2010-11 Pomeroy: 60
Indiana is on its first losing streak of the season, and desperately needs a win. This week provides an excellent opportunity for a mini-winning streak, but IU's first trip to Lincoln in nearly 70 years will not be easy.
Because this is the first meeting between IU and the Cornhuskers since NU joined the Big Ten, it's worth taking a look at the Huskers' basketball history. First, I am pleased to have Nebraska as a member of the Big Ten. They are an excellent fit geographically and culturally, and the addition of NU's top-shelf football program gives the conference four of the top nine football programs (by winning percentage) in college football history. And, of course, IU holds a 9-7-3 lead in the football series between the schools, and yes, I will milk that statistic until it is no longer true, and I don't care how bad the Cornhuskers were in the 1940s. All that said, much as when Penn State joined the conference two decades ago, the basketball program is the least appealing part of the package. Nebraska is one of only three teams in the power six conferences--Northwestern is one, South Florida the other--that has never won a game in the NCAA Tournament. Here are how Big Ten schools rate in total number of NCAA appearances:
Ohio State 27
Michigan State 25
Penn State 9
Northwestern and USF are the only major conference programs with fewer NCAA bids than the Cornhuskers as well. NU's first NCAA bid came in 1986, under Moe Iba, and then Danny Nee led NU to appearances in 1991, 1992, 193, 1994, and 1998. Again, all appearances resulted in first round losses. Nebraska's list of 1,000 point scorersdoesn't have many household names, but Hoosiers may recall Eric Piatkowski, drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 1994 but traded before he ever played a game, Tyronn Lue, a role player on a couple of Lakers' championship teams recently, and Jack Moore, who led Muncie Central to the 1978 state championship before playing at NU (he died in a plane crash in 1984).
When Penn State joined the conference, IU and Penn State had never played in football and had met only twice in basketball. IU has played Nebraska 19 times in football and 9 times in basketball, although in both sports there have been few meetings since the middle of the 20th century. This will be the sixth time IU has played Nebraska in Lincoln. IU holds a 4-1 advantage there, is 3-0 against the Huskers in Bloomington (most recently a 97-60 win during IU's undefeated 1974-75 regular season). The most recent meeting was in December 1982, in the Hoosier Classic in Indianapolis. This will be IU's first game in the Devaney Center, the Huskers' 13,600 arena (leave it to Nebraska and Michigan to set their priorities by naming their basketball arenas after football coaches), which opened in 1975. This is the Huskers' second-to-last season at Devaney. In 2013, NU's basketball teams will begin playing in the new 15,000-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena currently under construction in downtown Lincoln.
Nebraska's current head coach is Doc Sadler. He has led NU to three NIT appearances in his first five years on the job, and took UTEP to the NCAA Tournament in 2005. He has only one losing season in his first 12 years as a college head coach.
The Huskers' overall numbers this season are a bit depressing: 9-8 overall, 1-5 in the Big Ten. Still, the Huskers have played pretty well against a brutal opening slate. The Huskers' lone win was at home against Penn State, but NU has played well in its last two road games, five point losses at Illinois and Wisconsin. Their recent improvement (and IU's poor play of late) has been noticed by Vegas, at least: Pomeroy predicts that IU will win this game by 10, but the betting line, which usually is pretty close to Pomeroy is 4.5.
In Big Ten play, Nebraska's defense has been respectable. NU is allowing 1,.02 points per possession, and in certain respects has been very good: NU is #1 in Big Ten play with 22 percent three point defense, is third in defensive turnover percentage at 21.5, and #1 in steal percentage of 12.5. Obviously, a hot start by IU from behind the arc would be a very good sign, and would make it tough for the Cornhuskers, because NU has been horrible offensively. NU is averaging only .83 points per possession on offense, has rarely been to the line in Big Ten play, and turns the ball over quite a bit (22.9 percent). NU doesn't rebound very well (21.9 offensive rebounding percentage, while allowing 36.3 on defense), and has been brutal from behind the arc in Big Ten play (26.9 percent).
|Jorge Brian Diaz||12||28.8||4.1||8.3||49.0||0.0||0.1||0.0||1.6||2.4||65.5||1.3||3.3||4.7||0.7||1.5||0.3||2.3||1.9||9.8|
The Huskers' leading scorer is LSU transfer Bo Spencer. He is averaging 14 points per game, but is requiring nearly 13 shots a game to get there, and is shooting 37 percent overall and only 31 percent from three point range. He leads NU with 2.9 assists per game. Toney McCray had been NU's most effective shooter from deep, making 39 percent of his three pointers. The Huskers have pretty good size, with 6-11 Jorge Brian Diaz and 6-10 Brandon Ubel inside.
Well...what do we think about this one? I have no earthly clue what to expect. Given NU's offensive struggles, this seems like a good opportunity for IU to rediscover the tight and disruptive defense that characterized the Hoosiers' play in November and December. On the other hand, NU's strong defense might extend the offensive struggles that have characterized IU's play against Minnesota and during the meaningful part of the Ohio State game. I hesitate to use the term "must win." I've always thought that this could be a tough game, and if IU hadn't lost to Minnesota at home, I wouldn't be so worked up about this game. If IU loses tonight, then we may well be back where we thought we would be at the beginning of the season: the bubble. There is no guarantee of that. IU could lose tonight, win its remaining home games, steal a couple of road games, and finish 24-7. But there have been bad signs brewing for a couple of weeks, and hopefully we will see some meaningful improvement tonight if nothing else.