Nebraska Cornhuskers (19-7, 10-3 Big Ten) at Indiana Hoosiers (14-12, 7-6 Big Ten)
Saturday, Feb. 17, 11 a.m. (CT)
Assembly Hall (Bloomington, Indiana)
Television: BTN/BTN2Go (Mike Monaco, Brenda VanLengen)
Live Radio: Husker Sports Network Matt Coatney (PBP), Jeff Griesch (Analyst); Lincoln - B107.3 FM; Omaha - ESPN 590 AM
Free Live Audio: Huskers.com/Huskers & TuneIn Apps
The Nebraska women’s basketball team will make an appearance on the Big Ten Network on Saturday morning (11 am central) when they take on Indiana in Bloomfield. Indiana is 14-12 overall and 7-6 in the Big Ten, but is on a six game winning streak. Their last loss came on January 16 against the conference-leading Maryland Terrapins. The 74-70 score is even closer than the Huskers played the Terps.
Nebraska hung on to second place (tied with Ohio State) in the Big Ten after beating Michigan State on Valentine’s Day to move to 10-3 in the conference and 19-7 overall. Maryland continues to hold a two-game advantage (with most teams having three games to play) for the regular-season title. Minnesota is in fourth place, one game behind Nebraska and Ohio State at 9-4.
The MSU win moved the Huskers up seven spots in RPI and they now sit at #59. Sparty dropped from #53 to #64. Nebraska’s remaining schedule is @Indiana (RPI #64), vs Penn State (RPI #70), and @Maryland (RPI #14).
As mentioned above, the Hoosiers are on a winning streak. They are also led by All-Big Ten point guard Tyra Buss. A dominant point guard elevates this team and makes them dangerous for anyone on any given night. Buss has a penchant for getting around the perimeter defense and driving to the hoop (and going to the free throw line a lot). She only makes 68% of her charity shots, so “guard with fouls to give” may be the Nebraska player to watch (more later).
Last year, the late-season win against Indiana was one of the few high points of the Husker schedule and then-freshman Hannah Whitish out-dueled Buss in the point guard battle. Nebraska has several solid defensive guards in Morton, Cincore, and Eliely who could also be called upon to keep Buss in check. I should probably also add that freshman guard Taylor Kissinger (12) is the team’s third leading shot blocker behind Cain (84) and Eliely (16).
I bring this up because Eliely and Kissinger are both 6’1” while Buss is 5’8”. Buss is an average three point shooter. If I were Amy Williams, I’d look at my two tall, shot-blocking guards, have them sag off Buss to take away driving lanes, but still maintain the ability to challenge long range shots. Even if they give up some 3-pointers, taking away the driving lanes protects Kate Cain from getting into foul trouble against a slashing guard. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, protecting Cain from whistles tends to be important in Nebraska’s chances to win any given game.
TL;DR version...the Huskers have the length and enough good defensive guards to at least try keep Buss in check while playing zone defense. They shouldn’t have to put Whitish on an island or put Cain into too many block-or-let-her-go situations. Advantage Huskers.
We are at the fifth paragraph of the Indian preview section and I haven’t mentioned any player other than Tyra Buss. The Hoosiers do have a very effective starting lineup. Their problem is that they don’t get much production from their bench. Nebraska’s other advantage in this game will be that they can afford to harass Buss, absorb foul trouble at the guard spot (if necessary), and still bring in fresh legs on both offense and defense who will be more productive than Indiana’s fresh legs.
Jill Gets Sidetracked and On a Soapbox
Here is the Connie Yori vs Amy Williams comparison I probably shouldn’t make ...
Talking about depth...I watched Yori-coached teams closely for ~5-6 years. She was an incredibly successful coach and got results. What bothered me about her teams was that she tended to play 8-ish players for significant minutes and some players averaged 36-40 minutes a game (Hint: there are 40 minutes in a regulation game). At the end of each season, I also noticed stress fractures, ice-baths, remarks about the need to rest players, etc. While I have no information that Yori mistreated players (the allegations that caused her resignation) her teams looked exhausted and spent as the postseason approached. She was a coach that got everything out of her players. She just got it too soon IMHO.
Amy Williams has taken a very different approach. Two seasons, with an incredibly young roster to boot, is too soon to guess long-term trends, so take this with a grain of salt. Last season was one of experimentation and figuring out who-did-what-well and who-played-well-with-whom. A lot of playing time for everyone was no surprise. Early in this season, Williams had injuries and illness galore, so she had no choice but to play whomever was healthy and available. Now, she has the ability to pick and choose. With everyone relatively healthy and available, she chooses to play all 12 on her roster. she doesn’t just play them in garbage time. She is deploying them for meaningful minutes.
Amy Williams signed two top-20 recruiting classes in her first two seasons. This was before any recruits had any evidence that they would play meaningful time if they came to Nebraska. What is your guess on the message potential recruits are getting now?
Off the Soapbox and Returning to Postseason Prospects
If I was a good CN writer and kept up with my assignments, I wouldn’t dump all of this on you in one article. I hope you have the wheelbarrows ready. (Not the torches and pitchforks, please).
With three games left, RPI says Nebraska has two toss-ups and one likely loss. I really like the matchup against Indiana, and I think the Huskers will play better offense the next time they see Maryland (but probably still come up short). I have no idea about Penn State as I haven’t scouted them yet. I’ll give this scrappy Nebraska team the benefit of the doubt and guess they go 2-1 in their final three games for a record of 21-9 and 12-4 in the Big Ten.
Maryland should hold on to win the B1G with Ohio State likely to win out for the second seed. If Nebraska goes 2-1 in their final three games, Minnesota would have to win out to tie the Huskers for third place. Nebraska beat Minny in their one matchup, so I think that means our favorite team would get the 3 seed, but I’m too lazy to look it up. One reason for that is the laziness is that Minnesota plays the Terrapins, so it is unlikely that the Gophers win out.
TL;DR version...Nebraska has a very good chance at third place in the conference. The 2 seed is there if OSU unexpectedly stumbles and the Huskers win out. The 4 and even 5 seeds are in play but we won’t talk about that because Jill has already rambled too much.
What does that mean for Nebraska’s NCAA tourney chances? That is anyone’s guess. Last year’s 3rd place B1G team, Michigan (22-8 and 11-5) wasn’t selected for the tourney despite having a very good RPI (I couldn’t find the exact number). The Wolverines’ problem was that they lost four of their final five regular season games and exited the Big Ten Tournament in their first game. The Wolverines also went on to win the WNIT.
I’m cautiously optimistic that the ladies can do enough to get themselves into the dance. They have some signature wins. They also have some baffling losses in the non-con. A closer look shows those to be partly due to fluctuating lineups from injuries. Right now, it is one game at a time. Indiana is peaking at the right time and needs to have the Huskers’ full attention.
I hope you join me for the Saturday morning game thread (~10:30 am). Go Big Red!