After tallying their second conference victory, the Iowa Hawkeyes (11-11, 2-7) head to Lincoln, NE to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers (15-8, 6-4). Since the Cornhuskers have joined the Big Ten, Iowa has had success against them with an overall record of 7 wins and 3 losses and 2-2 on the road. At Pinnacle Bank Arena, Iowa’s biggest loss is 4 points and their two wins have been by 9 and 28 points.
Nebraska has capitalized on a retrospectively easy conference slate, so far. While wins against Minnesota and Northwestern were highly valued when they occurred, those teams have dropped off quite a bit. Their most valuable win is a blowout at home against Michigan. Their conference losses are all away from Lincoln to Michigan State, Purdue, Penn State, and Ohio State. Their only home loss is a close one to Kansas.
The Cornhuskers have built this team around transfers James Palmer, Jr. (Miami) and Isaac Copeland (Georgetown) after having their share of departures: Ed Morrow (Marquette) and Michael Jacobsen (Iowa State). Palmer and Copeland lead the team in scoring, at 16.7 and 12.6 points per game, respectively. Palmer plays much like a poor man’s Keita Bates-Diop as he has similar size, game, and skill, though he is more of a true small forward versus Diop’s stretch power forward game. Copeland, after spending much of his time at power forward, recently moved over to center with Jordy Tshimanga’s removal from the starting lineup.
Nebraska is supplemented with junior point guard Glynn Watson, who still makes me shudder when I hear his name after going 7-8 from three against Iowa last year. His performance against Iowa last year was an extreme outlier, as he is a career 32.6% three-point shooter with a current season clip of 27.6%. He is a bulldog defender and averages 1.6 steals a game (3rd in the conference). His defense will test both Jordan Bohannon’s ballhandling and may force Isaiah Moss or others to provide more support in that area.
Tim Miles rotates a slight front line alongside Isaac Copeland. Isaiah Roby is more perimeter-oriented but displays exceptional athleticism and even leads the team in blocks (1.8/game). Tshimanga will get time but is especially foul-prone (10 fouls called per 40 minutes in conference play).
Overall, the Cornhuskers play especially good defense by limiting three-point attempts and using their length to affect those shots. Nebraska also does a good job of limiting opponents free throw attempts. The Cornhusker offense, outside of Palmer and Copeland, is not especially efficient, though they do a great job of limiting turnovers.
What is it going to take for the Hawkeyes to win against Nebraska?
Maintain offensive aggression: Isaiah Moss had his most aggressive game since he went fire emojis against Maryland. Though he only went 2-8 from two against Wisconsin, he was constantly looking to attack his matchup and should do so again. Anton Gill is another recent addition into the starting lineup for Miles, and while a good defender, does not have the same length as Moss. If Moss can get into the teeth of the Nebraska defense, it will open up a lot of different opportunities for the Hawkeyes.
In the same vein as offensive aggression is hitting the boards after missed shots. Nebraska is among the worst in the countries at finishing possessions and Tyler Cook and Luka Garza have been great at attacking the glass. It also makes the Cornhuskers more susceptible to fouls and can further hamper their depth.
Be smart defensively: Nebraska is not a good shooting team, with only Gill and Evan Taylor shooting over 40% from deep. Feel free to let them take outside shots to eliminate their ability to attack driving lanes. It isn’t to say Iowa needs to be soft or not contest the three but be smart about how they close out and defend secondary action.
With the slower pace Nebraska likes to deploy, it is also more incumbent on Fran McCaffery to be smart about rotations and defensive assignments. Ahmad Wagner had an impressive floor game against Wisconsin, with literally only a tip-in, two free throws, and two fouls showing up on the box score. He should be deployed as Nicholas Baer’s backup and guard James Palmer, as he is perhaps the only Hawkeye who can go step-for-step defensively with the wing.
Further, Nebraska is quite good at getting, and hitting, foul shots. Iowa doesn’t normally foul but were particularly bad in some of their losses at allowing opponent attempts from the charity stripe.
Weather the storm: This game will be like what many expected from the Wisconsin game. There will be long offensive droughts but the Hawkeyes cannot let missed shots affect their defense. Keep to the gameplan and it might just mean another Iowa victory.
Now beat the Bugeaters.