Fred Hoiberg told his team to leave the 16-game losing streak, the 2-18 league record and the 7-24 overall record in the past. Nebraska is starting over at 0-0 on Wednesday night as the Huskers prepare for the Big Ten Tournament.
“That’s been the message to our guys is everything that happened over the course of the regular season is thrown out right now,” Hoiberg said. “All of us are going in with an opportunity and we’re 0-0.”
The 14th-seeded Huskers will begin the tournament against the same opponent they opened the Big Ten regular season schedule agains: Indiana. The Hoosiers are 19-12 overall and went 9-11 in Big Ten play to earn the No. 11 seed. The Hoosiers held on to beat the Huskers 96-90 in overtime back on Dec. 13 in Bloomington.
“We played this team twice, obviously, going back to the first time, all the way back to our first Big Ten game on the road back in December and I thought we played one of our more complete games of the season,” Hoiberg said. “Where they beat us that game was on the glass. They’re very long and athletic and have great size across the board.”
In round two, Indiana pulled away late for an 82-74 win in Lincoln.
“Indiana’s a great team,” senior Haanif Cheatham said. “They pack the paint and have a great coach over there. They’re a great defensive team so we just have to come in ready, know their schemes. They probably put a couple new, different plays in, but we’ve got to be ready to compete on the boards and in the paint.”
The Huskers are going to look a little different than they did in the first two games, however. Hoiberg confirmed that neither Dachon Burke Jr. nor Cam Mack will travel with the team to Indianapolis. Hoiberg said Mack is back home dealing with a personal matter. He met with Burke and they decided he should focus on his academics, which Burke had already shared on Twitter. Hoiberg sent the two starting guards home from Minnesota and suspended them indefinitely ahead of Nebraska’s game against the Golden Gophers.
“We played two good games against them,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously we’re different right now than we were at the two times, battling with seven guys, but they’re giving me everything I can ask of them right now, going out and playing with effort. I’ve got to do a better job of getting them in and out of the rotation, starting the rotations early and hopefully be a little fresher down the stretch.”
Playing short-handed is nothing new for the Huskers, however. They played with eight against Michigan and then with seven against Minnesota.
“It’s just another basketball game,” Cheatham said. “We’ve been doing it our whole life. I don’t think anybody takes it as a disadvantage. We’ve just got to go out there and play. We’ve got to be mentally ready. I think the guys that we have here are ready for it and we’ll be ready to play.”
To help ease the loss of Mack and Burke, Hoiberg got a little creative and borrowed a couple of players from Scott Frost. Noah Vedral and Brant Banks will accompany the team to Indianapolis and be eligible to play, pushing Nebraska’s available total to nine.
Indiana had 31 rebounds and 41 second-chance points in the previous two games against Nebraska with the first game being particularly lopsided in the Hoosiers’ favor. Hoiberg said he defensive glass will be a big focus in round three.
”For us to go out and have a chance in this one we’re going to have to do a better job on the glass, were going to have to get back in transition and we’re going to have to take great care of the basketball,” Hoiberg said.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, a 6-foot-9 forward and unanimous pick for the Big Ten All-Freshman team, leads the Hoosiers with 13.6 points and 8.1 rebounds and the Huskers have plenty of frontcourt depth behind him.
However, Hoiberg said he has seen improvement in certain vital areas recently, even if it hasn’t translated to wins.
“We are getting better, there’s no doubt about that,” Hoiberg said. “Free-throw shooting since the Northwestern game has been the best that it’s been all year. Obviously, we’re going to have to go out and play a perfect game. When we do have movement and we do share the ball, we’ve had good possessions. I look at the Minnesota game and it was 29-25 and we missed three layups, really uncontested, and three wide open 3s and that’s 15 potential points we leave off the board …
“It’s going to take us finishing the easy ones when they’re there and as the defense collapses we need to do a much better job of kicking the ball out. I thought we had good spacing but we didn’t make the right play a lo of times and look too many hero-yep shots. You have to make the play when it’s here. It was a big emphasis in practice today. We watched a lot of film. We’re missing those opportunities so hopefully we go out and finish the ones when we create them. That’s going to be important in this game tomorrow night.”
The Huskers will compete in Wednesday’s play-in round of the Big Ten Tournament. No. 12 seed Minnesota will take on No. 13 seed Northwestern at 5 p.m. CST at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Nebraska will tip off 25 minutes following the conclusion of the first game. Brandon Gaudin, Stephen Bardo and Mike Hall will call the game on BTN.
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.