Nebraska/Illinois Preview

Twenty-four games into the season, this much is obvious: the Nebraska men's basketball team has hit a low-point in the season.

Twenty-four games into the season, this much is obvious: the men's Nebraska basketball team has hit a low-point in the season; a season that has been ravaged by disappointing losses and, to put it bluntly, dreadful basketball at times.

There have been some good moments. Take the home victory against No. 11 Indiana. And what about Dylan Talley's game-winning shot against Florida Gulf Coast?

Both will undoubtedly be remembered by this young writer for years to come, but unfortunately, they will be substantially overshadowed by a season that has been disappointing on a multitude of levels.

The Huskers (11-13, 3-10 Big Ten) look to bounce back against Illinois today at 4 p.m. as they hope to snap a four-game losing streak. Last Saturday, NU suffered a 67-51 loss at Penn State.

During the four-game losing streak, opponents are shooting 51 percent from the floor after Nebraska allowed opponents to shoot 43 percent over the first 20 games of the season.

NU is now officially the worst team in the Big Ten record wise. If the Huskers beat Illinois today, they would still remain at the bottom of the table — Penn St. would have the same record.

In the Big Ten, Nebraska ranks last in three different categories: scoring offense, scoring margin, and turnover margin. They rank 11th in offensive rebounding, 10th in field goal percentage, 10th in 3-point field goal percentage, and 10th in assists.

The Huskers are 10-4 when scoring at least 60 points, but are just 1-9 when not reaching that threshold. In Nebraska's three Big Ten wins, the Huskers have scored 70 or more points, but have been held under 65 points in nine of their 10 losses.

But despite these alarming numbers, Nebraska's never-say-die attitude was evident when senior Caleb Walker spoke before practice about the reality of the team's situation.

"This is not what we expected, but you can't run away from it," he explained. "When things like this happen, you can quit. But with this team, I think we keep working every day. We understand what we're facing. But you can't give up on the coaching staff or the players.''

Luckily for the Huskers, the Fighting Illini appears to be in the same funk as NU.

Illinois (16-10, 5-8 Big Ten) will be coming into Lincoln with a four-game losing streak—sound familiar?—and also having lost seven of their last eight games.

"We can relate, definitely," said head coach Doc Sadler. "We're both going through a little slide right now. We both had big wins early in conference play. It's the ups and downs."

Walker added that, "All teams struggle. They're facing adversity like we have before this year. So they're gonna come in here and try to turn it around and I think we can definitely try to carry that over into Saturday."

Illinois comes to Lincoln hungry for a win following a 67-62 loss to Purdue on Wednesday. Tracy Abrams scored a career-high 22 points for the Fighting Illini. Illinois features one of the Big Ten's best scoring guards in Brandon Paul (15.4 ppg) while center Meyers Leonard ranks among the conference leaders in rebounds (8.1) and blocks (2.1) per game.

But it was neither of these players that gave NU problems the last time they met on Jan. 7. Illinois' ability to score inside came from the penetrating ability of 6-foot-5 Illini guard Joseph Bertrand. The sophomore lit the Huskers up for 25 points in the last contest.

If the Huskers hope to win, they had better account for Bertrand.

"Bertrand had a good game out against us," Sadler said. "And whether they go small or they go big he can be that mismatch guy against us who we're gonna have to do a good job with."

NU has had a full week to plan for Bertrand and Co., a perk that Coach Sadler feels will help his team in today's game.

"I think that week off is gonna be good for us," he said. "We've got back to fine-tuning some defensive stuff. So I think that'll be really good for us. Especially going into a game like Illinois, we're both kind of struggling, whoever focuses up on the defense should have the advantage."

- Josh Harvey -

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