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Game Preview: Nebraska Cornhuskers

It's the team that can't score playing the team that can't defend. It's New Year's Eve in Lincoln, Nebraska. LET US #B1G.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports


Who? Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-4, #92 KenPom) v. Indiana Hoosiers (10-3, #45 KenPom)

When? 5:30 PM, BTN

Vegas? NEBRASKA -3.5

Pomeroy? NEBRASKA by 1, 48% chance of Indiana victory


It's the season of #B1G #B1G #B1G

It's finally here.





Tom Crean has yet to come out of Lincoln victorious in two attempts since Nebraska joined the Big Ten and found out they also have to play basketball. If you'll recall (without vomiting), the Hoosiers saw themselves get swept by an upstart Huskers squad last year as Tim Miles brought Nebrasketball to sights unseen which ultimately resulted in making the tournament as an 11-seed before getting bounced by Baylor in their first game.

The Huskers have retained the vast majority of last year's major contributors but have been in something of a funk this year. KenPom had them at #36 at the beginning of the year and they've plunged almost 60 spots throughout the non-conference schedule thanks mostly to a bizarre inability to score the basketball.

Out of 351 Division I basketball teams, the Huskers offensive efficiency is ranked 246th. They've never been scoring demons under Tim Miles, but they're offensive performance so far has been unforeseen kinds of brutal. They're still playing elite defense, with the #17 unit in the country in that regard, making for a very interesting matchup with Indiana, who, as we're all well aware, owns a pretty stark split between their two units as well, with the 10th ranked offense and the 190th ranked defense.

So what is going on with Nebraska? For that, we'll need more numbers.


Four Factors
eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (Offense) 57.7% (10th) 17.3% (47th) 36.6% (45th) 38.8% (143rd)
NEBRASKA (Defense) 43.6% (44th) 22.7% (47th) 29.9% (125th) 34.8% (132nd)
eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (Defense) 47.6% (130th) 16.8% (321st) 33.5% (250th) 26.1% (16th)
NEBRASKA (Offense) 48.7% (162nd) 21.6% (274th) 26.8% (298th) 45.9% (33rd)

With the numbers laid bare, Nebraska's offensive problems become obvious. They're actually shooting slightly better than last year, but their TO% has plummeted from last season where they ranked 68th in the country and their continued ineptness to secure offensive rebounds combines to limit their overall chances on offense and while they're shooting is ever-so-slightly better than average, it isn't near enough to make up for the possessions that they're simply giving away with turnovers and poor offensive rebounding.

Then there's the curious case of Terran Petteway. Petteway has never met a shot he wouldn't drunkenly marry in a Las Vegas drive-thru chapel. He took 32.0% of Nebraska's shots last year and is now taking 34.4% of them this year while playing 83.2% of the Huskers available minutes. He's taken 177 shots, good for 31st overall in the country, and that's for a team that is 219th in tempo. Of those shots, 69% come away from the rim and 42% of his attempts come from behind the arc. He combines this all to shoot 49% from 2, 32.5% from 3, good for an eFG% of 48.9% which isn't horrible but combining it with the veritable ABUNDANCE of shots he takes, it makes him one inefficient college basketball player. Petteway often pours in the points more often than not, but 20 points becomes less impressive when it takes 18-20 shots to do it.

This is starting to sound familiar. Let's take a look at who his #1 KenPom player comparison is and-BAH GAWD THAT'S BP3'S MUSIC.

What am I getting at? It's simple: we haven't seen Terran Petteway and Brandon Paul in the same room together before, and maybe there's a reason for that. Folks, you can't prove Petteway isn't actually just Brandon Paul, so I don't have to prove he is. Follow the money. It's the classic "grow out dreads and get reconstructive facial surgery" gag that The Simpsons probably did like a hundred times.


Petteway does cash in 57% of his 3-pointers from the left corner, but is otherwise shooting under 50% from every other spot on the floor that isn't directly at the rim. Defending him is an absolute must for the Hoosiers, as he's the shot-taker for this squad. He's going to be their leading scorer, but Indiana must make sure he takes a multitude of shots in order to make that happen.

Post Matchup

I'm sure Tim Miles noted how easily Josh Smith and Georgetown bullied their way to the rim against Indiana, but they (thankfully) don't have a certified hoss down low that approaches the size of Smith. In fact, their big dude is much more likely to step out to the perimeter than bully his way to the rim.

Walter Pitchford is a tall dude, coming in at 6-10 (but weighing only 237 pounds), that has struggled offensively (like much of the roster) so far this season. Despite this large frame, however, Pitchford prefers to step out and take the three point shot (31% on 58 attempts), probably in-part because has been woeful around the rim, converting at only a 33% clip. He possesses a team-worst Free Throw Rate among major contributors (24.2%) and is only making 40.9% of his free throw attempts, anyway. He's taken 25 more threes than twos but his long distance accuracy has dropped ten whole points from last season, which is certainly contributing to Nebraska's scoring woes. A 6-10 guy that can hit the three point shot is certainly a weapon, as most opposing big men aren't comfortable guarding the perimeter, but hitting only 31% typically means he needs to be wiser about picking his spots.

Shavon Shields is the only Cornhusker who takes up a significant number of possessions to compile an offensive rating above 100. Freshman Tarin Smith and senior David Rivers are also above 100, but have low usage marks of 15.2% and 11.2% respectively. Shields is horrible from the perimeter but gets deadlier as he gets closer to the basket and is certainly Nebraska's biggest threat at the rim both to convert the shot (71%) and get to the line (61.1% FTR, 87.5% FT). His size (6-7) and speed could cause problems from Troy Williams who is most likely to draw his assignment. Given that Hanner Mosquera-Perea will often be walking all the way out to the three point line to keep on Walter Pitchford, Troy could find himself in plenty of one-on-one defense against Shields driving to the basket. The junior also has the ability to pull up and can a mid-range jumper if you sag too far off of him.

Three Things to Watch For:

  • Can the Hoosiers score at the rate they're accustomed to? This is one of the stingier defenses they'll face all year, but Nebraska has yet to see an offense that's anything close to Indiana's caliber. We know the Hoosiers struggle to stop even bad offenses from scoring, so if Nebraska proves to be up to the challenge of shutting down Indiana's shooters, it could be a long night.
  • Can Indiana stop a bad offense from looking good? Multiple times this year, Indiana has taken the court against some fairly bad offenses that suddenly found their rhythm and shot against the Hoosiers. As good as Nebraska is at defense, they're equally opposite on offense and it would be pretty neat if the Hoosiers could actually keep it that way for at least one more game.
  • How will this young team handle a hostile environment? Tim Miles has done the seemingly impossible and made Nebrasketball something people get super excited for. Their practically-brand new arena can become a madhouse when the Huskers get rolling and the Hoosiers have yet to deal with any sort of overly-hostile atmosphere given that this will be their first true-road game. The ability to stay composed early and during Nebraska runs will go a long way in determining the outcome for Indiana. Last year they had a big lead on the road in Lincoln and as soon as the Huskers started to chip away at it, the crowd picked up on it and drowned out the Hoosiers as they made mistake after mistake before eventually losing a game they had lead by 13 at halftime in.