It’s been an interesting 12 months for the Nebraska Cornhuskers and coach Tim Miles. Lightly regarded heading into the 2013-14 campaign, Nebraska shook off the doldrums of a slow start in the Big 10 to reach the NCAA tournament in Cinderella fashion. Despite a first-round loss to Baylor, hopes were high for a team that returned most of its key ingredients heading into the 2014-15 season.
College basketball is an unpredictable world however, and Nebraska found that out first hand when they dropped surprising outcomes to Rhode Island, Incarnate Word and Hawaii coming out of the blocks. Then, the Cornhuskers doubled-down on their troubles by losing to Indiana and Iowa in their first two league games of the season.
Now facing a daunting stretch of games in which Nebraska has three of four games against conference powers Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State, there is some indication the Cornhuskers might be finding their stride.
The reason for Nebraska’s revival has been a stout defense that is coming off consecutive outings where they held the opposition to less than 50 points. In claiming wins over Rutgers and Illinois, the Cornhuskers surrendered just 49 and 43 points respectively. Against the Scarlet Knights, Nebraska forced 19 turnovers and held Rutgers to just 34.7 percent shooting. The Cornhuskers turned in an even better showing against the Illini, allowing just 27.3 percent accuracy from the field.
Can Nebraska continue their defensive prowess in coming days? Miles certainly hopes so since he’s facing three difficult opponents in the Badgers, Wolverines and Spartans.
For the sake of their postseason hopes, the Cornhuskers will need more of the same if another trip to the NCAA tournament is to become a reality. Offensively, Nebraska won’t intimidate many foes. The Cornhuskers average just under 66 points per game, shoot a bit over 43 percent from the field, connect on 30.9 percent of their shots from 3-point range, and get out-rebounded on a game-by-game basis.
While Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields are effective scorers, they account for more than 50 percent of Nebraska’s points on average. In other words, the Cornhuskers aren’t going to blow anyone away with their offensive prowess. With that said, Nebraska’s defense might be enough to lift the Cornhuskers back into contention. While they lack a big-time shot-blocker in the middle, Miles’ team consistently harasses opponents into putting up paltry offensive numbers.
The Cornhuskers will need more of the same against a banged-up Badgers squad on Thursday before returning home for games with Minnesota and the Michigan State. Should Nebraska find a way to win two of those three games, it’ll be set up for a nice run as the conference slate unfolds.
For that to occur, the Cornhuskers will need to continue to display the kind of defense that carried them to victories over Rutgers and Illinois. Otherwise, a return to the NCAA tournament will prove out of reach.