Fresh off their first conference win of the New Year, the Iowa Hawkeyes (9-6) travel to Lincoln Thursday to take on an enigmatic Nebraska (8-6) team at 8:00 on BTN. Last time out, the Hawks prevailed in an entertaining, back-and-forth affair over Michigan to move to .500 in conference play.
The victory featured striking performances from Peter Jok and, more excitingly, Jordan Bohannon; both Hawkeye guards were instrumental down the stretch and in overtime and made clutch shot after clutch shot.
That sort of efficient shot making (Jok and Bohannon combined to shoot 17/26 from the field) needs to remain a theme tonight against a hot Cornhusker team. Nebraska is flying high after a pair of improbable road wins against Indiana and Maryland, but has also proven to be largely inconsistent, falling to Gardner-Webb prior.
Nonetheless, the Huskers represent an opportunity for the Hawkeyes to build momentum early in Big Ten play and pick up an early top-50 RPI win. Let’s take a look at this Nebraska team and what Iowa needs to do to pull off a win in Lincoln.
Senior guard Tai Webster, who leads the team in scoring and assists and is third in rebounding, leads the Cornhuskers along with a handful of sophomores. The bulk of the scoring comes from the aforementioned Webster, along with guard Glynn Watson Jr. and forward Ed Morrow, all of whom will pose various challenges to an oftentimes (usually?) unreliable Iowa defense.
Webster figures to be the toughest matchup for the Hawkeyes, considering his ability to penetrate off the dribble and make plays against a team that has frequently struggled to defend guards off the bounce. Look for Webster and Watson Jr. to try and exploit Iowa’s young guards defensively. Both Husker guards also double as defensive pests and could cause some problems for the Hawkeyes’ inexperienced ball handlers.
The 6-7, 234-pound Morrow is Nebraska’s best option offensively in the post, averaging about 10 points and 8 boards a game. Morrow’s craftiness and tenacity make him a tough draw for the Hawkeyes’ frequently foul prone big men, but overall this Husker frontcourt doesn’t seem as concerning as, say, Purdue.
Rounding out the starting lineup for Tim Miles’ club is 6-9 sophomore Michael Jacobson and 6-5 JUCO transfer Evan Taylor. Jacobson’s name may ring a bell for some Hawkeye fans, as he’s a native of Waukee, however neither he nor Taylor are typically big factors offensively (although Jacobson did pitch in 10 points against Maryland). In fact, outside of the aforementioned leading scorers, the Cornhuskers don’t have a lot of proven options offensively, which brings us to …
Iowa will win if …
The Hawkeyes can keep Nebraska’s guards out of the lane and control the pace of the game. The ability of Webster and Watson Jr. to penetrate and create is easily the most dangerous aspect of Miles’s offense, as far as Iowa is concerned.
The good news? Overall, this team is fairly mediocre offensively (#157 in KenPom’s AdjO). The bad news? The Hawkeyes have shown a propensity for making mediocre offenses look explosive (surrendering 98 points to UNO comes to mind).
A lot of Iowa’s success in that regard will boil down to its ability to control tempo. The Hawkeyes are at their best when playing fast and loose, whereas Nebraska likes to minimize possessions more and overwhelm teams in the halfcourt. Once again, according to KenPom Iowa ranks 26th in adjusted tempo, while Nebraska ranks 194th, so whichever team succeeds in installing their pace of play will have a definite leg up.
Offensively, the formula remains much the same as against Michigan. For Iowa to win, it’s clear that Peter Jok cannot be the only guy willing/able to take/make pivotal shots. Here’s to hoping JoBo continues the torrid shooting pace he established Sunday against the Wolverines.
Overall, Iowa and Nebraska feel fairly evenly matched to me: both have the ability to rise up and beat teams they “shouldn’t,” but also aren’t above dropping some stinkers to lesser foes. Both teams have a little momentum on their side after an up-and-down non-conference, but remain largely young and inexperienced.
Normally I’d give a toss-up to the home team, but I’ll be damned if I ain’t a homer and feeling good after that Michigan win. Plus I still have a hard time believing Nebrasketball is legit. Hawkeyes in a close one.