So, How We Doin'? Nebraska
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My main thought with this one: rebounds. I touched on rebounding a little bit before the Minnesota game, but I want to dig in a little more. But before we get to Nebraska, a quick fun fact once the stats updated after the Minnesota game (and the Maryland game):
There are 358 Division I basketball programs. Current rankings in offensive rebound percentage:
1. Illinois (41.8%)
358. Minnesota (16.7%)
We've moved up to #1. And Minnesota has surged past Vermont and Montana to be the worst offensive rebounding team in the country (which just means, as we discussed, that they shoot and then immediately run the other way to set up their defense).
Why bring this up again? Because Nebraska is 340th. 20.9%. And, unlike Minnesota, Nebraska is also very poor on the defensive glass. Minnesota was at least a respectable 92nd in defensive rebound percentage (73.8%). Illinois is 50th (75.5%). Nebraska? 312th (67.2%).
So look at that like this. Trent shoots a three. He misses. Illinois grabs that offensive rebound 41.8% of the time, the best offensive rebounding percentage in the country. Nebraska allows an offensive rebound 32.8% of the time, which is 312th out of 358 teams. On average, when a shot goes up, the defense grabs it 72% of the time and the offense 28%. Tomorrow night, when we play the worst defensive rebounding team in the Big Ten, we might be able to push the single-game offensive rebounding percentage close to 50%? Rebound half our misses? Is that maybe possible?
Actually, with the rebounding numbers the other night, maybe we got close? Let me look this up.
The numbers against Maryland. When we missed a shot, we grabbed 19 offensive rebounds and they grabbed 23 defensive rebounds. Now I need to look this up for Minnesota as well.
The numbers against Minnesota: When we missed a shot, we grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and they grabbed 20 defensive rebounds.
OK, that's my side hustle tomorrow night in Nebraska. I'm gonna keep track of offensive rebounds/defensive rebounds. Can we get to 50%? We're the best offensive rebounding team in the country (that's both Kofi and the long-rebound chase-downs from Grandison, Da'Monte, and Hawkins), and Nebraska is one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country. Let's see if we can split our missed shots 50/50.
Looking at the overall game, I do have one thing that gives me pause: last year's game. We needed Ayo to rescue us just to force overtime (where we won the game). A quick note on that weird game:
It was snowing outside. The final hour of my drive to Lincoln was complete snowpack. And it was bitterly cold. As I recall, the low that night was something like -9. All I know is that the heater in my (cheap) hotel room just couldn't keep up - I'm guessing the room was 58 degrees the next morning.
The arena was a cavern during Covid. It's open at one end for this patio/plaza area (not open to the outdoors, but the upper deck stops and then there's this big open area above the lower deck. Because of that (or maybe just the overall arena design), it was very echo-y with 75 people in the building. My section of press row was empty (I was the only Illinois media member sitting there), so it was just... odd. I was basically attending a game by myself.
And the game felt the same. We seemed disinterested from the start. And we were 100% going to lose before Ayo said "fine, I'll do it myself" and scored (as I recall) 14 straight points to get us back to a tie and force overtime. And then we put them away.
Seeing Ohio State have the exact same game there last week (#13 Ohio State won in overtime) makes me pause a bit. Last year, Nebraska was 0-8 in the Big Ten, getting rolled every game, and suddenly they take us to overtime. This year, Nebraska is 0-5 in the Big Ten, getting rolled every game (well, besides Ohio State), and now we go there for another cold, sleepy game. Here's hoping Nebraska got their "we can be a plucky little team and bother some people" game out of the way against Ohio State and will roll over tomorrow night.
They basically have three players. One is a 5-star freshman (Bryce McGowens), and he's their all-everything player. He picked Nebraska because his brother is there (Tre McGowens), but Tre has a broken foot and is out. So the one-two punch is McGowens and once-upon-a-time-Illini-recruit Alonzo Verge. This next paragraph will be my "the Illini recruiting Alonzo Verge" memories:
The way I remember it, he burst onto the scene as a sophomore. My memory is fuzzy but I want to say it was some Thanksgiving or Christmas tournament where he scored 30+ per game and got a bunch of "is he the state's next great guard?" articles. But it never really materialized and he ended up going to junior college. He was successful there and landed at Arizona State. And now, as a super senior, he's playing his one more year at Nebraska.
Nebraska's third guy is a big who battled Kofi fairly well last season (Derrick Walker). I see that he's fifth nationally in shooting percentage (but only averaging 10 points per game) so that generally means "only tries layups and dunks". He's at least someone they can throw at Kofi, though.
Beyond that, I don't see much. They only shoot 28% from three. They're 1-8 in December and January. Their best win is KenPom #232 Southern University. They just lost to Rutgers by 32.
Hey, that's maybe where I'll find our final score. We beat Rutgers by 35. Nebraska lost to Rutgers by 32. ILLINI WILL WIN BY 67.
Not really. But I do think we'll win by 12.
Illinois 81, Nebraska 69