Nebraska is far from 100% as the Huskers head into their regular season finale on the road at Iowa.
After going down in Nebraska’s loss to Michigan State Tuesday, Wilhelm Breidenbach is dealing with a plantar fascia injury and did not practice on Thursday. Coach Fred Hoiberg said he got back on the court and did some work Friday and was feeling “quite a bit better.”
Blaise Keita, on the other hand, still hasn’t practiced since injuring his ankle against Maryland. Hoiberg is hopeful the 6-foot-11 center will be able to do some work on Saturday but is considering him very doubtful for Sunday, a big blow to Nebraska’s defensive versatility and rebounding.
“When you look at our analytics with Blaise on the floor, he’s in every one of our best defensive lineups and we’d found a pretty good formula with he and Derrick [Walker] out there together when we went with some big-big lineups. When he went down with the other ankle, you could see it after the game, it really blew up on him.
“The swelling is starting to go down, which is obviously a great sign. He still has quite a bit of pain and not a lot of mobility, but we’re hoping if not Sunday, that we can get him back next week. He’s going to be important if we have any opportunity to go on a run just because of depth when you have to play a lot of games in a short amount of time.”
The Huskers won the first meeting between the two teams in Lincoln 66-50, but that was Dec. 29 when Nebraska still had Juwan Gary and Emmanuel Bandoumel in the lineup.
“We’re both a lot different than we were,” Hoiberg said. “That seems like a year ago when we played — I guess it was, it was last year. But I think the biggest thing that we are right now is we have a completely different lineup. Emmanuel, what he did in that game was unbelievable impacting the ball, and then again, we had a great matchup with Juwan guarding [Kris] Murray. So we’re a completely different team.
“They’re playing at obviously a whole different level right now. That comeback against Michigan State was as impressive as I’ve seen, and then they had a full 40-minute game against Indiana on the road in Bloomington against arguably the hottest team in the league. So they’re playing their best basketball of this season.”
After losing back-to-back road games against Northwestern and Wisconsin that saw the Hawkeyes shot 6-of-52 from 3, Iowa pulled off a double-digit comeback in the final minute to force overtime then beat Michigan State 112-106 then followed that up with a 90-68 beatdown at Indiana on Tuesday. The Hawkeyes (19-11, 11-8 Big Ten) shot a combined 30-of-66 from deep in the two wins.
“They’re obviously the best in the league, third in the nation in offensive efficiency and they run a lot of different plays,” Hoiberg said. “But really what it comes down to is motion and they’re very random in their movements. We’re going to see a lot of flare screens, more flare screens than we’ve seen all season, and they just do a great job of keeping you in motion and keeping you moving and keeping you off balance. Then the way [Payton] Sanfort is shooting the ball off the bench, it’s a problem. As soon as he gets over half court, he’s in range, and their other guys are playing with a ton of confidence right now.
“Their win against Indiana was as good a performance as I’ve seen in the league. The start that they got off to, getting Murray going early in the contest. The matchup with Murray, we did a really good job in the first game, but a lot of that was Juwan, so not having him on the floor, it’s a team problem. It’s not going to be one guy to slow him down, we have to have great awareness of where he is at all times and hopefully take away easy baskets early in this game.”
Murray, the 6-foot-8, 220-pound twin brother of former Hawkeye and Sacramento Kings lottery pick Keegan Murray, is second in the Big Ten in scoring at 20.5 per game on 49.4% from the field (35.2% from 3) and 74.1% from the foul line.
With the injury situation in the frontcourt, redshirt freshman Denim Dawson could hear his number called again on Sunday after falling out of the rotation for the most part in the last couple of weeks.
“He’s handled it great,” Hoiberg said. “He’s coming in here every day continuing to get work; we’ve talked to him about that. He’s going to get an opportunity on Sunday, there’s no question with Murray as a difficult match up. He had some time on him the first go-around and he had, I think, six or seven minutes against [Jamison] Battle in that Minnesota game. We’re going to need him in the Big Ten tournament, as well.
“That’s been the one thing with this group again, whatever their role has been, there’s been acceptance in that role and that’s one of the most important things you have if you’re going to have success as a team is to have that buy-in. Denim, we met with him the other day, talked to him about the games where I really felt he would get a chance and continue to come in and work and he’s done exactly that, took a positive attitude and continues to go out there and work in practice.”
Iowa has thee other players averaging double figures in addition to Murray in center Filip Rebraca (14.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game), guard Tony Perkins (12.6 points and 2.8 assists per game) and Sanfort (10.2 points per game, up to 35.3% from 3 after a midseason shooting slump).
With a win, the Hawkeyes can clinch a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. There are currently six teams tied for second place with an 11-8 conference record behind 14-5 Purdue. Nebraska is currently in 11th place at 8-11, tied with Wisconsin.
Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday on Big Ten Network with Kevin Kugler and Robbie Hummel on the call.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.