Saturday’s game against Iowa will be one where no result would be surprising. An Iowa win seemed completely certain until Wednesday night, when the Hawkeyes were blown out by Purdue. At the same time, Nebraska beat Iowa the last time around in a game that may prove to be Nebraska’s best of the season.
The unfortunate fact is that the early-January victory over Iowa is Nebraska’s most recent victory this season. The Huskers are currently on a seven-game losing streak that could get worse as after the Iowa game, the Huskers play Maryland and Michigan State. In some ways the Huskers may play with desperation, because Saturday’s game may prove to be the last chance the Huskers get at a win for the rest of the season.
It should be noted the situation Nebraska finds itself in is much different from the last game Iowa and Nebraska played. First, Iowa is at home at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and while winning percentages at home continue to decrease throughout college basketball, the Big Ten is one notable exception and Iowa is one of the main contributors to this phenomenon. Iowa has not lost at home yet this season even though it played the likes of both Maryland and Michigan at home in January.
The Huskers have not won a game away from home all season. Away games to Northwestern and Rutgers showed the Huskers have the potential to succeed away from home, but come crunch time they dissolve. Rutgers was an example of this.
This game could come down to the last two minutes, but it would take quite the effort from Nebraska. It’s more than possible that Iowa starts the game on a tear, eager for revenge after its loss to Nebraska earlier in the season. This game could turn out similar to early December’s blowout loss against Creighton, where the Bluejays jumped out to a 27-4 lead, never giving it back up.
Iowa has one of the best offenses in NCAA basketball right now. The Hawkeyes ranked third in offensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com. At the same time, they have one of the highest assist/field goal made ratios in NCAA basketball at third in the nation. Iowa’s tempo is also higher than average, currently ranked 71st in the nation, according to kenpom.com. This means Iowa has a highly dynamic offense that relies on good movement, spacing and the occasional masterclass from junior center Luka Garza.
However, Iowa’s defense is shaky. It is currently ranked 113th in the nation, which isn’t bad by any means, but that definitely sinks Iowa from the top-tier contention it may deserve. Iowa’s defense and its flaws were properly exploited in Nebraska’s victory, as Nebraska coupled strong 3-point defense with its rapid pace.
All of this emphasizes the variability in this game. A whole host of conceivable outcomes can be envisioned, such as a close Nebraska win, or Iowa hitting a few shots late and overcoming a large Nebraska lead. In the end, all of these situations feel more plausible but only one can turn out to be true.
With doom surrounding the game, it may seem impossible that Nebraska finds anything in Saturday’s matchup. The basic, underlying reason is that it’s a rivalry, and weird things happen in a rivalry game. However, Fred Hoiberg is a good coach who may be able to take advantage of the opportunity presented before him. In the end, no analysis can account for how strange and wonderful a game can turn out, especially one between Nebraska and Iowa.