By Connor Clark
LINCOLN–(KFOR Nov. 30)–The Nebraska men’s basketball team is off to a historic 7-0 start to begin Fred Hoiberg’s fifth season, the first one in just over 30 seasons.
The last time the Huskers had seven wins and no losses, you have to rewind all the way back to the year 1992. It is also only the fifth time ever the “Big Red” has started 7-0 in program history.
Nebraska vs. Creighton All-Time
The all-time series between these two programs is actually much closer than recent memory suggests as the Bluejays lead it 29-27. However, the team from Omaha has won eight of the
last 10 meetings. The Huskers won last season’s meeting at CHI Health Center in Omaha 63-53, snapping a three game losing streak to the Jays. Nebraska has also been a lot better against their in-state rival at home with a record of 16-9 versus their road record of 11-20.
Fred Hoiberg is 1-3 against Creighton during his tenure in Lincoln. His team’s defensive effort last season turned heads as the “Let it Fly Jays” only scored 53 points on their home
floor. The second fewest amount of points given up came the year before with 77. Creighton scored 98 and 95 respectively in the first two meetings.
Nebraska’s Road to 7-0
It hasn’t been murderer’s row of a schedule for Nebraska to start the season, actually it’s been the complete opposite. According to KenPom metrics, Nebraska’s non conference strength
of schooled comes in at 348th out of 362. With only one power conference opponent, Oregon State, the Huskers don’t have an eye popping resume.
The rebuttal is that there have been many times where a Fred Hoiberg Nebraska team has not delivered against a lesser opponent, such as UC Irvine and Southern Utah in 2019, and
Western Illinois in 2021. After Nebraska’s win over Cal State Fullerton on Sunday, Fred Hoiberg told his team to never apologize for winning. At the end of the day, seven wins and zero losses is just that.
Comparing the Two Teams
Heading into the Huskers’ biggest test of the season, a showdown with No. 15 Creighton at home on Sunday, they are fortunate enough to get a much needed week off from game action. Hoiberg said their schedule for the week was two mandatory off-days on Monday and Wednesday, a physical practice on Tuesday, and then installing the full game plan for Sunday the rest of the week.
This week is crucial for the direction this team wants and needs to take. Hoiber and Mast alike both feel as if Nebraska has “lost their edge” on the defensive side of the ball, especially
when it comes to offensive rebounding. The Huskers gave up 15 offensive boards to Fullerton on Sunday and 14 to Duquesne last Wednesday. Defense is going to be needed if Nebraska wants a chance against a Creighton team that averages 84 points per contest. The Bluejays also have the 20th best adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom which translates to 116.5 points per 100 possessions. To summarize, Creighton can score.
The same can be said for the Bluejays defensively as Nebraska is slotted just two slots lower in adjusted offensive efficiency, scoring 115.6 points per 100 possessions. Obviously, non-
conference strength of schedule has to be taken into account here as Creighton’s is 218th in the country, more than 100 spots higher than Nebraska.
Players to be Noticed
The headliners for Creighton include Trey Alexander, Omaha native Baylor Scheierman, and two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Kalkbrenner. Those three for the Jays
are combining to average 49.3 points per game, just over half of the team’s points. Scheierman is the leading scorer at 18.2 points per game, Alexander was an assist show of a triple-double against Iowa with 23 points, 11 rebounds and nine assist, and Kalkbrenner is shooting 63 percent from the field and avering 1.8 blocks per game.
For Nebraska, it’s been grad transfers Rienk Mast and Brice Williams, who averager 14.7 and 14.6 points per game respectively. Returning players Juwan Gary and Keisei Tominaga have
been good for Hoiberg too, Gary being the teams leading scorer despite a smaller sample size and Tominaga shooting over 50 percent from the field.
This is a game that Nebraska can realistically win, especially with the start they have had and the fact that the game is in Lincoln. One of the better crowds in recent memory is expected
to flood Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Huskers need to slow the pace of the game in order to win, that is what they did so well last year and got Creighton all out of sorts. If they can do that and control the glass, they
have a good chance at victory. It is nearly impossible to keep everyone wearing blue on the floor in check, but look to get Kalkbrenner in foul trouble early (easier said than done) and essentially pick your poison between Alexander and Scheierman, don’t let both of them beat you.
On the contrary, if this game turns into a shootout, that is right in Creighton’s wheelhouse. The higher scoring the game is, the more of a chance the Bluejays have of leaving victorious.
It’s the battle for the state of Nebraska, Huskers-Bluejays, 3 p.m. central Sunday on Fox Sports 1, as a red out in the vault awaits.