Who they are
They’re a Big Ten team from Lincoln, Nebraska. If you didn’t know that, reevaluate your life. Next!
What they did last year
Nebraska was oh-so-close to making the tournament in the 2017-18 season. This was Tim Miles’ sixth season at Nebraska, and he has only made the NCAA Tournament once in his six years. Interestingly enough, he was hired the same year as John Groce. So that gives you a little bit of context about whether or not football or basketball is the most important revenue sport in Lincoln.
Anyway, that squad from last year ended the season 22-11 (13-5 Big Ten), but the selection committee did not deem them good enough to make the tournament. Truth be told, their schedule was not stellar and they did not win any particularly great games. Notable wins on their schedule included a 78-68 at home against then-No. 14 Minnesota on Dec. 5 (remember how the rest of the Gophers’ season went?), at home against Wisconsin 63-59 on Jan. 9 and (again) at home against no. 23 Michigan 72-52 on Jan. 18. Considering Michigan went to the NCAA title game, that might’ve been their best win. But Nebraska also lost to the likes of St. John’s, Illinois, and UCF. And honestly, they should’ve lost to Illinois twice, save a James Palmer, Jr. buzzer-beater in the first matchup on Jan. 15.
Still, a 13-5 record in the Big Ten, even on a slightly down year, seemed like it could’ve carried them to an eight or nine seed. Tim Miles might have something a little more special on his hands this year.
Players to Watch
There’s plenty of names I could throw on here. Glynn Watson is a guy from Chicago that John Groce never paid attention to. James Palmer, Jr. is a go-to scorer. And Isaish Roby looks like a draft pick this upcoming year. He’s the guy I’m most worried about.
Forget that he’s 6-foot-7 and an athletic freak — oh, and did I mention he’s from Dixon, Illinois? Another recruiting miss for the last regime — he pretty much scored at will in last year’s contest in Champaign that the Illini walked out of victorious. Roby was 5-7 (3-3 from three point range) from the field and ended the night with 14 points. Talk about efficiency. Not to mention Isaac Copeland had 17 points of his own. He’s a scoring threat too. The problem with this Nebraska team is that the scoring can come from so many different places, and Illinois’ defense is so suspect that it’s hard to say who we should be most worried about. But because of his athleticism and ability to score, I’m going to say Brad better prep for Roby. He’s the biggest mismatch of anyone on Tim Miles’ roster.
The first Big Ten game being on the road is how one Paul Kowalcyzk might refer to as “not ideal.” Illinois has already had a difficult enough time with its non-conference opponents of Gonzaga, Iowa State, Xavier, Georgetown and Notre Dame, but beginning the Big Ten season with a road game against a bubble team (who I thought probably got snubbed) that returns nearly every important player is a recipe for disaster.
While Illinois may be a better shooting team and more athletic than last year, they are considerably younger. The loss of Leron Black and Michael Finke — although not a world-beater by any means — could have had an impact on a roster where he wasn’t the designated five. Still, Isaiah Roby, Glynn Watson and James Palmer, Jr. provide significant problems for the Illini defense, which hasn’t found a good way of stopping much of anything so far this year.
I think the best chance we have at winning this game starts on the perimeter — rotations need to be strong and we need to force bad shots deep into the shot clock. Nebraska is not unbeatable, in fact they might’ve been the best win Illinois had all last year. But I don’t see a W coming from this one.
Nebraska 87, Illinois 75
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