Indiana will be looking for its second win in a row and it second Big Ten road victory tonight when the Hoosiers travel to play Nebraska.The days, however, of looking at the Cornhuskers and just expecting it to be an easy victory are over. While Nebraska may only be 10-9 overall and 2-5 in Big Ten play, the Huskers have proved to be a dangerous team in their new building.
Nebraska is 9-1 at home this season including a 2-1 home mark in Big Ten play. Those wins were against Ohio State and Minnesota. The loss, the only home loss this season, was a 71-70 decision to Michigan, a team that sits atop the Big Ten standings.
Tom Crean said Wednesday that it probably doesn't hurt a young team knowing that teams like Ohio State and Minnesota have played at Nebraska recently and lost.
"Well, I think with a young team it does help,'' Crean said. "Older teams usually know how this league is. But with a young group of guys, we do have to make sure they know that, because they don't have a great familiarity with Nebraska yet. That's where the video comes in; that's where getting isolated in the trip, and just getting into `bunker' mentality as soon as possible. You know after practice today, it's crucial to that.''
But Crean said he thinks his young team is growing up quickly in the Big Ten environment, too.
"I think they're growing and every game they realize just how tough it is to win in this league,'' Crean said. "We're really locking in on some personnel in this game as well some team things, which will hopefully create a little more focus. We've got to go in having a great mindset of not having a lack of communication or miscommunication, especially when you get on the road. It's so imperative that everybody is responsible for each other's play on the court and that's where the communication and the echoes and all those things come in.
"So it doesn't matter who you are playing in this league, you're going to be in a battle every night. Bottom line is there is nobody you can point to in this league who hasn't won games. So to me, and especially those that haven't won until the very last seconds, everything that we're gaining, hopefully helps us get into that and I am sure Nebraska feels the same way."
Crean said what makes facing Nebraska difficult is the Huskers' athleticism.
"They shoot the ball extremely well,'' Crean said. "They are tremendous at getting to the basket and they are very unconventional when it comes to the biggest player on the court who is also one of the very best 3-point shooters on the court. It's going to spread our defense, but at the same time, that's why we work on switching; that's why we put our big men as forwards in situations they have to guard the guards. In practice you don't form moments like this. But they have tremendous talent. I don't think there is any question about that. (Nebraska) is getting better and they play with great intensity and they have great confidence at home - there is no doubt about that. And you can see the crowd support on film. You can see it, you can hear it and I think they are responding very well to it.''
Nebraska had dropped five games in a row before winning two of the last three. It beat Ohio State 68-62 at home, then lost to Penn State on the road before coming home to beat Minnesota 82-78 on Sunday. Crean said he feels like Nebraska has been building toward this point all season long."The veterans, with some transfers, and some new players, you can just see the chemistry developing in their team,'' Crean said. "They are doing a very good job defensively. What they have is, it's hard to find a guy to come on the court that can't score. And they shoot the ball well and they get to the rim. Tim (Miles) does a very good job of putting guys in spots. This player might be in isolation, this person may come off a screen, this person may be in a drive-and-kick, this person may come off a pick-and-roll and he knows how to get these guys shots. I think they have very good players and they are just getting used to, probably I would imagine, playing together constantly. I mean (Terran) Petteway is the leading scorer. He takes 17 shots a game right now in the conference and he is a wrecking crew when it comes to having the ball in his hands, because he can find people. But he can get to the rim and shoot threes, and then your spacing is what has made them unique. But the ball moves really well for them right now. I think that's a really point attributed to them."
As for why Nebraska plays so well at home, Crean admitted he didn't really have a great feel for that. But as he has experienced with his own program, he knows the lift a home crowd can provide, too.
"They are averaging 73 points per game at home and I think in a nutshell, they play very fast at home,'' Crean said. "I'm not sure what his mindset is, I'm not sure what Tim's mindset is for the road. You have to have different things for the road, there is no question about that. There are offenses even that we would feel that would be more conducive setting a tempo or setting a pace or slowing things down, you know maybe on the road versus what you might do at home.
"They play extremely fast at home and they have the ability to slow it down. They get out on the break. I think what has happened there is the teams that have been there shot it quick, taken bad shots, taken corner shots, things of that nature, and Nebraska capitalizes on that. Because with the 73 points they're scoring at home, in the Big Ten they are very good on the fast break and their defensive rebounding at a high rate.