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3 keys and a prediction for Nebraska Basketball vs Illinois



Nebraska basketball
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska basketball has a huge game tonight against Illinois and here are three keys and a prediction for the Huskers.

Following an important win over Minnesota on Saturday, Nebraska basketball will be back inside the Vault on Tuesday night for a huge matchup against Illinois.

The Fighting Illini were projected by many to be a favorite in the Big Ten conference but have started 1-3. However, they did get their first win over the weekend in the Big Ten against 14th-ranked Wisconsin.

Brad Underwood is one of the Big Ten’s best coaches and Illinois is solid defensively once again. The Illini are one of the best 2-point defensive teams in the country and rank 15th in 2-point percentage defense (42.6). They also hold teams to 38 percent shooting overall which ranks 29th in all of college basketball.

Their defensive rating is .90 which ranks 24th in all of college basketball too, so as much as Nebraska basketball will need its own defense to deliver, the offense needs to come through too.

We have talked about what Nebraska basketball needs to do to reach the postseason (NIT or better) and that includes winning at least nine conference games. The Huskers are 2-3 and this is a winnable game at home, so it’s one they need.

Here are three keys and a prediction.

Derrick Walker needs another big night

Scoring against Illinois isn’t going to be easy. The Illini only give up 64 points per game and are among the best teams in college basketball at forcing turnovers.

Nebraska will have some sloppy moments. That’s going to happen. But what’s going to be important is playing in the half-court and feeding the ball inside to Walker. We saw how that worked in the second half against Minnesota and the Huskers can’t get away from him.

Illinois is a strong defensive team but Walker is one of the best post-scorers in the Big Ten. Dain Dainja has been a decent rim protector but Walker should be able to score on him or any other Illinois defender.

Nobody has been able to slow down Walker in the paint and if he can be effective (scoring and creating for others) tonight against the Illini, Nebraska basketball will have a good shot at pulling the upset as a 3.5-point home underdog.

Don’t lose the turnover battle

This is where Sam Griesel comes in. He’s going to need to be great tonight playing point guard. His scoring and defense will be important but keeping the tempo in Nebraska’s favor will be key.

The slower the pace, the better for Nebraska.

If Illinois forces Nebraska to turn the ball over 15 times, that’s not going to be a good sign for the Huskers. They need to be efficient and not allow points off turnovers or in transition.

Illinois has a number of talented 3-point shooters in Terrence Shannon, Matthew Mayer, Coleman Hawkins, and Jayden Epps — all average more than one trey per game.

What Nebraska can’t do is allow Illinois to get easy looks attacking the bucket and open looks from three in transition. That’s what happened against Michigan State and this Illinois team will very much look to do the same thing which the exception that the Illini are elite when it comes to forcing turnovers.

Nebraska basketball turns it over 12.5 times per game but forces 12.9 and if the Huskers can keep even with Illinois in that regard, that will be another big step toward winning this game.

Keisei and Wilcher need to get hot

Illinois doesn’t allow teams to shoot a ton of 3-pointers (19 per game). Illinois averages 27 per game but Illinois allows 32.5 percent makes from beyond the arc which is 159th.

It’s their worst defensive metric in terms of shooting percentage. Essentially, they want to force you to take difficult 2-pointers. You have to be able to make one-on-one plays against the Illini and I think Nebraska can.

Sam Griesel and Derrick Walker are both weapons in the post. Illinois will double and guys like Keisei Tominaga and CJ Wilcher are going to have to hit shots. Illinois allows 6.2 3-point makes per game and Nebraksa is going to have to exceed that number (7-8) in order to win this game.

Nebraska is a home dog and in order to pull an upset like this, your shooters need to make shots. Walker and Griesel will get them some good looks, it’s just a matter of knocking them down.

Nebraska basketball vs Illinois prediction

As important as it was to beat Creighton and Iowa, this would be the biggest win of the season. Illinois is viewed by many as a legitimate Big Ten contender and this team is the real deal despite its 1-3 record.

There’s a huge difference for Nebraska between 3-3 and 2-4 in the Big Ten. It’s not necessarily a must-win game but if the Huskers win this one, this program will have some very real momentum.

I think it’s going to be insanely loud in the Vault and I’m going to say Nebraska squeaks out a 65-62 win.

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Chris has worked in sports journalism since 2005 writing for multiple newspapers and websites such as the Bleacher Report and Fansided before starting Husker Big Red, A fan site for hardcore followers of the #Huskers offering articles, podcasts, videos and more exclusive content on all things Nebraska