For the first time since he took the job in 2019, Fred Hoiberg has what looks like a nice Nebraska team that will win a good number of Big Ten games. They’ve already got a seven point win over Michigan State under their belts, and it’s only December.
That said, they opened their Big Ten slate this year with a loss to Minnesota just four days before the win over Michigan State. Their other loss came to a legit Creighton team, but they managed to pick up respectable non-conference wins against Kansas State and Oregon State.
Those wins along with their more comfortable margins of victory in buy games makes Indiana the underdog according to KenPom, Bart Torvik, and Vegas. This could change if Xavier Johnson is back in the lineup, but it likely won’t be an easy game regardless.
Here’s Three Things to know about Nebraska:
Nebraska has gotten pretty balanced scoring this year, but the offense starts with their pair of guards, Brice Williams and Keisei Tominaga. Tominaga is in his third season with Nebraska but is coming off of his most productive year, which earned him Preseason All Big Ten honors.
This year he’s averaging 12.7 points per game to go along with 2.3 rebounds and an assist per contest. His 3-point shooting isn’t quite consistent as his 40% rate last year, but at 33% on the season so far, he’s still a threat to heat up from deep. He leads Nebraska in 3-point attempts.
Right behind him in 3-point attempts is Brice Williams, a 6’7” wing who transferred to Nebraska from Charlotte this offseason. He’s averaginig 13.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game on 34.6% 3-point shooting.
With or without Johnson, Indiana’s guards will have their hands full with Williams and Tominaga. Given his size, we could see a good dose of Anthony Walker or Kaleb Banks guarding Williams on the wing.
Nebraska also has a pair of forwards averaging over ten points per game in Juwan Gary and Rienk Mast. Gary is in his second year with the Huskers after transferring in from Bama, but he’s seen a decent jump in production and 3-point shooting this year.
Gary averages 13.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game while shooting 37% on 3.4 3-point attempts per game. Despite being listed as a forward, he’s only 6’6”, so it’ll be interesting to see how Indiana tries to guard or attack him. He could be an easier cover for Mgbako than Williams, but Hoiberg plays him pretty exclusively at the four spot.
Alongside Gary is Mast, who underwent surgery last month and is a game-time decision tomorrow.
He transferred in this season from Bradley. At 6’10” he has the body of a traditional center, but also takes 3.3 3-pointers a game, which will test Malik Reneau and Kel’el Ware’s ability to defend the perimeter.
Mast also passes well, averaging 3 assists per game to go with 13 points and 9.9 boards. He may be the most versatile big Indiana has seen this year, so it’ll be interesting to see how Indiana’s frontcourt holds up defensively.
Nebraska shoots a lot of threes, which is probably scary for a lot of Indiana fans but also a real opportunity for improvement. It’s only Indiana’s second Big Ten road game of the year, so there’s no reason to come out slow or lose focus defensively as they did in the buy games this year.
They also defend the three well, coming in at 21st nationally in opponent 3-point percentage. There are quite a few stats where the Huskers are elite or near-elite defensively, but their inability to turn opponents over and the high rate of offensive rebounds they allow keep their overall KenPom efficiency score down.
Another stat that jumps off the page is that they get blocked on a whopping 11.9% of offensive possessions. It’s sort of incomprehensible given how many 3-pointers they attempt and their overall size, but it should be welcome news for Kel’el Ware.
Nebraska doesn’t play a particularly fast game in terms of possession length, but they move the ball well and are unafraid to shoot from deep, so Indiana cannot afford the defensive lapses we’ve seen of late.
The good news is that if Indiana can pull this off, Nebraska is good enough this year that a win in Lincoln could look pretty nice come Selection Sunday. Moving to 3-0 in the Big Ten against this Nebraska team won’t be easy, but it’s finally not a trap game to play them in early January.