Preview: Iowa vs. Nebraska

Story by Miles Klotz

LINCOLN, NE - DECEMBER 22: Nebraska guard James Palmer Jr. (24) drives to the basket for a lay up against Delaware State forward Simon Okolue (23) during the first half Friday, December 22nd at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska won over Delaware State 85 to 68. (Photo by John Peterson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Iowa City, Iowa – Iowa’s win over Wisconsin on Tuesday isn’t a great litmus test for the rest of the Hawkeyes men’s basketball team’s season, given how that Badger team is their worst in almost 20 years, but it’s a boost of confidence nonetheless. The Hawkeyes now have some momentum headed into Saturday’s matchup against Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers are playing surprisingly better than pretty much anyone outside of Lincoln expected of them this season. Coming into the season, there weren’t high expectations for Nebraska, who haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2014 and were coming off their third straight season with a sub-.500 record in Big Ten play. Over those last three years, the Cornhuskers have never exceeded more than six Big Ten wins in a season, and have only done that once since joining the league. Nebraska is already sitting at 6-4 on the season.

The Huskers rank 64th on KenPom, which is their highest ranking in three years, and hold a top-25 win over Michigan. They don’t have a single loss to a sub-100 team, either. If the Cornhuskers finish the season strong, and end up with 10 to 12 Big Ten wins, they could be in line for an at-large bid with a good performance in the Big Ten tournament, almost certainly saving coach Tim Miles’ job.

First, Nebraska has to take on Iowa, who is coming off of that big victory over Wisconsin at home. The Huskers beat Iowa in Lincoln last year in a double overtime thriller, and are 2-2 overall against Iowa at home since joining the Big Ten. And this is a better Nebraska team than years past, and a worse Iowa team than years past.

Iowa fans may also recognize the name Glynn Watson, Jr., who has been a mainstay for Nebraska for three years now. His numbers are down from his breakout sophomore season, but he still scores in double digits and is a good passing point guard. Louisville transfer Anton Gill has provided depth in the backcourt, and reserve forwards Isaiah Roby and Evan Taylor have helped Nebraska defensively.

Indeed, the defensive end is where Nebraska has excelled this season, ranking 35th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency. They hold opponents to the 21st-lowest effective field goal percentage in the country, are top-15 in three-point defense and just outside the top-50 in two-point defense; bottom line, they’re tough to score on. Nebraska isn’t great offensively, sitting outside the top-100 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency, but they’re good enough on defense to turn their opponent’s mistakes into offense. Nebraska rarely turns the ball over and gets to the line frequently, even if their two-point offense isn’t as effective as their three-point offense. Iowa will have to guard the three-point line well to beat the Huskers. They did that against Wisconsin, but have not done that against most of their opponents this season.

Prediction: Nebraska wins, 72-60. Iowa played well against Wisconsin, but Nebraska is so much better on both sides of the ball and it’s in a tough road environment.

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