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What To Watch For: Broken record continues to spin as IU looks for first road win

Following another disappointing effort on the road Wednesday night in a 59-50 loss to Rutgers, Indiana will have another opportunity to right the ship and get the team’s coveted first road win on Saturday when the Hoosiers take on Nebraska.

This will be the second meeting between the Hoosiers and Cornhuskers this season. The first came back in December in Bloomington and it was a narrow 96-90 overtime win for Indiana.

With IU holding tight in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten standings at 3-3, and the conference being as difficult as it is, Nebraska is (another) good opportunity for Indiana to bounce back.

Absolutely no road game is easy in the Big Ten, and Nebraska just about beat IU back in Bloomington. But with how difficult the Big Ten is, there isn’t a better opportunity to get a road win compared to what’s left on Indiana’s schedule:

Hoosiers can’t get too confident

Nebraska has a lowly 7-10 overall record and sits at second-to-last in the Big Ten standings with a 2-4 conference record. In the NCAA’s NET rankings, the Cornhuskers rank at No. 161. For reference, this is also the second-lowest rank in the conference and other than Nebraska and Northwestern, every other Big Ten team is ranked in the top 50.

The Cornhuskers’ unimpressive spot in the metric is largely due to a number of losses to low-major competition. The losses include UC-Riverside, Southern Utah, George Mason and North Dakota.

If the first meeting wasn’t enough evidence, the Hoosiers by no means should underestimate Nebraska. Despite their bad losses, they’ve shown to be capable of beating good teams too. The Cornhuskers own two home wins over Purdue and Iowa.

If the Hoosiers want to bounce back from a terrible offensive showing, which included their lowest point total of the year (50) and get that elusive first road win, the team is going to need to learn from previous mistakes.

It’s starting to sound like a broken record, but consistent turnovers, poor shooting from outside the paint and ugly perimeter defense have come to define this team. All of those struggles were particularly evident in the first Nebraska meeting, the Rutgers game on Wednesday and throughout the majority of Indiana’s season.

Guard play, guard play, guard play

Fixing these mistakes all breaks down to the guard play. When Indiana has solid-to-great play out of just a few of its four guards, the Hoosiers are at their best. That has occurred in Indiana’s marquee wins over Florida State and Ohio State and is hence why Indiana won.

When Indiana’s guards aren’t clicking, a result like Rutgers occurs. That was a game where Indiana only scored 50 points, went 2-for-19 from the 3-point line (with those two threes being the only shots made outside of the paint) and a six to 16 assist-to-turnover ratio.

The post play from Trayce Jackson-Davis and Joey Brunk has been consistently great both in scoring and rebounding the ball. Adding in a great performance from any of the guards is the catalyst that this offense needs to become truly potent.

Justin Smith hangs on the rim after a dunk in Indiana’s first meeting with Nebraska on December 13 inside Assembly Hall. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

In the last Nebraska game, Indiana overcame the sloppiness by solid offensive performances from Al Durham and Rob Phinisee. The pair had 14 and 16 points, respectively and each had a pair of 3-pointers made.

The guards don’t have to be spectacular; they just need to be good for Indiana to win games. Adding those performances with the consistent play of the bigs and Indiana is in good position.

Looking at Indiana’s prep for Nebraska this time around, the guards are going to have to tighten up the perimeter and on-ball defense. Nebraska guards Dachon Burke Jr and Haanif Cheatham went for 25 and 21 points, respectively, and shot 6-14 from the three-point line.

The guards will also have to limit the turnovers, they had 15 the first time around, and find ways to make outside shots, even if difficult. The Cornhuskers guard the three-point line particularly well, forcing opponents to shoot about 29.2 percent from beyond the arc on the season, which is right about Indiana’s season average.

If the Hoosiers can’t hit from deep, then the guards need to at least put some points up in general. Nebraska is allowing opponents to score about 74 points per game, which should be favorable to Indiana.

Take over in the paint

The frontcourt for the Hoosiers should also be in favorable space as Nebraska has a -10 rebounding differential and doesn’t have a ton of height on the roster. In the first meeting Indiana outrebounded Nebraska by a 54-31 margin.

Additionally, that game was also Jackson-Davis’ best performance of the season, going off for a double-double with 25 points and 15 rebounds.

Combining the possibility of a solid performance from the guards with good play in the post puts Indiana in position to finally win on another school’s campus.

Whether or not that comes to fruition will be determined at 7 p.m. Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln.

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