Iowa Hawkeyes (10-4) vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-5)
Date: January 5, 2015
Time: 8:00 p.m. CT
Location: Carver Hawkeye Arena
Point spread: Iowa -10
Kenpom: Iowa -9
It's been a strange season so far for Iowa fans. The Hawkeyes have dropped four games to ranked opponents, three of those on neutral courts, but have also recorded a pair of road wins over top 25 teams. While four losses in non-conference play is not exactly ideal, those losses came in a manner that should not hurt Iowa too much come March.
The same cannot be said for Nebraska, a preseason conference darkhorse that is now one of the conference's worst teams. The Huskers lose in overtime at Rhode Island in late November, an early slip that could be ignored. But later losses to Creighton (understandable), Hawaii (not exactly understandable except for the fact that it was in Hawaii) and Incarnate Word (uhhh wut lol) have pretty much finished off any talk of Nebraska as a contender for a low seed in the NCAAs or a top-half Big Ten finish.
The reason why Nebraska stinks so far this season is fairly easy to spot: The Huskers don't shoot particularly well, and their philosophy makes it difficult to keep up when they don't. Nebraska is making 49 percent of two-point attempts, a respectable rate, but just 31 percent from behind the three-point line. Turnovers are up, as well: Nebraska is handing the ball over on 21 percent of possessions, the highest turnover rate of any team in the conference. Throw in a 26 percent offensive rebound rate, the second-lowest rebound percentage of any major-conference team (only Michigan is worse) due to Tim Miles' emphasis on stopping transition points, and it's easy to see: Nebraska is either not getting a shot or missing a shot on two out of every three possessions, and there just aren't enough second-chance opportunities to keep up.
Nebraska lives and dies with Terran Petteway, the 6'6 junior guard who lit the Big Ten on fire last season and guides the Huskers to the Big Dance. Petteway is still largely the same player -- his two-point shooting percentage is almost identical to last season, and the three-point percentage is up by one percent -- but shot selection has been lacking, and an increase in his assist rate has come with additional turnovers. Last season, Petteway posted a respectable offensive efficiency rating of 102. This year, in games where he has failed to reach that number, the Huskers are just 6-4. Petteway is getting his numbers -- he's averaging nearly 20 points per game -- but they're coming at a price to the rest of the squad.
Forward Shavon Shields (6'7, 17.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg) has been Nebraska's only other consistent scorer. Shields leads the Huskers in minutes played, averaging more than 36 per game, and has played more than 40 minutes in all three Nebraska overtime games this season. That not only shows that he is physically capable of going the distance, but that he avoids foul trouble; he recorded four personal fouls against Hawaii but has otherwise kept his nose clean.
After Petteway and Shields, it gets bleak quickly for the Huskers. Walter Pitchford (6'10, 235, 7.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg), another junior, has been their primary post player but has proven himself incapable of staying out of foul trouble. Point guard Benny Parker (5'9, 170, 6.5 ppg, 2.3 apg) found enough of a perimeter shot to take an attempt or two per game, but his turnover rate is astronomical. He remains a solid ball defender, though. Senior forward David Rivers (6'7, 200, 5.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg) is a tenacious rebounder but not much of a threat on offense. The Huskers only go eight players deep, with guards Taj Webster (6'4, 200, 4.7 ppg) and Tarin Smith (6'2, 175, 3.8 ppg) and forward Moses Abraham (6'9, 250, 2.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg) providing help off the bench. The Biblical forward has been out since early December with a broken metacarpal, but could return Monday night.
Iowa's shooting has been suspect enough that anything is possible on any given night, and Nebraska's strong transition defense could make points hard to come by for Iowa. But the Hawkeyes' edge in rebounding and strong interior play should push Nebraska to the perimeter, where things get awfully dicey for the Cornhuskers. There's a reason why Vegas loves Iowa Monday night. All Iowa has to do is prove it right.