Big Ten play has arrived for Nebraska, at least for this weekend. The Huskers are stepping out of nonconference play momentarily to play their December Big Ten games this week, starting with Indiana on Friday.
“It’s obviously an important time for us to go out and try to correct some things and try to get out to a much better start when we go out and play on the road,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “If you don’t do that, we saw first-hand [at Creighton], obviously, what can happen when you don’t go into a game with the right approach.
“We corrected some things in the second half, there are some things we can build on from that last game. But if we don’t come out of the game with a better mindset and better physicality to our game and get the ball moving and executing our offense, we’re going to put ourselves in another big hole. This is a great arena, it’s a great atmosphere, one of the tops in the country.”
The Huskers lost at Creighton 95-76 on Saturday after falling behind 40-9 and trailing by as much as 32 points in the second half. Hoiberg said practice has been good this week as the team looks to bounce back from that loss that dropped them to 4-5 on the season.
“These guys come into the gym to work every day, I do give them that,” Hoiberg said. “They have the ability to put things behind them, whether it’s a win or a loss, to come back in here with a workman-like approach, and that’s what you stress to your group. How does that carry over to the game? I wish I could tell you how that carries over. I’ve been a part of this at all levels now for a long time and you can have the greatest practice, shoot-around that you can possibly have and it doesn’t carry over to the game. And then you come in here with low energy in a shoot-around and you go out and play your butt off.
“I wish I had an answer for is that going to carry over to the game , but I do give our guys credit it for coming in. We had a lengthy film session and followed that up with a couple long, competitive practices and that’s what you have to do. You just have to do the best job you can of getting back out there and going to work and hopefully carrying that over to the games.”
If there’s one positive to take from the Creighton game it’s that the Huskers did come alive offensively in the second half, scoring 54 points. A lot of the team’s success came with small-ball lineups including senior wing Matej Kavas (6-foot-8, 200 pounds) at the five. That worked because Creighton also played a five-guard lineup, however, which won’t be the case with he Hoosiers (10-1).
“This is a whole different animal with Indiana,” Hoiberg said. “It’s a completely different game plan. Obviously with Creighton, it’s getting back, it’s getting matched up, it’s a ton of 3-point shots in transition. This game, Indiana’s going to try to make it a brawl and just try to pound it inside. They’re No. 1 in the nation in free throws attempted and made and they really play to their three frontline players inside. They go 6-8, 6-9, 6-11 in their starting lineup, so it’s going to be a different type of game. They’re going to pound the glass and it’s going to be different.”
Freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound big man, is leading the team with 14.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and is shooting 62.7% from the field. Justin Smith (13.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game) is starting on the wing at 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds and Butler transfer Joey Brunk (7.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game) is starting next to Jackson-Davis inside at 6-foot-11 and 245 pounds.
“With Matej at the five in the last game, we were able to survive on the glass,” Hoiberg said. “They played small with us. Indiana won’t do that, they’re going to play three big guys. So we’ll see. Obviously the flow of the game will dictate how we go about our rotations. But we’re ready for it. I thought we found something that worked pretty well in that game the other night in the second half.”
Indiana is averaging 11.5 offensive rebounds per game and is shooting 55.4% inside the arc this season.
“We’re focusing on boxing out and rebounding; that will be a big things for us,” Kavas said. “We need to get off to a great start. I think we’ll be just fine. If we do what we’re supposed to do, what Coach tells us, I think we can do some big things in these two games.”
Iowa State never played at Indiana while Hoiberg was there, but he’s no stranger to Assembly Hall. Hoiberg said he went to a Michigan State game there last year (his son is a walk-on for the Spartans).
“It was an unbelievable game, great atmosphere, and Indiana got them right at the end, a season where Michigan State obviously had an unbelievable year, getting to the Final Four,” Hoiberg said. “I went and watched my son down there. When I was in the front office with Minnesota I saw several games in Assembly Hall. It truly is a great arena.”
Tipoff in Bloomington is set for 7 p.m. on Friday on BTN.
After that, the Huskers will only get one day off before returning to the court at Pinnacle Bank Arena for the first time since Nov. 22 to host Purdue on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s very quick, especially when you play a night game and then you follow that up with an afternoon game,” Hoiberg said. “It’s tough, especially the teams that we're playing. You look at Purdue, they haven’t played in a week. Getting ready for the game on Sunday, we’re going to have a 24-hour prep and we’re going to have to go light because we’re going to get back late and then play in the afternoon on Sunday.
“I guess it’s pretty similar to what I’ve been doing the last three-and-a-half years in the NBA with the short turnaround. We’re going to have to have a good mental day to prepare for that game on Sunday. But for us right now, it’s all about going out with the right mindset, taking it one game at a time and hopefully going out and playing well tomorrow night.”
Hoiberg said the team’s experience in the Cayman Islands Classic—three games in three days—will help them prepare for this weekend.
The Boilermakers are 6-3 this season but have won their last two—a 69-40 beatdown against then-No. 5 Virginia and a 58-44 win over Northwestern to open conference play. Grad transfer Jahaad Proctor is leading the team in scoring at 14.2 points per game while 7-foot-2 junior center Matt Haarms is averaging 11.7 points on 69.4% shooting, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.
“It’s going to be brutal,” Hoiberg said about the Big Ten. “The 20 league games, you see it every night now with teams upsetting—last night, perfect example; the night before.”
Unranked Illinois knocked off No. 5 Michigan on Wednesday night, and unranked Penn State handed No. 4 Maryland its first loss of the season on Tuesday.
“It’s going to be every time we step on the floor we have to have great concentration, we have to have great intensity and great energy if we want a chance to win games,” Hoiberg said. “But for us, it’s all about making corrections, it’s all about growing throughout this process. Hopefully we start with hat tomorrow night.”
Tipoff on Sunday is set for 3 p.m. on BTN.
Hoiberg also confirmed on Thursday that walk-on freshmen Jace Piatkowski and Bret Porter are planning to redshirt this season.
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.