It's strange really. No matter the team this year in the Big Ten everyone is vulnerable to defeat. Only Michigan and Michigan State have survived this conference season to date without losing a game they should have obviously won. Ohio State and Wisconsin dropped games last night to arguably the two worst teams in the conference, and set the Hoosiers up to truly make a lot of noise with a victory tonight.
However, the Nebraska Huskers very much stand in Indiana's way. Tim Miles and his version of Nebrasketball have defended their home court almost flawlessly. The one blemish coming on a layup rolling around the rim and falling short in a 1 point home loss to Michigan. Nebraska isn't the pushover everyone expected them to be when they came into the conference. Now sitting at #74 in Pomeroy's rankings, they're a 3 point favorite tonight according to the stats guru's numbers.
Fortunately for the Hoosiers, Pomeroy's numbers are going to be a little off now. The Huskers just dismissed their second leading scorer in conference and only real point guard, Deverell Biggs. Biggs, who was Nebraska's best distributor, played with reckless abandon. But he offered a dimension that the Huskers now can't match. This should be something that Yogi Ferrell especially should take advantage of.
Who the Hoosiers are going to have to watch out for is Terran Petteway. Petteway plays 80% of his position's minutes, is used 30% of the minutes he is in and shoots 30% of those possessions. For anyone that didn't quite follow that, Petteway plays, shoots and shoots a lot. In fact, no one else on this squad has a usage rate above 20%. For context, Indiana has 7 guys that get a higher usage rate than Nebraska's second highest guy. Shutting down Petteway is going to be the biggest key to stopping Nebraska.
That role will probably fall on Sheehey. As our most diverse defender the 6-7 Sheehey matches up quite well with the 6-6 Petteway. Petteway is more than likely going to get his, no matter who we throw out on defense, but Indiana needs to make sure he's inefficient in doing so. 5 of Nebraska's 9 losses have come with inefficient Petteway games. Indiana has to find a way to keep him in that low efficiency range. He doesn't really share the ball well, he's prone to turnovers, and doesn't rebound all that well. His points come from drawing fouls and sheer volume. It's going to be a 40 minute long battle to keep him off the scoreboard.
Outside of Petteway, we probably need to worry about Shavon Shields. Not the greatest shooter, and a low percentage two point scorer, he's also a guy that's going to score on volume. Often he bullies his way to the rim to get points and with a 61% free throw rate, a lot of point come from the line. Same goes for Nebraska's PG Tai Webster. Volume scorer, who does so with relative inefficiency and a sky high turnover rate of 26%. For a PG that is something every defense wants to go up against.
To round out Nebraska's starting lineup, you have Florida transfer and former IU recruiting target Walter Pitchford manning the paint. Incredibly efficient in his limited touches he's a strong defensive rebounder and takes very good care of the ball. Sadly for Nebraska he can't stay on the court. He's still got some conditioning issues and therefore only plays about 20 minutes a game. Because of his issues with playing time, Nebraska spends a large chunk of games running a lineup of 6-8 and under. Obviously, every IU fan's light bulb should light up with the idea of Noah Vonleh getting his.
Overall, the Hoosiers have a pretty good shot at this one and doing so would provide Indiana with a huge boost going into Michigan on Sunday. A 2-0 stretch over this week would put the Hoosiers squarely on the bubble and in top 4 contention in the conference. For the way this season has looked at times, that would be a huge place to be sitting at the half way point. But first, Indiana has to take care of business in Nebraska. Though, the numbers say it's close, I think Indiana is the better team. They need to prove it with a road win tonight.