This article is being written under the assumption we have a season at all for our Nebraska Cornhuskers, and, if we do, also assuming we play the currently scheduled Nebrasketball non-conference schedule.
The non-conference schedule would likely be a very beneficial time to gel for essentially an all-new Husker team (for the second straight year, mind you). I know we thought the same thing last year and it didn’t work that well, but this year’s team is different. Right?
Enough talking about the Huskers, though. This isn’t about them, but breaking down their second scheduled opponent: Purdue-Fort Wayne Mastodons (formerly part of IPFW, until they split about two years ago). If you don’t think Mastodons are one of the coolest mascots in college sports, then you’re probably a fan of everyone being the Tigers, Bulldogs, or Wildcats.
The Huskers and Mastodons have played three times previously, with Nebraska emerging victorious in all three, the most recent coming in 2008. All games were decided by 17 or more points.
But what will the Mastodons bring to the court?
As you may assume from early, non-conference games against teams with unique names: not much. But not nothing. The Mastodons are newly joined members of the Horizon League as of this month, not exactly a conference known for basketball prestige. Up until their new conference realignment, however, they were part of the Summit League for 13 years.
Playing against the likes of the Dakota schools, Oral Roberts, and even Omaha makes the Mastodons’ 14-19 a little more respectable. The Huskers went 7-25 in comparison. It also means there were some common opponents in South Dakota State Jackrabbits and North Dakota Fighting Hawks.
Nebraska beat SDSU by 17, accounting for perhaps their most impressive non-conference win last year. PFW went 1-2 against SDSU with the losses coming by an average of ten points. Their win, however, came in the Summit League tournament, where the seventh-seeded Mastodons took out the two-seed Jackrabbits. Switching to North Dakota, the Huskers dropped that one in heart-wrenching fashion by one point. PFW also went 1-2 against North Dakota, with their second loss coming in the Summit League tournament after their SDSU win.
Lastly, both teams did play the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Huskers lost both games against the Buckeyes by a combined 33 points. The Mastodons lost by 39 in their one game. The takeaway from the common opponents: neither of these teams were great last year.
So what does this tell us? Honestly, not a lot, but maybe shows there isn’t as big of an assumed gap between the Huskers and some of these “cupcakes” in the early schedule. Hopefully, Nebraska knows this, after last year and the Incarnate Word Cardinals a few years back. So let’s take a deeper look at the upcoming team the Huskers will see on November 14th.
Looking at the PFW roster, there were only two seniors that will no longer be on the team. 6-foot-7 forward Matt Holba was their third-leading scorer, at only around nine points per game, and fourth-leading rebounder. Perhaps most importantly, he shot a team-high 37.4-percent on three-pointers, while taking the second most on the team. The other senior, guard Marcus DeBerry, was their sixth-leading scorer and got the fifth-most minutes on the team.
Aside from those two, PFW returns everyone else. Four of their top five scorers, including the top two. Jarred Godfrey, a sophomore guard, averaged around 16 points, five rebounds, four assists, and a steal per game. A talented scorer, he shot 43-percent from the field, but on 30% from beyond the arc. His mate in the backcourt and second-leading scorer was Brian Patrick, a junior. His numbers don’t stand out, but he was the best free throw shooter and second-best three point shooter on the team.
Outside of the top guards, the Mastodons have a freshman guard in Deonte Billups that got great experience last season, averaging over 26 minutes per game. He also had decent numbers and shooting splits. One thing that would worry any Husker fan who saw Yvan Ouedraogo admirably play at the five all year would be anyone over 6-foot-9. Luckily, the Mastodons only have one guy fitting that bill. Dylan Carl, a junior big man, was the team’s leading rebounder, fifth-leading scorer, and shot over 57-percent from the field (but 25-percent from three). Seems like just another big man out there to get rebounds and putbacks, but that could lead to a big game against the Huskers, unless the center position fleshes out.
All-in-all, the Mastodons have some talent to press the Huskers, depending on what team shows up. I would expect their guard trio to all be able to press the backcourt and Carl to have a decent game down low. That said, they lost their top three-point shooter and only have two players average double figures in scoring returning with no one averaging over four assists. This leads me to believe their backcourt will play a lot of isolation to take the game over themselves, without a lot of motion and passes. Think anti-Spurs or Warriors (or pro-Thunder or Rockets if that suits you).
Just for fun, I will give one bold prediction and give my score almost four months out. Teddy Allen will drop at least 30 points, and the Huskers will win 84-69. You just have to take the Huskers this far out. Mastodons are extinct after all.