It didn't take long for the Husker basketball team to reveal it's weaknesses this conference season.
Iowa State came to Lincoln way back on Jan. 8th, and what we saw in that game proved to be a sign of things to come. Nebraska jumped on the Clones early, and led at halftime by 10 points. We then saw the Big Red slowly give the game back, and found themselves trailing with just over 4 minutes left. The defense stepped up, and after tying the game with mere seconds left, Lance Jeter made a huge steal and then hit a free throw with virtually no time left to seal the win.
In Ames, I would expect that Nebraska won't get that kind of luck. Nebraska blew a lead there last season, and watched as Craig Brackens and Scott Christopherson took back the Husker's halftime lead and went on to win 78-74. Hilton hasn't had much "magic" as of late, but that doesn't mean it's an easy place to play by any stretch.
Nebraska has a lot to play for, as they've used up every once of wiggle room in their quest to make the NCAA tourney. Iowa State on the other hand, is experiencing as poor of a season as I can remember since living in central Iowa. Don't feel bad Clones, we've been there. We know what 1-12 feels like.
Nebraska 18-9 (6-7) @ Iowa State 14-14 (1-12)
When Fred Hoiberg, former Lincoln native and ex-ISU star, came back on the scene in Ames, it seemed that all that missing energy from ISU basketball was coming back in a rush. At first glace, this was going to be a different team with a different attitude. Led by the hometown hero, the Clones were back in the Big 12 picture...at least in heart.
We should all know better than that however, and what has transpired has been nothing short of a nightmare for ISU and it's basketball fans. I'm not saying Hoiberg isn't a good coach, after all..he will need some time to develop players, and he's had a depleted roster most of this season. But it obviously took more than a feel-good hire to make a difference this season, and the good times of old ISU basketball seem like a million years ago today.
The Cyclones are led by senior point guard Diante Garrett. A talented guard, and someone that I would actually love to have playing at Nebraska. He demonstrates all the skills needed by a good floor general: Excellent ball handling skills, quick feet, understands the offense, good passer, and what I like the most about him...he plays with his head up and sees everything. Garrett has been sort of a thorn in our side, and the Cyclones may get Senior forward Jamie Vanderbeken back today as well. Combined with the fore-mentioned Scott Christopherson, Nebraska may have it's hands full if it hopes to hold the scoring in the low 60s today.
Nebraska heads to Hilton for the afternoon tip-off, with slim hopes for an NCAA bid on the line. I'm sure if there is any motivation for ISU, other than just beating Nebraska, it will come from sealing the Huskers out of the tournament conversation. Actually, it's probably safe to say that ISU won't want to pass Nebraska's miserable conference record from last season of 2-14 as well.
Coming off yet another game where Nebraska would have won over a top 50 team, had it not been for missed free-throws and turnovers, the Huskers are again making it a guessing game as to whether or not they will show up. Turnovers have been Nebraska's own nightmare statistic, and games have more or less hinged upon this factor. Play clean, and they can hang with anyone. But if the greasy hands strike, we drop games to the likes of Texas Tech, Kansas State,and Baylor.
This game is no different. Lance Jeter and Caleb Walker led the charge back in January, while Toney McCray chipped in with 12 points as well. Walker had a team high 13 points while Jeter played his typical well-rounded game with 10 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 5 steals. We'll need more of the same, and some better free throw shooting down the stretch than what we witnessed Wednesday night.
Back-court play: Like I said, this Cyclone team leans heavily upon Diante Garrett. Whereas Lance Jeter is the Husker's team leader, he is not entirely depended upon for points. Nebraska has enough scorers on it's bench to make up for that. Garrett doesn't have that luxury in Ames. It's evident that Garrett is not only a major source of assists and even rebounds, he is largely the teams biggest scorer. Compared to last season, Garrett is averaging about twice as many shots, and consequently about twice as many points per game.
Jeter for Nebraska, has been a rock. Sure he's had his moments, most notably three days ago, but on the whole Jeter has been someone we can count on to make the big plays when we need them. He's spent most of the season at the top of the ranks in the Big 12 in assist/turnover ratio, and has steadily chipped in about 10 points per game. His intangibles are his toughness and his willingness to get physical. The ex-football player doesn't back down from anyone, and this will help versus the taller but more fraile Garrett.
Nebraska and Iowa State do have one similarity when it comes to the supporting cast. ISU's Scott Christopherson and Husker Drake Beranek kind of fill the same role in my opinion. Good outside shooters who can also move around the perimeter and play defense. The commonalities stop there however, as Nebraska by far has the deeper bench with guards Toney McCray, Caleb Walker, and Brandon Richardson all capable of putting up 15 points at any given time.
Low Post: Without the 6-11 Jamie Vanderbeken, Iowa State was thoroughly destroyed by the Texas Longhorns. ISU shot poorly from the perimeter as well, but without any presence inside...it's pretty easy to defend a team that's relying entirely on it's outside shooters. Nebraska proved that point when they played Texas, by really handling them down in the post. Even Texas coaches and post players admitted to the beating that Andre Almeida and Brian Diaz gave them.
It's not often that we get that kind of respect for our post guys, especially from the likes of a top-ten team. Still, I think these guys are the main reason why Nebraska improved from a 2-14 conference record last season to 6-7 so far this year. I may be way off here, as I admittedly haven't followed much ISU basketball lately, but I can't see anyone who can stop the both of these inside forces. Melvin Ejim is athletic, but lacks in size at just 6-6, while Vanderbeken is just the opposite.
On the season, these two teams are almost identical in offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, blocks, and even the scoring averages are pretty close by player. So I took the last 4 games, and found that Nebraska (Diaz and Almeida) hold a slight overall edge on ISU (Ejim and either Godfrey or Vanderbeken) in the low post categories. NU holds the edge in rebounds and blocks, while ISU has the better scoring output.
Advantage: (slight) Nebraska
I think in a nutshell..Nebraska has more motivation, a better as well as deeper bench, and a more intimidating inside presence. Diante Garrett gives the Cyclones a huge lift in the backcourt however, and he alone will keep this one close. ISU has played pretty well at home, despite losing a ton of games. They have lost close, and I expect that this will be the case today as well.
Here's hoping that Nebraska comes to play, and gets the first of 3 critical games leading into the Big 12 Tournament.
Location: Hilton Coliseum - Ames, IA
Television: Big 12 Network. The game can be seen in Nebraska on KLKN (Ch. 8) in Lincoln, KXVO (Ch. 15) in Omaha and KIIT (Ch. 11) in North Platte. In Central Iowa, try ABC-WOI (Ch. 5) in Des Moines/Ames.
Radio: IMG Husker Sports Network - Kent Pavelka and Matt Davison.
Free Internet Radio: Huskers.com
Full Color Media Guide: Here
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