1. Going into Big Ten play, Nebraska sits at 8-4, with wins over Cincinnati and FSU but losses to Incarnate Word and Hawaii. How do Huskers fans feel about the team thus far, and what are the biggest concerns about the team after 12 non-conference games?
David: This team has talked openly that the weight of expectations placed on them were probably more than they were ready to bear. It doesn't help that the weaknesses this team had last year didn't get addressed, and frankly, got worse. They're not getting much production from the point guard position which is basically status quo from last season. They haven't established anyone as an outside threat to take the place of Ray Gallegos on the court, despite the fact he really didn't shoot very well last season, he was still a threat to go off on any given night, which meant he had to be defended. They haven't replaced that threat. Finally, they were thin on the post last year and they're thinner, at this moment than they were in 2013-14. Two of their three post players are on the bench and, while they may be back soon-ish, but not before they take the floor this afternoon. I'll feel a lot better about this team when they get back in the rotation.
2. Nebraska has already won quite a few games by winning low-scoring, grind-em-out matchups (i.e. Cincinnati, Loyola Marymount). How will this defensive style conflict with Indiana's high-powered offense and penchant for shooting from behind the arc?
David: How does the saying go? "You win with pitching and defense." Something like that. I may be getting my sports mixed up. Whatever. You know as well as anyone, once conference play gets here, the intensity goes up. I expect that to happen today. Nebraska's perimeter defense will no question be tested, but I trust NU will come up with a plan to slow them down. It doesn't hurt that this will be IU's first true road game. I expect a fired up crowd ready to celebrate the New Year. NU's last game in Hawaii, I think, was the closest we've seen to what we saw from them down the stretch last year. A hounding defense and pushing to score in transition. If they get back to that, I think we'll be in for an entertaining game.
3. I don't think I need to remind Hoosiers fans of Terran Petteway, especially after the way he helped beat Indiana twice last season. Has Petteway lived up to his preseason hype so far this year, and do you see him being a big factor in this game again?
David: Petteway is never not a big factor. Either he has a terrible game or he's a key contributor. It's almost never somewhere in the middle. Petteway is almost the exact player he was last season. He's gonna take a lot of shots. Probably about 5 ill advised shots that will have everyone in the crowd cringing. Likely another 8 or so going to the rim, likely drawing fouls in the process and finally 5-10 more that could be either of those. If they're more going to the rim and less fade away jumpers 20' from the goal, NU will be in good shape. If he descends into hero ball which he is occasionally wont to do, the Hoosiers will probably be in the game or better. His scoring numbers are right about in line with what he did last year. He still has terrible body language at times, carries mistakes over to the other end of the court and is an explosive scorer. He's the same guy.
4. Indiana is a relatively small team this year, and the Hoosiers had no answer for Georgetown center Josh Smith during our overtime loss on Saturday afternoon in the Big Apple. Who in Nebraska's frontcourt could cause the Hoosiers trouble at the rim?
David: Well, as I referenced in question 1, NU is thin there, too. Now, there is some speculation that Moses Abraham, ironically a Georgetown transfer, had been the first guy off the bench for NU and had really settled in on the defensive end. He's a big dude, hard to get around and adept at blocking shots. Unfortunately, he's been out the past three weeks with a hand injury. There has been some talk that he'll be back for the start of conference play, but he's still a week or so away. The only front court player is Walter Pitchford and he's not a great defender and likes to shoot 3's. Could be a matchup nightmare for IU on the defensive end, but probably won't be terrifying defending the rim.
5. The Huskers return to Lincoln after winning two of three games at the Diamond Head Invitational in Honolulu last week. Do you think the Christmas-in-Hawaii trip helped the team come together and build some confidence? Or will they still be jet lagged once the Hoosiers roll into town?
David: Playing the game in Lincoln helps. Not wild that it was the last game action they'll have before conference play. I would have liked a little more time between the Hawaii tournament and the start of B1G competition. I'm not worried about jet lag, I'm more worried they're just not ready to handle Big Ten play.
6. Now that it's been three and a half years since Nebraska joined the B1G, how do fans feel about the conference? Has it been a happy alliance or an acrimonious one?
David: I think basketball fans are just fine with it. I've really enjoyed it from that aspect. I think the football fans feel a little hoodwinked. They were promised more marquee match ups vs. teams like Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, etc... And now they're stuck with Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue every year (no offense) [Editor's Note: None taken!]. That's not what people thought they were signing up for. That along with the general mediocrity of the football program since joining the conference and people are disgruntled as a rule these days.
7. Football talk: Quiet offseason in Lincoln, huh? Do you think the writing was on the wall for Bo Pelini (and his cat), or did he deserve another year? Also, how are Huskers fans feeling about new coach Mike Riley? I thought it was a surprising hire myself but not necessarily a bad one.
David: In that sense, this hire was a lot like the Tim Miles hire. On it's face, not really a move people were expecting but as they started to learn more about him, the more it made sense. It appears he may be the right guy, at the right time. We'll see if he can get the players in here to make it work. He's not coming into a place with a bare cupboard. There's talent here. He should be set up to win almost from day one.
As for Bo, it was just time. It had become clear that he is what he is and the relationship between him and the leadership had become toxic. His act had worn thin with much of the fanbase. He's not the guy most wanted representing their football program. However, it was also clear that he ran a clean program, something Nebraskans value highly. His players were rarely in serious trouble and many seemed to be decent people as well. His players loved and revered him but somewhere along the line, they believed that the only people on their side were the people in that locker room and putting on the pads or writing up a game plan every week. That couldn't have been further from the truth. I haven't met a fan who didn't want what's best for the program. They want this team to succeed. They want to be proud of it and they also want it to win at the highest level. We don't believe the two have to be exclusive of each other. Sure, winning 9 games every year is hard to do, but we hold the program to a higher standard than that. I don't think that's delusional.
This is a highly nuanced situation that would require much more conversation than this forum will allow, so that's the brief answer. I'd be happy to discuss in further detail somewhere down the line, but in short, I believe the time had come that for the health and sanity of all parties, it was best for Bo and Nebraska to go their separate ways. I hope one day the players understand that no one was ever rooting AGAINST them to fail.
8. Prediction time: who wins at Pinnacle Bank Arena on New Year's Eve?
David: I would be lying if I said I'd based this prediction after a thorough review of both Indiana and Nebraska and how they match up. I won't try to deceive you in such a way. What I do know is that I expect NU to play well, to ratchet up the intensity and hopefully play a little desperately, with the chip on their shoulder they played with last year. The non-conference schedule didn't go the way they want and they won't be at full strength. I expect a full, rowdy New Years Eve crowd to make life hard on the Hoosiers in their first true road game of the season (I'm right about that, correct?). I expect to see NU's main guys, Petteway and Shavon Shields (have I really gone this far without mentioning him? For shame!) do their thing. If IU lacks front court guys, I could see Pitchford having a big night as well. If that happens, I think NU will finally start a conference schedule with a win. Something they haven't done since joining the Big Ten. I'll say NU wins 72-61.
Thanks, David! The Huskers and Hoosiers tip off tonight at 5:30pm on BTN from Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln.