Nebraska visits the RAC on Saturday to face Rutgers a second time this season. Since the Scarlet Knights won in Lincoln on January 3rd, the Huskers beat Iowa at home, followed by four consecutive losses. In an effort to find out about the current state of Saturday’s opponent, I was fortunate to trade questions with Kevin Knight of SB Nation’s Nebraska site, Corn Nation. Let’s tip things off here.
AB: Nebraska is on a four game losing streak entering Saturday’s game at Rutgers. What have been the biggest issues with this team during this stretch?
KK: Do I have to narrow it down to just one and ignore rebounding, free throws, and reliable defensive pressure? I think the biggest problem they have had is inconsistent shooting. The cobbled together roster meant Coach Hoiberg was shooting in the dark a bit on some of the roster, and it is showing as we get into the depth of the conference season. The lack of reliable go to shooters besides Cam Mack is starting to take its toll. Also not helpful is Wisconsin suddenly acting like they’re Middle Tennessee State and shooting insane from three point range.
AB: The Cornhuskers haven’t won a true road game yet this season. What has been the biggest difference with this team at home. where they beat Iowa and Purdue, versus the road?
KK: In part that’s just par for the course this season. Even MSU got its clock cleaned on its first road game not at Northwestern (and are down ten right now early at Indiana as I type these answers). I believe it was 81.1% of home teams have won their games this season, and that’s compared to the between 60%-70% average the past ten seasons. More specific to Nebraska, though, would be I think the shooting again. Offense rarely travels well, and when you’re an inconsistent offense to start it causes big problems.
AB: Cam Mack is having a pretty good season and really pushes the pace for Nebraska. What does he need to do on Saturday for Nebraska to win the game?
KK: He’ll need his teammates to hit the shots he feeds them when open. He’s been a bright spot on an otherwise lackluster season so far, and it would be interesting to see what he could do if he had more reliable shooters surrounding him.
AB: Nebraska is shooting pretty well from three-point range in Big Ten play (33.2%) so far. Who are the shooters for Rutgers to worry about and how important is it for them to have a big day from behind the arc in order to win on Saturday?
KK: Besides Cam Mack, keep an eye out for Thorir Thorbjarnarson and Haanif Cheatham. Thor is the leading three point shooter on the team by percentage (technically Curtis is, but he is no longer on the roster), though not the most prolific shooter in terms of quantity.
AB: Based on the first meeting at the beginning of January, what do you think Nebraska has improved on the most since then and what concerns you most about this rematch?
KK: I think the team has continued to learn how to play together more as they’ve generally battled back in their games when they get down in a way we didn’t see early in the season. However, they just can’t compete with Rutgers on the boards, and hence team cohesion won’t matter enough on the scoreboard to have a shot at pulling off the road upset of a ranked team.
AB: How do you see the rematch playing out on Saturday and what do you anticipate will be a major factor in the game?
KK: I think the Huskers do a better job making their shots in key moments to avoid quite the same ugly outcome as earlier this month in Lincoln. However, the result will still be the same in terms of the winner and loser. Rutgers is a solid team this year at fundamentals and is just too prolific of a rebounding team to give the Huskers much of a chance at second chance points when they do miss. Let’s call the final RU 72-UNL 65.
Thanks to Kevin for giving great insight on Nebraska basketball ahead of Saturday’s rematch at the RAC. You can follow him on Twitter here and make sure to read more on the Huskers at Corn Nation. To read my answers to Kevin’s questions about Rutgers basketball, click here.