This is the second in a three-part series that ranks all of Nebraska’s conference foes, and briefly previews their roster and season expectations. If you haven’t already, be sure to read through Part 1 here. I’m not going to include Nebraska in this series, in part, because I simply have no idea where to put them (listen to this week’s “Of Bangarangs & Daggers” to hear me contradict this claim) and, in part, because this is more focused on the conference foes the Huskers will face. The goal here is to help you decide what to expect for yourselves of conference opponents going into year 1 of the Hoiberg era. These will all follow the same format of:
- Breaking down their results last season, key off-season departures, and expectations coming into the season.
- Looking at key returnees and additions to keep an eye on through non-con and conference play.
- Breaking down the important non-con games to give us an idea of their talent coming into conference play, the key stretch in their conference schedule that will make or break their season, and what will be my terri-bad guess at their record against the Huskers come Indy.
Please be sure to share in the comments whether you think I have a particular team pegged too high or too low. Also, let me know in the comments where you expect Nebrasketball to end up in the conference standings come Indianapolis time in March. Now onto the B1G 2019-2020 basketball preview!
2018-19 record: 23-12, 10-10
Against Huskers last season: 1-1
Last 4 seasons: 2-4
Let me just go ahead and lead with this disclaimer: this ranking assumes that Jordan Bohannon will miss the upcoming season afteroff-season hip surgery. If he manages to recover in time to play for a good portion of the season, I don’t want to hear anybody (particularly Iowa fans) citing this pre-season ranking, because that renders it invalid.
Last season, Iowa started out the season hot! They went undefeated in the non-conference, with an 8-point win over (then) 13th ranked Oregon (who finished 21st and made the Sweet 16, before losing to eventual-national champion Virginia). Also in the win column was a 14-point win over Iowa State, who made the NCAA as well, but lost in the first round to Ohio State. Iowa ended the season on a cold streak, losing 5 of their last 6, including one to Rutgers at home and one on the road at Nebraska in OT. Iowa still made the tournament on the strength of their record and made the second round before dropping in an overtime loss to Tennessee.
Gone from last season’s tournament team is leading scorer and rebounder, forward Tyler Cook. Cook’s 14.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists a game (third best on the team) will hurt the Hawkeyes this season; as will guard Isaiah Moss’s 9.2 points, 42.1% shooting from behind the arc, and 1.8 assists a game along with forward Nicholas Baer’s 6.7 points a game and 43.5% shooting inside the arc.
Even with the loss of Cook, Moss, Baer, and likely Bohannon, the Hawkeyes return plenty of offensive weapons from a team that ranked 3rd in the conference and 15th in the country in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency. Sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp figures to see heavy usage after earning a spot on the B1G All-Freshman team last season, shooting 42.4% from three-point range. While Wieskamp made the second most three-point attempts on the team last season with 139 attempts, Bohannon led the team with a whopping 206 three-point attempts. Combined with the new three-point line, Wieskamp will likely cool off a bit this season with increased usage. However, that doesn’t mean teams should sit back and let him jack three’s wide open. Furthermore, his rebounding is also a threat as he’s the leading returning rebounder on the team, averaging 4.9 rebounds a game.
Also filling in for Bohannon will be Fran’s son Connor, who played a big role last season (unexpectedly). With Bohannon out, Connor will likely challenge for the starting point guard spot. He’ll need to step it up on his 4.4 points a game, but was right on Bohannon’s heals in assists, averaging 3 points a game last season to Jordan’s 3.4. And what’s that? You thought good old Fran had only one son on the team?! Nope! “Keeping it in the family” is an Iowa sports theme, as Fran has a 4-star son, Patrick, joining the team as a freshman this season. He looks like a power forward, but given the front court depth the Hawkeyes currently have, he may take the 6’9” freshman frame and play at the small forward spot this season.
As for the front court, expect to see Luke Garza, Luke Garza, and more Luke Garza. Iowa’s offense loves to cycle through the low post. The Hawkeyes ranked 8th nationally in plays that ended post-up, and they love to kick it out to the open man for three if the defense sells out to shut down the post. Garza went 53.1% on 294 field goal attempts, finishing second in average scoring on the team with 13.1 points a game. The 6’11” junior is also a monster on the glass, averaging 4.5 rebounds a game, and pulled in 1.8 offensive boards a game. Also 6’11”, expect redshirt sophomore Jack Nunge to play a lot of minutes after voluntarily red-shirting last year to bulk up on muscle. He red-shirted after having a solid freshman year 5.7 points a game and 2.8 rebounds. However, despite the offensive firepower, and skill in the front and back court, Iowa continues to be hampered by their 2-3 zone (you’ll quickly learn I loathe zone most of the time) and that doesn’t look to change this season.
The Hawkeyes start out non-conference with an incredibly soft schedule (including five likely quad 4 teams, good luck if on the bubble come Selection Sunday with that resume). Though, as I’ve mentioned on Monday’s preview for Northwestern, I’ll be interested in their November 11th match-up against DePaul just because of my family connection to the (currently sanctioned) Blue Demons. The competition takes a stark 180° for the Hawkeyes when they travel to Vegas over Thanksgiving for the Las Vegas Invitational and face last year’s national runner up Texas Tech (maybe the Red Raiders will actually get fouls called on them this season, not that I’m a bitter loser or anything). Iowa turns right around and travels to Syracuse (38th RPI) for the B1G/ACC Challenge. They take a brief break for B1G December play before traveling to Ames to take on their in-state rival on my birthday (definitely not what I look at as an ideal present, so don’t think tuning the TV into this gets you off the hook for a present if my husband reads this preview). After their finals but before Christmas, Iowa plays a neutral court game in Chicago against Cincinnati (13th RPI). The Hawkeyes beat the Bearcats last season in the first round of the NCAA tournament. So overall, Iowa will get some easy warm-ups to feel out their roster without Bohannon, but yikes will they be thrown into the fire for the latter half of their non-con.
Iowa’s conference schedule doesn’t feature any easy stretch. Since I have to pick one, though, I’ll give the nod to their brutal stretch of 5 games in 12 days with each game played three days after the last. Delaney clearly hates Iowa with a stretch like that. It all starts with a home game against the Badgers on January 27th, a road game three days later at Maryland, a home game against Illinois another three days later on February 2nd, a road game yet again a mere three days later at Purdue, and ends with a visit by the Huskers on February 8th. That’s just an awful stretch to try and manage as a player or coach. As for the Huskers, they host Iowa on Tuesday, January 7th at 9 pm (ET), and travel to Iowa City Saturday, February 8th at 6 pm (ET). I think the Huskers pull the upset at home with the backing of the crowd, but drop a bad road loss a month later to go 1-1 in the rivalry (yes, it’s a damn rivalry people, just accept it already).
2018-19 record: 19-16, 8-12
Against Huskers last season: 0-1
Last 4 seasons: 2-3
After last season’s disappointing results, I’m not sure one would say Archie Miller’s seat is “hot,” but it is most definitely warm enough that he’s wondering why the A/C isn’t cranked up to a full blast right now. The Hoosiers started out last season lightning hot at 9-2 in the non-con, suffering a close road loss at Arkansas (104th RPI), and notching wins over Marquette (30th RPI), Louisville (33rd), and Butler (96th). However, after winning their first three conference games of the season, Indiana went on to lose their next 7 games. The Hoosiers snapped the losing streak with an overtime road win at Michigan State (don’t remind me), and then lost the next five straight games after that. After a Thursday loss to Ohio State in the conference tournament, Indiana went on to beat St. Francis (PA) and Arkansas in the NIT, before losing to Wichita State in the quarterfinals. Given their conference-best five national titles, Indiana fans are rather discontent with the lack of NCAA tournament appearances by Miller. Should he miss it again this season, expect talk to heat up on Miller’s buyout, which amounts to 100-percent of his remaining salary if he’s fired before March 31, 2022.
Gone after last season will be guard Romeo Langford and forward Juwan Morgan. Langford led the team in scoring, averaging 16.5 points per game. Morgan’s departure leaves a huge hole for the team in rebounding as his 8.2 per game was far and away the best, Langford ranked second on the team, and the now-leading returner, Justin Smith, only averaged 4.5 rebounds a game. Langford and Morgan’s departures are even more devastating for the Hoosiers when you take a look at the game tape and realize just how reliant the team was on the duo for putting points on the board. Indiana shot a pathetic 31.4% from three-point range, worst in the conference and 311th nationally.
What Indiana does have returning to the court this season is front court depth, and size at that. Their returning bigs are 6’11”, 6’10”, 6’9”, 6’8”, and 6’7”. Senior De’Ron Davis or redshirt junior Joey Brunk are likely the starting center and power forward depending on how they are doing injury wise. Brunk is a Butler transfer who averaged 7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds a game. De’Ron Davis brings a big presence down low and can help deny shots close to the rim via his size. Davis has promise as a rebounder, but his 2.5 rebounds a game will be inadequate for the Hoosiers if they plan to win by playing big and relying on posts down low for their offense. Speaking of offense, De’Ron will need to step it up big time from his 5.4 points per game average last season.
As for the back court, junior Aljami Durham will likely be the go-to scorer at the wing for the Hoosiers. While his three-point shooting was drastically improved from his freshman year, Indiana is in trouble if his 34.8% three point shooting average last year doesn’t get even better. As for point guard, senior Devonte Green is likely the starter if he stays healthy after battling injuries last season. However, his turnovers, averaging 2.3 a game last season, will need to go down to keep the spot over sophomore Rob Phinisee (who averaged 1.3 turnovers/game last season). What Green does bring to the court, though, is hot three-point shooting, and he’s the only Hoosier who has that. His 41% rate from deep is a team best, with the next closest teammate who saw any real minutes all the way back at 34.8%.
Indiana will have the common opponent of South Dakota State to compare with the Huskers out of their non-conference. As for challenging games that will provide a measuring stick for Indiana, there are certainly a few. A home game against Florida State (12th in RPI last year) in the ACC/B1G Challenge, neutral court games against UConn (138th RPI) and Notre Dame (170th RPI, but suffered an early injury to their start PG last season after a hot start), and a home game against Arkansas (104th in RPI) to close out the non-con will all provide a challenge.
For B1G play, the stretch from January 23rd to February 16th is just brutal. Starting with back-to-back home games against Michigan State and Maryland three days apart, Indiana then travels back-to-back on the road to Penn State and Ohio State. Back in Bloomington comes in-state Purdue and Iowa, before closing out with consecutive road games at Michigan and Minnesota. Nebraska plays the Hoosiers twice, with an early conference game in Bloomington Friday December 13th, and hosts the Hoosiers a month later on Saturday, January 18th in the Vault. While Indiana is a tough sell for me for making much noise in conference play, I don’t think the Huskers will be able to challenge them down low on the block on defense or have a great rebounding margin against their size. Given that, I think I would split the series 1-1 with a road loss in Assembly Hall and a home win at PBA, recent winning trends on the road here be damned.
2018-19 record: 12-21, 7-13
Against Huskers last season: 1-1
Last 4 seasons: 3-3
Last season saw Illinois exposed badly in their lack of front-court size and depth. Against a non-con SOS that saw 6 teams inside the top 100 in RPI and only 5 outside the top 150, the Illini went 5-7. They went on to go 1-7 in conference play and had Illinois fans questioning their hire of Brad Underwood before rattling off big upsets over Maryland (neutral court), Michigan State, and Ohio State. The Illini went on to end the season 12-21 overall and 7-13 in conference with a Thursday exit in the Big Ten Tournament at the hands of a 20-point Iowa blowout.
While Coach Underwood acknowledges his high-pressure defense is not as effective at the P6 level, it does show signs of progress with tweaks that have been made over the years at Illinois. However, we’ll get more into that in the returning player breakdowns. As for what the Illini lost, there’s not much to be missed. Aaron Jordan’s 8 points per game certainly were important when looking at the point averages for other Illini players, but was still low enough that an underclassmen moving up the ranks should be able to fill his shoes easily enough. Adonis De La Rosa is also gone, but he averaged 8.7 minutes a game and 2.3 points, so this is hardly a big blow.
Perhaps most key for the Illini in returning players is the front-court trio of Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu, and Andres Feliz. Ayo led the team last season with 13.8 points and 3.2 assists per game while being named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten and All-Freshman Team member; Frazier was second with 13.7 points and 2.6 assists per game while leading the team in steals with 1.4 per game; and Feliz was fourth with 8.3 points per game. Led in large part by these three, the Illini ranked 24th in the country and 1st in the B1G in turnover rate, combining for an average of 3.66 steals a game. Against Michigan State, Frazier caused 3 turnovers, and MSU gave the ball up 24 total times to Illinois’s high-pressure defense. (However, their 21 team fouls were vastly under-called.)
Also back is leading team rebounder Giorgi Bezhanishvili, who averaged 5.2 rebounds, 12.5 points (3rd highest on the team), and 0.8 blocks per game last season. However, Bezhanishvili’s post defense was less than stellar, and as a team the Illini allowed 64.5% shooting near the rim (ranking 308th nationally) while ranking 13th in the B1G in defensive rebounding percentage. As for additions to the roster, top-50 recruit Kofi Cockburn should prove beneficial to the post game as a 7’ 290lbs center does a lot to choke up the paint by sheer size alone. However, we will see how much Cockburn manages to do with his 7’2” wingspan beyond drawing easy whistles as a freshman depending on his basketball acumen on the court.
As for their important non-conference games, Illinois plays against the Grand Canyon Antelopes (117th RPI) in Phoenix November 8th and then travels down the road to Tucson to take on Arizona (119th RPI) November 10th. For the B1G/ACC Challenge, Illinois plays host to Miami who finished 129th in RPI last season. The highest ranked opponent Illinois plays will be at home against Old Dominion (63rd in RPI), but that will come only three days after hosting Michigan for early December B1G action. Finally, Illinois plays Missouri on a neutral court in St. Louis (131st RPI).
As for B1G play, the opening salvo of B1G play after the new year is rough with at MSU, Purdue, and at Wisconsin, but a little further down the schedule gets even rougher. Illinois’s toughest stretch will come between January 21st and February 11th. During that stretch, the Illini play at Purdue, at Michigan, against Minnesota, at Iowa, against Maryland, and against Michigan State. That’s just a brutal stretch of road games and home games against likely-ranked opponents one after the other. For the Cornhuskers, Nebraska will travel to Champaign Monday, February 24th for the only match-up during the regular season between the two. This should be a good game to watch to see Hoiberg’s fast-paced, three-point offense square off against Underwood’s high-pressure defense. If Nebraska wants a post season, even in the NIT, this will be a must-win game. I’m not sure I can confidently predict a win at this point, so expect the Huskers to go 0-1 against Illinois.
6. Michigan Wolverines (Boo!!! Boo this team!)
2018-19 record: 30-7, 15-5
Against Huskers last season: 1-0
Against MSU: 0-3
Last 4 seasons: 5-1 (Hoiberg better correct this ASAP or else)
Fichigan was the hot shot to start last season, going 17-0 to start the year, including avenging their foe from the previous season’s national title game, Villanova. However, they fell just short of a B1G title and B1G Tournament title last season. Little sister lost to in-state rival Michigan State three times, leading at the half by a comfortable margin every game before imploding in the second half. These implosions included the regular season finale, denying a share of the conference title, and the tournament title game, denying a third straight tournament title for the yellow rodents. Michigan went on to the NCAA tournament as a two seed before being upset in the Sweet 16 by eventual runner-up Texas Tech.
Juwan Howard is the buzz around the Chrysler Center this off-season. At B1G Media Day, the new head coach regaled us all how he recruited Chris Weber to play at Michigan back in the era of the Fab Five. I’m not sure how he doesn’t remember Ed Martin being the real reason Weber came there to call timeouts when there weren’t any left, but if this becomes symbolic of his tenure as head coach, I am all for it. Oh, and if you’ve been living under a rock in terms of big basketball news, John Beilein took the MSU alum owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers up on a job offer, and bolted town to finish out his impressive and successful career in a way that has Michigan fans donning tin foil hats for conspiracy hiring theories (and no, delusional Wolverine fan. He was a top-notch college coach, but he was not in the same league as Izzo.). Michigan made the curious and risky move to hire former star Juwan Howard despite the former Fab-Five star having zero head coaching experience at any level and no college coaching experience what-so-ever.
Also gone from the Michigan bench are forward Ignas Brazdeikis, guard Charles Matthews, and guard Jordan Poole. Poole is a tough blow and left early to be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft to the Golden State Warriors. This has worked out well for him. Brazdeikis also left early and went in the second round to the Sacramento Kings, who traded him to the Knicks. Replacing Ignas’s team best 14.8 points per game on 46.2% shooting inside the arc and 5.4 rebounds will be difficult. Poole’s 12.8 points and 2.2 assists won’t be easy either.
While my initial glee at the Wolverine’s offseason woes was great fun, as the season draws near, I am a little less happy as I remember how much talent they do return to their roster. Zavier Simpson returns as a formidable point guard and averaged 6.6 assists a game last season, while also being one of the more skilled defenders in the country. 7’1” center Jon Teske makes an imposing presence down low with his height and team best 7 rebounds and 2 blocks a game. However, I do not personally have a lot of high praise for him beyond that as I view him as a fairly limited player otherwise. Michigan’s big get in the offseason is Franz Wagner, the younger brother of former-Wolverine standout Moe Wagner. Franz is a 6’8” wing who played in Europe and joins the Michigan squad with high expectations based on, in part, his brother’s success.
As for what to expect schematically from a Howard coached team, the best I have from my research basically suggests Howard will be noticeably different from the offensive and defensive philosophies of Beilein, but he hasn’t offered what that will mean on the court. Hats off to Howard that he managed to keep Saddi Washington on as an assistant, who was widely credited with turning around the defense under Beilein in the last few years. Also on staff will be Phil Martelli, who served as head coach at St. Joseph’s for 24 years and had seven NCAA tournament appearances before being fired last March. Martelli and Washington will offer valuable experience to newcomer head coach Howard.
My husband got annoyed with me when I started laughing loudly for over a minute straight after looking at Michigan’s season opener. They host Appalachian State (275th RPI last season, but don’t let that take away from the hilarity of what idiot thought it a good idea to schedule them as a season opening opponent, let alone ever, in any sport after 2007). After their season opener, things get quite challenging overall in the non-con. They play host to Creighton, who finished 62nd in RPI last year. Over Thanksgiving, Michigan will be well tested when they play Iowa State (32nd RPI) in the Battle for Atlantis opening round, then face either Alabama (56th RPI) or still not sanctioned North Carolina (4th RPI). Other possible opponents include Seton Hall (39th RPI), Gonzaga (8th RPI), and Oregon (46th RPI). The Wolverines will travel to Louisville for a rematch of the [vacated] game six years ago in the B1G/ACC Challenge. Finally, they will host Oregon after their December conference games wrap up to round out a challenging non-conference schedule.
As for conference play, I am tempted to say their opening gauntlet of the bulk of B1G play when the Wolverines travel to MSU, host Purdue, then have back to back road games at Minnesota and Iowa is the brutal stretch. Then I finished perusing the full schedule and think the edge goes to the closing stretch instead. Michigan plays at Purdue Feb 22nd, then hosts Wisconsin, plays at Ohio State, hosts Nebraska, and ends the regular season on the road at Maryland on March 8th. That will be a rough stretch to end a long season. The Huskers get the Wolverines twice this season, playing host in Lincoln at the Vault on Tuesday, January 28th, and making the trip to that-city-that-shall-not-be-named on Thursday, March 5th. It would be a big win for the first year under Hoiberg if Nebraska could catch Michigan reeling after a brutal non-con and opening to conference play with a win at PBA, but even if they manage that, I don’t see this series going better than 1-1 for the year. Let’s leave it at 1-1, though, given the question marks Michigan has and, let’s be honest here, because I am incredibly biased.
5. Flopsconsin, Er, I mean Wisconsin Badgers
2018-19 record: 23-11, 14-6
Against Huskers last season: 2-0
Last 4 seasons: 4-3
First off, I know I speak for Corn Nation, Huskers everywhere, and really the entire B1G community, when I say we all wish Assistant Coach Howard Moore a speedy recovery in his ongoing recovery to full health, and our sincere condolences to him after the loss of his wife and daughter in their tragic car accident this past summer. Nothing will make us all happier as fans in this great conference than seeing him have the ability to return to the Wisconsin bench to continue his role as an assistant coach if he chooses to once recovered.
Flopsconsin had a rebound season last year, returning to the NCAA tournament after ending their 19-year streak the previous year, a consecutive-appearance streak that was 6th longest all time (though it would be higher ranked if the NCAA had a spine). Wisconsin ended the regular season 4th in the conference, finishing the regular season 14-6, then cruelly ending Nebraska’s stunning run in the conference tournament on Friday. The Badgers went on to lose to conference and tournament champion 1 seed Michigan State. Wisconsin made the NCAA tournament as a 5 seed in the south and, embarrassingly for the B1G, was the only B1G team to lose in the first round, doing so in a resounding 72-54 defeat at the hands of 12 seed Oregon (ignore the fact they made the Sweet 16 after beating UC Irvine).
Obviously, Ethan Happ represents the key departure for the Badgers, and considering he was First Team All B1G in media and coaches last season, that is no surprise. Also no surprise is that when accounting for the fact that he led the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals last season. And he led the team the season prior (along with blocks), and all of those same statistics the season before that minus points. Bearing this in mind, it becomes blatantly obvious he is a clear Shaquille O’Neal size 22 shoes to fill. In addition, fellow big man down low Khalil Iverson leaves a big defensive hole in addition to Happ.
Returning to the court this season for the Badgers is Grayson Allen… er, I mean Junior Guard Brad Davis. Yes, the flopping, dirty playing, Allen wannabe is back for another go around. Also back is Junior Guard D’Mitrik Trice (who, being Travis Trice’s younger brother, I actually respect and enjoy watching on the court). While Wisconsin’s mind-numbing swing offense doesn’t require quite the point guard talent an actual enjoyable to watch offense does, it does require crisp passing, and Trice delivers that well. He and Davis are the reason why Wisconsin was 9th in the country in turnover margin last season. Trice also will likely see more heavy usage to score after shooting 39% last season from behind the arc. Brevin Pritzl will be a concern for any opposing defense after shooting 41% from three last season (and 53.5% in conference play). Forward Nate Reuvers will need to fill the gaping hole created by Happ’s departure, but his 44.9% shooting from field goal range should help him do so, and he will stretch defenders on him with his 38.1% shooting from three-point range. Nebraska will see a stark difference in playing style between the two teams as Wisconsin draws out offensive possessions as long as possible and the Huskers try to score quickly.
Wisconsin challenges themselves right out of the gate with a neutral court game against Saint Mary’s, who finished 35th in RPI last year. Also up in the non-con will be 30th ranked in-state opponent Marquette. Wisconsin drew a road game to North Carolina State who is no slouch after finishing last season at 97th in RPI. Finally, the non-con highlight game for the Badgers will be December 28th when they travel to 7th in RPI Tennessee to take on the Vols after beating them in OT in the Sweet 16 last season. As for B1G play, the Badgers face their most daunting gauntlet from January 14th to February 1st. They start that with a home game against Maryland before a visit to East Lansing three days later, host Nebraska, play at Purdue and Iowa, before closing the stretch with a visit from Sparty to the Kohl Center just over two weeks after their Breslin visit. Nebraska visits the Kohl Center on January 21st and plays host to the Badgers on Saturday, February 15th (so be nice to the significant other Friday night so s/he lets you go to the game to bring the noise). Expect this to end poorly for the Huskers and go 0-2 in the series, though.