There’s a new sheriff in town in the Big Ten, even if it’s only momentarily. For the first time of the 2012-13 college basketball season, No. 8 Michigan State (21-4, 10-2) has sole possession of first place after handing No. 4 Michigan a 75-52 loss in East Lansing, Mich. on Tuesday.
In order to keep pace with the Spartans, No. 1 Indiana (21-3, 9-2) will have to defeat Nebraska (12-12, 3-8) at Assembly Hall tonight in Bloomington, Ind. The Cornhuskers are in eleventh place in the Big Ten with two wins against Penn State and one against Northwestern. When at its best, Nebraska has played some of the Big Ten’s best close with a six point loss to Wisconsin, 10 point defeat at No. 22 Michigan State and a seven point loss against No. 11 Ohio State; however, the Cornhuskers have four conference losses by at least 15 points, which is why the Hoosiers enter as a 23.5 point favorite.
This week is the closest thing to a respite that Indiana will have during its Big Ten schedule with home games against Nebraska on Wednesday night and Purdue on Saturday afternoon. Last week, the Hoosiers were unable to play a full 40 minutes in the front of an orange sea of Illinois fans at Assembly Hall West in Champaign, Ill. when they lost 74-72 on Tyler Griffey’s last second layup. Indiana redeemed itself and held on to its No. 1 ranking with a decisive 81-68 victory against No. 10 Ohio State. The win was Indiana’s first road win against a ranked opponent since November 26, 2002 against No. 21 Gonzaga, which was a major step for the Tom Crean era at Indiana University.
The top-ranked Hoosiers are electric on offense. They ranked second in the country in points per game with an average of 83.2 points per contest. Indiana shoots 50.2% from the field as a team, which is good for fourth in the nation. IU is a nightmare to defend because the Hoosiers have six players who have proven that they can score 15 to 20 points on any given night. Sophomore center Cody Zeller leads the team in scoring and rebounding with averages of 16.5 ppg and 8.3 rpg. However, the pre-season All-American and national player of the year candidate may not even be the best player on the Hoosiers roster. Junior guard Victor Oladipo, who is coming off of a 26 point and 8 rebound performance against Ohio State, does not take any days off. The Upper Marlboro, Md. product averages 14.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.5 apg and 2.3 spg. It is not uncommon for Oladipo to have at least 20 deflections in a single game.
For Nebraska, a trio of upperclassmen leads the way. Junior guard Ray Gallegos leads the time in scoring at 13.3 ppg. Gallegos’ partner in the backcourt, senior Dylan Talley, averages 13.1 points per game and he is the team’s second best rebounder at 5.4 rebounds per game. The third Cornhusker that averages double figures in points scored per game is senior forward Brandon Ubel. Ubel scores 11.9 ppg and grabs a team-best 6.9 rpg.
Nebraska’s biggest woes are on offense. The Cornhuskers average 59 points per game, which ranks 332nd out of 347 Division I men’s basketball programs. The team shoots 41.2% from the field, 68.4% from the free throw line and just 30% from behind the arc. Only Gallegos and Talley have made more than six three-pointers this season but both players make less than one-third of their shots from long range.
Nebraska has held Big Ten opponents to 71 points or fewer in 10 of their 11 conference games but it’s tough to win games when a team struggles to score.
Cody Zeller-So.-Center-7’0″-240 lbs. vs. Brandon Ubel-Sr.-Power Forward-6’10”-234 lbs.
Over the past four games, Cody Zeller has averaged 19 points, 9.5 rebounds and seven free throw attempts per game. He will be facing Nebraska’s Brandon Ubel, who is statistically Nebraska’s best offensive weapon because of his 47.8% shooting percentage. Ubel is very inconsistent and Zeller could be a dominant force if Ubel does not show up at Assembly Hall ready to play. He made six of his seven shots for 13 points against Minnesota two weeks ago but was limited to only one rebound and fouled out after 26 minutes of matching up against Trevor Mbakwe. Nebraska’s big man made just two of his 10 shots against Ohio State, 4-13 against Northwestern and 4-11 against Illinois. Brandon Ubel gives up only a two inches and a few pounds to Cody Zeller, which means that the control of the paint will be determined by whether or not Ubel shows up to play and how often Indiana feeds Zeller early in the game.
Victor Oladipo-Jr.-Guard-6’5″-214 lbs.
Oladipo is one of the best defenders in the country and has the ability to defend almost every position. Nebraska struggles to break 60 points on a nightly basis and by having him guard Ray Gallegos and Dylan Talley, the Cornhuskers will have even more difficulty establishing their offense than normal. Victor Oladipo is coming off of his career best scoring game and he will have the opportunity to improve his season averages tonight against a struggling Nebraska squad.
IU is at its best when the Hoosiers play at Assembly Hall and they will want to seek revenge for last season’s 70-69 loss in Lincoln, Neb. Indiana wins 84-59.
Location: Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Coverage: Big Ten Network
Point spread: Indiana -23.5