An optimistic view of Saturday’s matchup at Pinnacle Bank Arena would entail Nebraska winning, something it was not able to do in the last game against Indiana. This time however, the team has the help of the home fans, something it didn’t have before.
One of Nebraska’s most exciting games in Big Ten play so far was an overtime defeat against Indiana in Bloomington. With time expiring, junior guard Dachon Burke Jr. heaved a 3-point shot which slid through the basket to force overtime. Nebraska ended up losing the game by six points, but was prideful at having kept pace with one of the Big Ten’s best.
Now, both Nebraska and Indiana are in different situations. Nebraska followed an exciting victory over Iowa with two road losses, one against Northwestern and the other to Ohio State. The common thread between the two losses was disappointing, slow offense and at times lax defending.
Indiana, on the other hand, has its shortcomings as well. After falling against Arkansas at home and Maryland away, it responded with a fantastic display of solidity against Ohio State, holding the Buckeyes to their fewest points all season. Any momentum was then crushed with a loss to Rutgers and one of the worst games all season from star freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Jackson-Davis is one of Indiana’s best players, with a 6.6 in offensive box plus-minus and a 6.5 in defensive box plus-minus, making him one of the highest-impact players in the league according to this metric. Jackson-Davis was Indiana’s standout performer last game against Nebraska, when he scored 25 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.
Nebraska generally tends to perform better against high-pace offenses, but Indiana’s adjusted tempo, according to kenpom.com, is just around average. Indiana tends to average around one more possession than Rutgers per game, a game which Nebraska was beaten thoroughly due to the slower offensive possessions of the game.
Indiana is hardly an offensive juggernaut or defensive powerhouse, but its consistency in both is noteworthy. Indiana is currently 33rd in the nation for adjusted defense and 48th for adjusted offense according to kenpom.com. While those numbers are right around average for the Big Ten, they far outpace Nebraska, which ranks 158th in adjusted defense and 130th in adjusted offense.
So, how was it that Nebraska was nearly able to beat Indiana a month ago? One of the biggest reasons was a cold night from Indiana shooting the ball, only completing five of its 25 attempts from the 3-point line. Indiana is not a fantastic 3-point shooting team, as the Hoosiers currently shoot 29.7% from behind the arc. At the same time, it has a far lower ratio of 3-pointers to 2-pointers, only 29% of its shots are from the 3-point line. This is far eclipsed by Nebraska, which shoots 40% of its shots from the 3-point line.
Nebraska also has one of the best opponent 3-point completion rates in the country. Its opponents tend to only score 29.2% of their 3-pointers against Nebraska, and this is good enough for 31st in the nation. The game against Iowa and to a lesser extent the first matchup against Indiana are good examples of times when Nebraska can use this perimeter defense to its advantage. A lack of presence in the post generally means that Nebraska allows many points in the paint (Nebraska ranks 243rd in opponent 2-point field goal percentage), but its defense overall is encouraging.
Some people may expect Nebraska to beat Indiana after coming so close in Bloomington. After all, the Huskers will have their home fans behind them and have been given three days of rest to game plan against a team it has played before. On the other hand, Indiana is the better team in a number of ways, and any expectations must be tempered against this reality.
This is also the first time this season Nebraska will play a team it has played before, and how Nebraska learns from that away defeat will be another interesting litmus test for head coach Fred Hoiberg’s ability to improve his team over the course of the season.
Nebraska plays Indiana at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.