What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: David from Corn Nation, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Nebraska.
1) After Nebraska's first game against Iowa, it seemed like the Cornhuskers had turned things around a bit from an 0-2 Big Ten start -- they won 4 of 5, with the only loss being a totally understandable road defeat against Wisconsin. Since then, though, Nebraska's lost 6 of 7, with the only win coming at home against Northwestern. Worse, only one of those losses (Thursday night's stumble against Maryland) has been by less than 10 points. What's gone so wrong for Nebraska of late?
DAVID: What happened was the Huskers got to play at home vs. Rutgers, Illinois and Minnesota, all teams similar to where Nebraska is in the standings. They tend to play well at home and they took advantage of that opportunity. They also played an emotionally charged game vs. Michigan State on Coaches vs. Cancer weekend where they honored Avery Harriman, the son of assistant Chris Harriman who has been battling leukemia. That was their best game of the year. Since then, they've been largely on the road where things haven't gone well for them this year.
Much of NU's struggle this year boils down to the fact that they have struggled to score, especially at home. Their defense continues to be excellent, regardless of venue. They've struggled to find a third scorer behind Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. Their third scorer last season, Walter Pitchford, before Thursday vs. Maryland, has really struggled to get back to the level he played at last season. A couple of guys they hoped would develop into contributors haven't and no one else has stepped up in that void. Last offseason they didn't address their needs on the perimeter or in the paint and they've paid the price for it this year.
In some cases it's probably a reality check for a lot of the guys on the team that it's not always going to be like last season. It doesn't work that way. It's not uncommon for teams that burst onto the scene the way NU did last season to take a step backward the following season. I think we're seeing that a bit this year.
2) When last we met, Iowa came away with a 70-55 win thanks to big games from Aaron White (23 points, 9 rebounds) and Gabe Olaseni (18 points, 5 rebounds). What's the plan for reversing the result against Iowa this time? I assume part of the plan involves not letting Iowa shoot 38 free throws.
DAVID: Yeah, I kinda like that idea. I'm sure they'll do their best to defend better this time around. But Iowa is pretty good at getting to the line in general, so I'd assume that will be part of their game plan. The Huskers do play better at home and if Pitchford continues what he started vs. Maryland, then it should be a completely different game. We also saw Nick Fuller get a lot more playing time. I expect that to continue. He was supposed to be that perimiter threat the Huskers have been lacking, but he hasn't been able to get out on the court much. Tim Miles said he wants Fuller to play more moving forward, but he's said that before and it hasn't happened. He played quite a bit vs. Iowa the first time around, so I'd suspect we see it again. He seems to have a knack for being around the ball on offense but lacks on the defensive end. In the Maryland game he wasn't as much of a liability as he was in the past, so maybe the light is coming on for him.
3) On offense, Nebraska still looks like the Terran and Shavon Show. Is that accurate? Do they both need to have big games for Nebraska to knock off Iowa? Who else could emerge and have a big game against the Hawkeyes?
DAVID: It has been that up to now, yes, but as I've mentioned above, Pitchford played his best game of the season the last time out. He hasn't shown any level of consistency this year, but if he does put back-to-back games together, that will be a very good thing for NU going forward. I don't think Iowa is a great matchup for him, though. The Hawkeye post players are more comfortable coming away from the paint than most post players, so I think that could be a tough matchup for NU, but he's capable of beating you if you leave him open. If Fuller sees more floor time, he's a sharp-shooter that could emerge. No one else really has emerged as a threat this year, so if Tai Webster or Leslee Smith or someone else had a big game, it'd be a surprise.
4) Defensively, Nebraska remains very strong. They rank in the top-4 in the Big Ten in overall defensive efficiency, eFG%, and turnover %. What do they do so well that makes their D so stifling?
DAVID: It be a bit of a cliche, but a lot of defense is just mentality. It's something this team embraces. They typically play a "pack-line" defense similar to what Virginia runs. The Cavs have more talent than the Huskers do, but they both implement it very well. They've also started mixing in some trapping defense, but mostly they settle in a man or pack-line defensive strategy. This past offseason they also brought in Jim Molinari to replace Craig Smith who took the South Dakota job. Molinari is known as a defensive wizard and the Huskers defense certainly benefited from having him on the bench.
5) There's no question that this year has been a step backwards after Nebraska's strong results a year ago. What's the outlook among Big Red fans about the Tim Miles Era? Was this just a one-year setback with reason to hope for much better results in the years ahead or was last year a confluence of factors that will be difficult to reproduce in the future?
DAVID: It depends on who you ask. If you talk to the NU football fan who just discovered that NU had a hoops program last year, there's a lot of consternation. For the rest of us, who watched the past 17 years of terrible basketball, there's a much more reserved response. Last year was certainly unexpected, but I don't believe it was a fluke. There is talent on this roster and there will be talent on it next year, not to mention that Miles just signed the best (on paper) recruiting class in at least the last 20 years, arguably ever, at Nebraska. He's also got Andrew White III sitting on the bench. White's a transfer from Kansas who ,despite being a top 50 player out of high school, had the misfortune of being buried on the bench because Kansas can recruit over the top of top 50 players. He'll be in the mix next season and all we hear about him now is how he's torching the first team in practice. Combined with Petteway, Shields, the hopeful return to form of Pitchford, and the development of some of the guys already on the roster, there is bright hope for the future of Nebrasketball.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
DAVID: I like the Huskers. I think they carry forward the success they found in Maryland and play well. This will be a close game, but I see NU coming away with the win, one they need if they want to play in the post season. I think it goes into the final media timeout, but I see NU coming away with the 66-61 win.
Thanks for being a good sport, David, but I still hope your team gets mollywhopped on Sunday. You can check out the Corn Nation crew at Corn Nation. You can also follow CN on Twitter at @CornNation. The Iowa-Nebraska game is in Lincoln, NE on Sunday, February 22, and is scheduled to start at 2:00 pm CT, with TV coverage from BTN.