Rutgers hosts the Nebraska Cornhuskers this Saturday at the RAC in an intriguing matchup. Last season, the Scarlet Knights lost all three meetings against them by an eye popping average of 25 points per game. This season, Nebraska started off Big Ten play with three straight wins over Indiana, Maryland, and Iowa. However, they’ve come back to earth some and have lost their last three games to Northwestern, Michigan, and Ohio State, all by single digits, including a 1 point heartbreaker to the Buckeyes last night.
While this will be a very challenging game, playing Nebraska at home is one of the best chances Rutgers will have to win in conference play this season. I was fortunate to speak with Patrick Gerhart of SB Nation’s Nebraska site, Corn Nation, in order to find out more about their squad. I asked Patrick about expectations, their aggressive defense, his outlook on this game and much more. Let’s dive in.
What were the expectations for Nebraska entering this season and what is the mood of the fan base at this point so far?
Expectations for the team were a little everywhere this off season. This was especially heightened after the departure of Andrew White III to Syracuse. He was a major scorer last season but all had a little drama follow him around so we weren't sure how the team would do. We knew it would be a little bit of a rebuilding year also with the loss of Shavon Shields. Overall, I think most knew Nebraska could compete in the middle of the conference at it's best but a lot would have to gel together before that would happen.
Nebraska's has performed much better in conference play than it did earlier in the season. What has changed and can they continue on the upswing the rest of the season?
I think the young team finally started to play well together and some of the leadership came out on the court that was missing earlier in the year. The coaching staff also played with the lineup a bit by taking out Jack McVeigh and replacing him with Evan Taylor. Also, some of the young talent has started to develop enough to get out on the court. The emergence of Isiah Roby has been huge. He was out this summer and early fall with an injury so he was hampered by that. However, he seems to be getting better and better as the season has gone by.
Nebraska is only shooting 33% from three-point range for the season, but is leading the conference in Big Ten play at 44%. Is it combination of players who got hot at the same time and can they sustain this level of success from behind the arc?
Yes, I would say it's players getting hot but also they seem to be playing at a better pace on offense that allows them to get those better shots. Many of the ones earlier in the season were a little rough. I hope they can sustain this as the season goes on. Only time will tell.
On the defensive end, Nebraska forces a lot of turnovers and registers a lot of steals against their opponents. Is this due more to style or personnel, and what can Rutgers expect from them on the defensive end?
I would say style. Tim Miles teams have done well defensively. He came into this team with very little in the cupboard and had to work with what he had so he had them focus on defense which has really kept us in many of the games over the years. This year the talent is finally starting to also show on the court. Guys are playing well and aggressive so you will see the likes of Tai Webster and Ed Morrow Jr. sneaking beside someone for the steal.
How important is Tai Webster to Nebraska and how well has he done in picking up the slack after the departures of Shavon Shields and Andrew White?
He has done a huge job in helping carry the team this year. His game has been a little bit of a disappointment since he got on campus with hot and cold games over the years. He came to us from New Zealand and many believe that his transition from the international game to the American has been his problem. Either that or home sickness. No matter how you look at it, he has become our main player throughout his senior season. Lucky for him others like Glynn Watson and Ed Morrow have picked up their game too so Tai doesn't get all the heat on the court.
Who are some other key players that Rutgers fans should keep an eye during the game?
One is Glynn Watson Jr. He has been a huge help this year and is the second leading scorer after Webster with 15.1 ppg. The guy is a small sophomore guard that we stole out of Illinois and he has been a help since he got on campus. Expect to see more out of him for the next couple of years. I would mention Ed Morrow in here but he is out for the foreseeable future with an ankle injury. Evan Taylor and Isiah Roby are two freshmen that are slowly making their way onto the floor more and more as the season goes on. Evan is currently starting and Isiah is seeing his minutes grow. Isiah is fun because he's big and talented enough to make things happen out of the blue on the court.
What is your prediction for the game?
I seen Nebraska walking into Louis Brown and taking another one away from Rutgers. 83 to 67 is the final score.
Thanks to Patrick for his insight on the Nebraska basketball team. To follow Patrick on twitter, click here. For more on the Cornhuskers, visit Corn Nation. To read my answers to Patrick’s questions on Rutgers basketball, click here.