Illinois is not in an ideal place being 0-5 in conference. I didn’t want to be the one to say it, but last year Underwood and Oklahoma State started 0-6 in conference, so maybe Illinois won’t miss the NIT this year? It’s too early to tell exactly where this team will be at the end of the conference season, but things need to turn around quickly if Illinois wants to sniff the postseason. Luckily, the Nebraska Corn Huskers are at least a beatable team.
The Cornhuskers sit at 12-7 overall and 3-3 in conference play as we have gone beyond the halfway point of the season. This has the makings to be Tim Miles’ best season as head coach yet, and players like Glynn Watson and Isaac Copeland leading the way on offense. Already boasting three more wins in conference than Illinois, Nebraska has beaten Minnesota (78-68 on Dec. 5) and Northwestern (70-55 on Jan. 2). They also slid past Wisconsin (64-59 on Jan. 9) but have dropped games to Penn State (76-74 in OT this past Friday) as well as less-surprising losses to both Michigan State and Purdue.
Nebraska is averaging 74.0 points per game, and outscores its opponents by an average of 3.3 points. In terms of rebounding, the Cornhuskers margin sits at -3.2 per game, which could bode well for the Illini. The Huskers’ leading rebounder is Copeland with 6.5 per game, and Jordy Tshimanga pulls in 5.1 himself.
Key Losses and Additions
Perhaps the most notable loss to the team was Tai Webster, who averaged 17 points per game by season’s end last year. Watson was the number two scorer, but both Copeland and James Palmer, Jr. have come in and provided a needed scoring threat. Ed Morrow, Jr. graduated and gave Nebraska a legitimate rebounder, along with Michael Jacobson who departed for Iowa State as a transfer. It doesn’t look like Nebraska has totally filled that hole those two left. The Huskers averaged a +2 rebound margin last year.
I’ve already mentioned Isaac Copeland, and he’s the new guy the Illini will need to keep their eyes on. Copeland was a mid-season transfer from Georgetown last year and used his medical redshirt for the 2016-2017 season. Aside from the points and rebounding, his 6’9” frame will be less than fun for Illinois to have to match up with. Look what happened with Tyler Cook in the Iowa game.
This one seems like a no-brainer to me. Glynn Watson is a Chicago-area native and a guy John Groce could have easily recruited to join Illinois. Instead, Tim Miles picks him up and he is having another good season in red and white. Although he hasn’t been shooting the ball particularly well (his season field goal percentage sits at 37.7%), he is due to improve his numbers. Underwood will probably focus a lot of his attention on Copeland, which will allow Watson plenty of open looks. If Lucas is still sitting or doesn’t see a lot of minutes, this is a more likely scenario.
Illinois has already played and lost 3 overtime games, and they are tired. The flu bug just came around, too. Nebraska themselves just had their first overtime game for the season in their Friday loss at Penn State, but all indications point to Nebraska pulling this one off. As we’ve seen, this roster does have some holes that I believe the combo of Copeland, Watson and Palmer will overwhelm Illinois on defense. The good news is that this team doesn’t like losing by double-digits, but there’s still plenty of road to makeup to bring this program back to its former prestige.
This one will go to overtime, because, why not?
Nebraska 89, Illinois 85 (OT)