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Three keys for Northwestern against Nebraska

The ‘Cats are taking on an improved Nebraska team that is dangerous at home.

Rebecca S. Gratz - Associated Press

Northwestern will be battling the Cornhuskers on Saturday afternoon in frigid Lincoln, Nebraska. The temperature will be single digits, but hopefully it won’t take long for the ‘Cats to heat up. They have dominated the series recently, winning the last seven meetings, but this is a different Nebraska team. While the Cornhuskers have lost two games in a row, they have proven to be a much better home team, posting a 12-1 record. The last time it took the court at Pinnacle Bank Arena, Nebraska had a huge 88-72 win over previously No. 1 Purdue.

Here are three keys for Northwestern to pull off the rare Big Ten road win against Nebraska:

1. Get the supporting cast going

Northwestern knows what it’s going to get from Boo Buie every game, but it will be important for the team to have Ryan Langborg, Ty Berry and Brooks Barnhizer play well offensively. The team has the most success offensively when at least three of the four are playing well.

Langborg has been especially cold lately. In his last seven games, he’s only scored double digits twice and is 4-of-19 on threes in his last five games. On the road against Penn State and Wisconsin, Langborg was a non-factor, and it will be key for him to find his shot outside of Evanston. One factor that has limited the Princeton transfer recently is foul trouble. He’s picked up at least three fouls in his last four games. The ‘Cats should look to get Langborg going early to keep him engaged offensively.

Berry has also had a cold last few games from three. He’s made two of his last nine from distance and has scored 17 points in his last two games. Berry was quiet in the team’s last game against Maryland until he made four key free throws in the last seconds of the game. Even with his shot not falling, Berry has still impacted the game by averaging nearly six rebounds and two steals in his last three games.

Barnhizer has lifted his game recently after he shot 5-of-23 from the field against Jackson State and Illinois. He’s averaging over 16 points per game in his last four contests. During that tough stretch, Barnhizer’s hand/wrist was heavily taped up, but he has been able to remove most of it for the last few games. That has led to much better shooting percentages from the floor and from three.

2. Limit Keisei Tominaga

Averaging 14.6 points per game, Tominaga is Nebraska’s leading scorer. While his shooting has regressed 2.4% from last year, he’s 37.6% from three this season. Tominaga is a dangerous shooter. Against Purdue, Tominaga spurred the team to success with five made threes. The sharpshooter is coming off four made treys against Rutgers. He’s scored 15 or more points nine times this season, and 20 or more three times this year. When Northwestern post traps against Rienk Mast, the team has to make sure that it doesn’t leave Tominaga open.

The underrated part of Tominaga’s game is that he is an incredible finisher. On shots inside the three-point line, he is shooting 59.7%. Tominaga is only 6-foot-2’, but he knows how to finish around larger defenders at the rim. Pinnacle Bank Arena can get rocking when Tominaga heats up, so it will be important for Northwestern to stay glued to him on defense.

3. Protect the glass

Before this season, I would have said the ‘Cats needed to win the rebounding battle, but Northwestern has shown that it can win games while getting outrebounded. However, the rebound struggles were prevalent at the end of the game against Wisconsin. The Badgers were able to grab two offensive rebounds in a row to essentially seal the game. Yet, in the team’s last game, it outrebounded Maryland 30-27 and snared 11 offensive rebounds. Matthew Nicholson was especially successful on the offensive glass, collecting five boards.

Nebraska has been a much better rebounding team than the ‘Cats this year. The Cornhuskers average 38.9 rebounds per game and have four players who secure five or more rebounds per game. Northwestern, on the other hand, averages 30.4 rebounds per game, and Barnhizer is the only player who averages more than five per game. While, on paper, Nebraska seems to have the clear rebounding edge, they got outrebounded 56-42 against Rutgers and allowed a staggering 25 offensive rebounds. Northwestern will have to do its best on the glass to be successful on Saturday.