Cornhuskers were dealt an injury blow just three games into the season when guard Trey McGowens suffered a broken foot in a loss to Creighton that required surgery.
The Nebraska backcourt is led by Trey’s younger brother, guard Bryce McGowens. The No. 29 player in 2021 class according to the 247Composite, McGowens is averaging 18.5 points and 7.1 rebounds in 35.5 minutes per game. He’s shooting just 25 percent on 3s, but has already gotten to the free throw line 56 times in eight games. He’s converting 83.9 percent of his attempts from the stripe. McGowens, who is 6-foot-7, already has four games with 20 or more points.
Joining him in the backcourt is Arizona State transfer Alonzo Verge Jr. Verge is leading Nebraska in both usage rate (32.1 percent) and assist rate (45.7 percent). His assist rate ranks second in the country right now. Verge is second on the team in scoring at 15 points per game, but is just 3-of-15 on 3s. He also leads the team with 13 steals and is third on the team in rebounding at 5.8 per game.
DePaul transfer Keon Edwards has started five games, but has only scored four points on the season and only played four minutes in Nebraska’s quadruple-overtime loss at NC State. He’s 0-of-11 on 3s through eight games.
The backup minutes in the backcourt are going to Keisei Tominaga, Kobe Webster and CJ Wilcher.
The 6-foot-2 Tominaga, a native of Japan, has scored 39 points over the last two games. He’s 10-of-16 on 3s over that stretch. Tominaga has committed just two turnovers in 139 minutes and is shooting 38.9 percent overall on 3s.
Webster, who is in his second season in Lincoln after transferring from Western Illinois, shot 37.3 percent from distance last season and is 7-of-17 from deep so far this season. After missing the team’s first two games, Webster had a season-high 20 points in a Nov. 16 loss to Creighton.
Wilcher, a transfer from Xavier, is a 6-foot-5 wing who primarily operates from the perimeter. Over 70 percent of his field goal attempts have been 3s and he’s made 12 of his 36 attempts from distance.
In the frontcourt, Derrick Walker and stretch four Lat Mayen are the starters for Fred Hoiberg. Walker, a transfer from Tennessee, became eligible last season in early January, but appears to be much more comfortable this season. Walker logged 50 minutes in the loss at NC State and is shooting 80.5 percent on 2s. His 10.1 points per game are third on the team and he also pulls down 6.1 rebounds per game.
Mayen, a native of Australia, made 48 3s last season but is off to a poor start from distance this season. The 6-foot-9 junior is just 7-of-26 from the perimeter this season.
Freshman Wilhelm Breidenbach was a major recruiting win for Hoiberg as he chose the Huskers over Cal and USC and was a top 105 recruit according to the 247Composite. The 6-foot-10 forward is averaging 3.5 points and 2.5 rebounds off the bench in 15.9 minutes per game.
Nebraska is a bad 3-point shooting team that places an emphasis on taking care of the ball and getting to the foul line on offense. The Huskers are 22nd in the country in turnover percentage (14.5) and are 65th in the country in free throw rate (FTA/FGA) at 36.9 percent. Nebraska is shooting 72.4 percent from the line and 56.3 percent on 2s, which is 30th best in the country.
There’s no doubt that Hoiberg, with his NBA background, is going to spread the floor and try to pick apart the Indiana defense by exploiting matchups where he believes he has an advantage. Nebraska plays one of the nation’s fastest tempos with an adjusted tempo of 71.2 possessions per game according to KenPom. That’s the 62nd fastest pace in the country.
Where Nebraska has really struggled is shooting the 3 and on the glass. The Huskers rank just 314th in the country in 3-point shooting percentage (27.6). They’re just 337th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and 307th in defensive rebounding percentage. This is a game Indiana must dominate on the glass and do a much better job of taking care of the ball than it has in recent games.
WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO
Indiana is an 11-point KenPom favorite with an 83 chance of victory. The Sagarin ratings also like the Hoosiers by 11.
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Indiana has a decisive advantage with Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson in the post and those are matchups the Hoosiers are going to need to exploit early and often. Turnovers will continue to be a real concern for Indiana until improvement is shown and right now, Indiana is 293rd in the country in terms of its ability to take care of the ball.
Holding serve at home is essential for Indiana if it hopes to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016. The Hoosiers have been given an advantageous home conference schedule with four games against the four teams clearly a tier below the rest of league right now in Penn State, Rutgers, Nebraska and Minnesota. Given the fact that Nebraska had one less day of rest and is coming off of four overtimes on the road, Indiana couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to get off to a strong start in Big Ten play.
(Photo credit: Nebraska Athletics)
Filed to: Nebraska Cornhuskers