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Previewing the Hawkeyes at Nebraska

The Hawks don’t need this one so much as they need not to lose this one

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Iowa Hawkeyes (19-8, 9-7) enter tonight’s game as the hottest team in the conference. The Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-20, 1-15) enter as the opposite. The second best team over the last 5 games has actually been whomever plays Nebby. Not a good place to be.

SirNicholas had the preview the last time these two faced off and I’d copy and paste the bulk of what he said about the Huskers cause he hit some fantastic notes. Just a total crater to the Hawkeyes’ west. He invokes Todd Lickliter and really, it’s correct!

Would you believe Nebraska has gone down in every 2022 metric since I sent that on the Bird App? Well, they have!

Nick also mentioned the buyout, which was recently reduced to $11m. Trev Alberts hardly exudes confidence in his head basketball coach via this thread. “I asked him for some vision and some planning” Goodness. Isn’t that the head coach’s job to have that without, like, being prompted??

All of this to say, I’m weirdly guarded about this game. Nebraska has a Big Ten roster, however wayward they are. They haven’t beaten a team with a double-digit KenPom ranking but the Hawkeyes last four attempts in Lincoln have been fruitless. So... yeah.

(Kennington Smith had a fantastically depressing stat that not even Jordan Bohannon has won at Nebraska. A win tonight would mean the 11th conference away venue where he’s won with only Michigan & Purdue left off the dance card.)

Projected Starters:

G: Alonzo Verge, Jr. (Sr, 6’3”, 164 lbs) - 13.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.5 spg, 44% fg
G: Trey McGowens (Jr, 6’4”, 196 lbs) - 6.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.1 spg, 36% fg
G: Bryce McGowens (Fr, 6’7”, 179 lbs) - 16.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.5 apg, 40% fg, 27% 3p
F: Lat Mayen (Jr, 6’9”, 217 lbs) - 5.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 37% fg
F: Derrick Walker (Jr, 6’9”, 239 lbs) - 9.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 0.9 bpg, 67% fg

(Stats via Sports-Reference)

The ‘skers have two scorers in Bryce McGowens and Verge. McGowens has largely lived up to the hype as a top 30 recruit. He’s on those same draft boards you’ll see Keegan Murray, just a little further down. In fairness to Hoiberg, it’s tough to rebuild when some guys aren’t gonna stick around that long. That’d be a better excuse in year one, though. It’s year three.

The thing about Nebraska is they have a lot of pieces. Verge is a long, if light, PG. They’ve got that length at a number of positions. It’s not hard to see Trey, Mayen, or Walker as the type of player who can do the little things needed to win in the right setting. They just struggle to put the ball in the basket, which means that little stuff isn’t quite so relevant in a 20-plus point game, a margin they’ve lost six games by.

Three questions

Can Iowa get up for it?

For what it’s worth: they didn’t last time. It was the sleepy Super Bowl Sunday game and the Huskers jumped the Hawks early, going up 15-11 and reducing Iowa’s expected win probability to 91.7%, per KenPom. Iowa quickly righted the ship offensively as Nebraska had eight straight scoreless possessions and the game wasn’t really in doubt after that.

Could be different tonight, though. It’s still a game on the road and these Friday games are not to be trifled with. Nebraska fans get lathered up enough, even if there’s not many of them, and they could help keep it closer than expected.

Can Nebraska’s weaknesses stay weaknesses?

Their effective field goal percentage is a paltry 49%, which is anchored by 30.6% behind the arc. But teams get hot sometimes and the widest path for a Nebraska win is probably a Glynn Watson-style hot night. He went 7/8 back from deep back in 2017 as Iowa couldn’t stop him. Lat Mayen started strong against Iowa with 7 quick points. He finished with that amount. He scored 25 points against Rutgers once.

They’re also well below average on the boards by rebounding 20.6% of their misses, 348th in the country. They’ll miss a lot of shots and it’s important Iowa finishes possessions on that end. Walker had three against Iowa last time out.

Can Iowa play a full 40 minutes?

Normally I don’t mind lazy garbage time but Nebraska’s 20-3 run in the second half against Iowa is at the forefront of Fran McCaffery’s mind. He knows what they’re capable against the black & gold.

As Iowa continues rounding into form, it remains important for every Hawk to be locked in while they’re on the court. Bench guys have developed important roles and it’d be a shame to see that group take a step back, even if it’s a game which is well locked away. Run offense, take good shots, make Nebraska work on offense no matter who is on the court.

While the two prior games have built up plenty of goodwill among the fanbase and bracketologists, a loss would be a decided step back for the Hawkeyes. While it’s unlikely to torpedo their postseason prospects, it’d be the Hawks worst loss on the season.

Let’s not let that happen.