Three Thoughts from Nebraska's 76-70 Win Over Iowa
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Three Thoughts from Nebraska’s 76-70 Win Over Iowa

January 08, 2020

Nebraska is 7-8 and back to even in Big Ten play. 

A loud, hard-fought, entertaining-as-can-be, 76-70 win over Iowa on Tuesday night brought the Huskers back into the win column. 

The Huskers take on Nortwestern next, a road game on Saturday, Jan. 11, at 3:30 p.m. CT on BTN. 

Before turning the page, though, here are three thoughts from the win over Iowa.

A Different, But Wonderful All the Same, Defensive Strategy

When Nebraska beat Purdue a few weeks ago, Fred Hoiberg did something interesting with his defense. With the Boilermakers having two traditional big men in their starting five, and Nebraska being famously small this season, Hoiberg put starting center Yvan Ouedraogo on 6-foot-9 PU forward Trevion Williams, and used wings Thorir Thorbjarnarson and Haanif Cheatham to switch and front on 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms.

A junior who averages 12 points and six boards a game this season, Haarms was limited to three points on 1-of-8 shooting and five boards in 22 minutes. Nebraska stuck to a gameplan defensively and pulled an upset.

I was curious if that would be the gameplan once again for Iowa’s bigs, or, at the very least, some variation of it. The Hawkeyes went with a more traditional two-big lineup of 6-foot-10, 255-pound Ryan Kriener and 6-foot-11, 255-pound Luka Garza.

Instead of the Purdue approach, Nebraska just did everything feasibly possible to keep Garza from touching the ball. Ouedraogo drew the assignment most of the time, and he was helped by another defender nearly every time Garza caught the ball, and sometimes even two extra defenders.

Nebraska was so concerned about his presence in the post, it spent most of the first half running around looking like headless chickens. Perimeter defenders were switching all over the floor and Iowa was taking advantage of the chaos with open 3s.

“Taking advantage” probably isn’t the right usage here, considering both teams got what they wanted, I think. Iowa entered the game shooting 36.7% from 3 on the season, good for 56th nationally. Shooting from out there shouldn’t be viewed as a loss for Iowa. But hoisting jumpers from outside meant Garza wasn’t eating (or drawing fouls) inside. Eighteen of Iowa’s first 27 shots were 3s.

And the Hawkeyes made just two of them.

(They shot 6-of-9 inside the arc.)

For the game, Iowa shot just 4-of-33 from distance. Nebraska led for all but 38 seconds. The Huskers stuck with the “Live by the 3, die by the 3” mentality for the entirety of the game, shooting 10-of-26 from distance itself and continuing to give Iowa open shots from outside. The catch here was nothing seemed comfortable for the Hawkeyes. Even open looks weren’t open for very long. Nebraska sped Iowa up to a pretty significant degree.

One would think such a defensive strategy would be taxing to maintain for a full 40 minutes.

Nebraska is apparently a bunch of Energizer bunnies. The Huskers had just as much spring in their collective step in the final minute, battling Garza for loose balls on the boards to force fouls and free throws, as it did in the game’s opening moments. Maybe the crowd helped. The crowd was awesome. Or Nebraska just wanted it more.

Wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case. Nebraska straight outworked Iowa when it was on defense. That much was clear as day. NU lost the rebounding battle 48-34 (19-6 on the offensive glass) but that was bound to happen.

Watching Nebraska chase open shooters around all evening, and absolutely grind it out with Iowa on the defensive glass time after time after time after time certainly stood in stark contrast to the last time this team was on the court.

Then again, inconsistency has come to be one of this group’s calling cards. What you get one game means nothing for what you will get 72 hours later. Last time out, I wondered how badly Nebraska wanted to play defense.

Didn’t have that question after this one.

No Jervay

We weren’t made aware of any suspension beforehand. Junior guard Jervay Green was suspended for two games earlier in the season for an undisclosed violation of team rules. When he returned, he returned as a role player off the bench; Thorbjarnarson has a hold on his starting spot it seems. (A move I very much like; he had 17 points and nine boards on 6-of-9 shooting.)

So it wasn’t a surprise to see Green begin Tuesday night’s game on the pine. It was a surprise to see him stay there.

Green either was not available or not allowed to play. One or the other. I suspect by the time you read this, you’ll know the answer to that question, so I won’t speculate, but it was no doubt curious to watch walk-on guard Charlie Easley get minutes that likely would have gone to Green.

To call it a struggle this season for the former junior college star would be putting it lightly. Green has, for some reason or another, found it difficult to adjust. It will click at some point, I have no doubt about that, but I wonder how much longer until it does. Green, at his best, is a player Nebraska could really use.

Lots of Cam

Sophomore guard Cam Mack has sets of eyeballs in like 15 different spots on his head.

This will be presented as fact until definitive proof is presented to dispute such a claim. I am confident there will be no such evidence brought forth.

Mack, with 10 assists against just one turnover against the Hawkeyes, and a wonderfully-controlled game played in the final 20 minutes, just sets the table so beautifully for his teammates. It really is a joy to watch.

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