There are three Big Ten teams still looking for their first win in a campus road game.
Indiana is one of them.
For the Hoosiers, Sunday’s game at Nebraska represents their best chance the rest of the way to score a win away from home. After a draining, double-overtime loss at Wisconsin on Thursday, will they?
Fred Hoiberg’s team is back on the floor after postponing Tuesday’s game at Purdue “out of an abundance of caution.” When we last saw the Cornhusker cagers in action, they nearly put a scare into Michigan State in an 84-77 loss to the Spartans. That’s kind of what Nebraska is in Year 2 of the big red rebuild: good enough to maybe worry opposing teams if the 3s fall, but otherwise ... hmmmm ... not very good.
The Cornhuskers shoot a ton of deep balls, averaging 27 3-point attempts and 8.6 long-range makes per game. The latter figure is on pace to be the second-highest nightly average in school history. It’s exactly what you can expect from teams coached by Fred Hoiberg, whose Iowa State squads led the Big 12 in 3s in four of his five seasons with the Cyclones. The problem is, percentage-wise, Nebraska isn’t faring well with this approach just yet. The Huskers are making only 31% of their 3-pointers.
Defensively, Nebraska has struggled — to say the least. All four Big Ten opponents have scored more than a point per possession so far — Ohio State won the Dec. 30 matchup by 36 points — and each of the Huskers’ last three opponents have posted effective field goal percentages of at least 58%. Those three teams — Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State — also combined to shoot 64% inside the arc. That said, it hasn’t been a total defensive disaster for Nebraska, which ranks third in the Big Ten with 7.8 steals per game.
And while Nebraska’s talent level isn’t yet where it needs to be to climb out of the conference cellar, the roster does have some interesting players. Like Teddy Allen. The junior college transfer leads the team and ranks sixth in the league with 18.2 points per game. He’s also helping in other ways, adding 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals per contest. But it’s the scoring that Nebraska needs. Allen has come through with five 20-point efforts, standing as one of only six Big Ten players with a handful of 20-point games thus far. Allen has also been in double figures in each of his past 12 games, scoring 23 against Michigan State in Nebraska’s last game.
As a whole, Hoiberg has an intriguing backcourt mix to flank Allen. Dalano Banton, a 6-foot-9 sophomore from Canada, handles the point. Banton, who registers a nearly 7-foot- wingspan, ranks in the league’s top 10 in assists (4.9) and steals (1.4) while averaging 6.8 boards per game. Pitt transfer Trey McGowens is shooting 45% from 3-point range and ranks 10th in the conference with 1.4 steals per game.
Things to watch
Huskers are about to get some help
After sitting out Nebraska’s first 11 games due to an NCAA suspension dating to his time at Tennessee, junior forward Derrick Walker is on track to make his Husker debut against IU. Walker’s two-year stat line with the Vols was pedestrian — he averaged 1.4 points and 1.7 boards in 64 games off the bench — but Nebraska desperately needs help in its frontcourt. It’s not clear how much time Walker might see in his first game since the 2018-19 season, but the 6-foot-8 forward’s mere presence could provide at least a little boost for a team that needs it.
Are Hunter and Leal fit for an encore?
The bench contributions from Jerome Hunter and Anthony Leal were major reasons why Indiana was able to push No. 8 Wisconsin to double overtime on Thursday. In Hunter’s case, it feels like he could be turning a corner. He’s drilled multiple 3-balls in each of the past two games and made the most of extended minutes against the Badgers. He still fouls too much and his defensive skills aren’t great, but whatever. Hunter is starting to look like someone IU might be able to turn to for much-needed help off the bench. Same with Leal. The freshman played encouraging minutes against Wisconsin and demonstrated that he can play solid defense if given the chance. A second-straight game of meaningful contributions could do wonders for his confidence as IU nears the teeth of the schedule.
Go to the paint, go to the paint, go to the paint, go to th...
As mentioned above, Nebraska needs help down low. It’s just not very good around the rim. Conference opponents are shooting 60.8% on 2-pointers against the Huskers, finding it relatively easy to get points in bunches at the basket. This should be an opportunity for Trayce Jackson-Davis to go to work.
Game Info / How to Watch
Who? Indiana (7-5, 2-3) at Nebraska (4-7, 0-4)
Where? Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln, Neb.
When? Sunday, 6:00 p.m. ET
Channel? BTN | Larry Punteney (p-b-p), Shon Morris (analyst)
Radio? IU Radio Network; Sirius 106, XM 196, Internet 958: Don Fischer, Errek Suhr & Joe Smith
Vegas? Indiana -7