After wrapping up the nonconference schedule at 6-7, the Huskers have started off Big Ten play 2-0 with wins at Indiana and Maryland. With a bit of success on the road under their belts, the Huskers will now move on to a new challenge: protecting home court. The Iowa Hawkeyes (9-6) are headed to Lincoln on Thursday for an 8 p.m. tip-off.
“We got two big road wins, but now we have to come here and protect our home court,” sophomore point guard Glynn Watson Jr. said. “We’ve got two big games against Iowa and Northwestern, so we have to take care of business here too.”
After shooting for a split, Coach Tim Miles is more than happy with the 2-0 start, but he said it doesn’t mean all that much at this point with so many games left to play.
“It’s very early in the year and we’ve played two good games on the road, and we need to keep that,” Miles said. “We want to make Pinnacle Bank Arena ‘The Vault’ like it was year one, quite frankly, and we haven’t done that as well since. That’s really kind of its own goal. We’ve concentrated more on that than being 2-0 in the league because it’s such a long season. Every team you look at, there are still like seven teams ahead of us in the RPI and we’re like 46th.”
The Huskers have dropped five straight games to the Hawkeyes, a fact that Miles is well aware of.
“The last thing I need is another Creighton on my hands,” Miles said. “I’m not joking. I wish I was.”
The Hawkeyes are 26th in the country in scoring at 83.5 points per game and are led by All-Big Ten senior guard Peter Jok, who is leading the Big Ten in scoring at 22.1 points per game. Iowa is also one of the youngest teams in the country with 11 of the 15 players listed on the roster being freshmen or sophomores.
“They’re fast,” Miles said. “They’re young too. They’ve got good young talent. I’m really impressed with them. They’re as fast as Creighton in terms of tempo. Peter Jok could lead the league in scoring easily; he might be one of the top five or 10 in the country, I don’t even know. He’s a threat all the time. Tyler Cook’s an explosive inside player. [Jordan] Bohannon’s getting better. [Brady] Ellingson’s shooting the ball well. They’ve got a lot of guys who can hurt you … Fran [McCaffrey] has got a lot of pieces, he plays 10 guys and they just keep coming and running at you, running at you, running at you. And then Fran’s got a good system.”
Evan Taylor and Tai Webster will both likely get their chance to defend Jok, but Miles said it isn’t a job for any one player.
“I think your whole team has to,” Miles said. “The way he uses screens, the way he gets down in transition, he’s really a good player. And he can shoot with a millimeter of space. Those are all things that you have to watch, and so it’s going to take everybody.”
Th Huskers have one Iowa native on the roster in Michael Jacobson, a sophomore forward from Waukee who is familiar with a lot of the players on the roster.
“You know a lot of those guys growing up and you watch them on TV and whatnot,” Jacobson said. “I know some of the guys, their younger guys on their team from high school and stuff. I know Peter Jok pretty well as well. It’s a little bit of extra motivation for me, but it’s just another Big Ten game. We’ve to keep it going.”
Defense is the strength of the team, but improved offense has played a big part in the turn-around and the Huskers will need that trend to continue if they want to keep up with the Hawkeyes on the scoreboard. Miles simplified his offensive playbook, and it has paid dividends.
“I took these 11 actions and put them in the trash, and so I left these 11,” Miles explained. “Now we’re more predictable, but we also run our stuff with better pace because we’re running things more often.”
Miles also is encouraging his team to run more often, not just off turnovers.
“What we need to do is run more,” Miles said. “We need to drink from the cup of easy baskets and transition is one of those.”
Jacobson said that while the difficult non conference schedule has hurt the team’s record, it has also given them a lot of film to learn from that they can use to compete in the Big Ten.
“We see similarities there and all those things, we learn from,” Jacobson said. “You watch film, you go back, you look at it, what can I do better technique-wise, strategy-wise, some scheme things that can put ourselves in better positions? We know we can’t go on droughts where we don’t score for a long time or we’ve got to find ways to get stops and we just try to look at it one possession at a time.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. 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.