Rutgers men’s basketball has a great opportunity on Friday night to notch its first Big Ten road win of the season against Nebraska. However, despite just a 6-7 record, the Cornhuskers are a dangerous team at home, having already upset Purdue earlier this season. In an effort to find out more about tonight’s opponent, I was fortunate to speak with Patrick Gerhart of SB Nation’s Nebraska site, Corn Nation. Let’s tip things off here.
AB: With a very different roster from last season under first year head coach Fred Hoiberg, what were expectations for this season coming in and how has this team performed against those expectations so far?
PG: This was a total roster flip by Fred Hoiberg. Only Dashon Burke Jr. and Thorir Thorbjarnarson return from Tim Mile’s squad. To be honest, I don’t think many of us had a clue what was going to happen. This was a team made up of unknown yet talented players from all over the country. Some were transfers form other Division I schools and junior colleges while others were brand new to college basketball.
So, these guys had ten days of practice before they left this summer to play in Italy for a few games. They won them all but stats were sketchy, the media was limited, and the teams they were playing were described as “rec league”. Not a whole lot to go off of before the start of the season but it was at least some time to get to know each other better.
AB: This team has a lot of depth it seems along the perimeter, how has that determined rotations and lineups that Hoiberg has utilized this season so far?
PG: Nebraska is a guard heavy team. Hoiberg brought in talent but not much size so we have a lot of very good players, but they’re all on the outside. Fred runs a very fast paced offense and want the guys to take every shot they can when they are open. Thus, allowing a lot of opportunities for threes to be drained. It has been hit or miss so far in regards to these guys making it work. If you’re a slow team like Purdue then they can take advantage and beat you. However, if they match up outside against guys who are more talented then Nebraska will be beat. The Creighton loss is a good example of this.
AB: Nebraska is shooting a respectable 33.9% from three-point range this season. How much do they rely on it within their halfcourt offense and have opponents countered with any zone defenses at times?
PG: Nebraska likes to push the ball around the outside and take the first shot that they get. That’s their strength so hope for a scoring drought. If they get hot, those threes could determine the game. Like I stated in the previous question, this is their bread and butter. I can’t say that a particular zone defense has shut them down. What has shut them down are teams that play sound basketball and the Huskers making mistakes that put them in a hole.
AB: On the defensive end, what style does Nebraska typically play and who are defenders of note to be aware of?
PG: It’s a man to man defense that occasionally goes into zone to shake things up. Nothing special this year but I believe it will become more formidable as time goes on. Former Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler is in charge of the defense and he is known for putting together good units. They’re okay right now but have a long ways to go to be anything really good.
As for defenders. Dashon Burke Jr. leads the team with 1.5 steals per game. Cam Mack is the best all around player and can beat you on both sides of the ball. If you’re going to take advantage of Nebraska, get the ball inside while on offense. Again, the size is lacking and can be taken advantage of. However, the Huskers will do what they can to keep that ball on the perimeter. Especially against a team like Rutgers.
AB: The Cornhuskers have struggled on the offensive glass, as well as limiting opponents on the boards as well. What have been the reason for this issue and how concerned are you playing against a Rutgers team that is strong in this area?
PG: Nebraska likes to shoot first and then get back on defense. They want to run up and down the court and wear their opponents down. So, they do not spend much time under the rim waiting for something to drop. Also, Nebraska is a relatively small team. Especially if you compare them to the rest of the Big Ten. Our biggest guy, Yvan Ouedraogo, is 6’9” and 260lbs. Not small but he’s the only large guy who can properly handle himself in the paint at this point. Also, he’s 17 years old and from France. He has a high ceiling but is still developing. With that said, the team has done a decent job even with their size disadvantage.
Rutgers, on the other hand, has four players over 6’9” which could be a problem for Nebraska. Purdue was similar and Nebraska played sound ball and ran circles around the Boilermakers. If Rutgers allows Nebraska to set the pace then it could be a great night for the Big Red. However, if the Scarlet Knights play their game well then Nebraska could be in for a long night.
AB: Who do you think could be an x-factor in this game for Nebraska?
PG: Rutgers has come out of nowhere this year with a good record and two wins over good teams. As a whole, I would say the Scarlet Knights are playing a little bit more complete of a game than the Huskers at this point. Nebraska has a talent advantage, but it’s still learning how to play together and make complete games.
If Nebraska can keep the pace of the game up and make Rutgers take the outside shots, Nebraska should win. I think that Nebraska should be able to wear the Scarlet Knights down as the game goes on
AB: What’s your prediction for Friday night’s game?
PG: I am going to go and say Nebraska gets to play the game they want early in the game. They may not make all the shots they need, but their speed should slow down Rutgers as the game goes on. Big Ten teams are something like 1-13 on the road this year which also bodes well for the Huskers. I think they pull off the win but it’s not as close and some may think. 73-68 Nebraska.
Thanks to Patrick for taking time to provide such great insight on Nebraska basketball. Make sure to check out Corn Nation here for complete coverage of Nebraska sports. For my answers to Patrick’s questions on Rutgers basketball ahead of tonight’s game, click here.