On Tuesday, newly ranked No. 25 Illinois heads to Lincoln to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-10, 0-5). The Fighting Illini have won their first four in Big Ten play, and their last four against the Huskers. Illinois is coming off a win at home against Maryland, while the Huskers lost 93-65 at Rutgers on Saturday.
The Fred Hoiberg Era So Far
Nebraska hired Lincoln native Fred Hoiberg as head coach preceding the 2019-20 season. As many coaches do, Hoiberg had a difficult first season, going 7-25 (2-18) and finishing last in the Big Ten. Nebraska’s troubles continued the following season, in which they also finished last.
The Cornhuskers have had a lot of turnover during the Hoiberg era. Leading scorer Teddy Allen transferred to New Mexico State, while guard Dalano Banton was drafted 46th overall by the Toronto Raptors.
After the 2019-20 season, Trey McGowens transferred from Pitt to Nebraska. McGowens played well for the Huskers, scoring 10.7 PPG on 36.7% 3PT shooting. This last offseason, his brother Bryce McGowens committed to Nebraska. Bryce, a 6-foot-7 guard, was rated as the 29th best recruit of 2021 by both 24/7 and Rivals.
Nebraska has obviously been disappointing so far, going 0-9 against high-major opponents. Bryce McGowens has been a bright spot for the Huskers, leading them in scoring with 15.7 PPG and 5.5 RPG. Unfortunately, his brother Trey suffered a broken toe in the third game of the year and hasn’t played since.
Arizona State transfer and Chicago native Alonzo Verge has stepped up in the meantime for the Huskers, scoring 14 PPG with 5 RPG and 5 APG. Another bright spot has been forward Derrick Walker, who leads the Big Ten with 74.7% shooting from the field. Walker has strong post moves and has scored in double figures in the last four games.
Nebraska struggles to shoot threes (14th in the Big Ten) and rebound (13th). Part of their rebounding problem is that they don’t have a true center with meaningful playing time. This has been a common issue for the Big Ten teams that Illinois has played so far. Without an established center, any team will have a tough time against Kofi Cockburn.
Illinois will be heavy favorites in this game, and it should be its easiest road game of the year. Losing this game would be a huge blow to the Illini.
You gotta feel for Fred Hoiberg, who by all accounts is a great guy. Hopefully for his sake, Bryce McGowens can help lead the Nebraska program to competence, if not relevance.