The Indiana Hoosiers will face their first test of 2024 in tomorrow night's game at Nebraska. The Hoosiers are currently 10-3 (1-0 in conference play) heading into the matchup, while the Cornhuskers hold a record of 11-2 (1-1 in conference play). Nebraska may have the upper-hand presently in terms of national rankings (currently 53rd compared to Indiana's 87th per the Ken Pom rankings), but Indiana does hold a comfortable 19-7 record in the all-time series between the two schools.
With these things in mind, IU's first road test of Big Ten play will undoubtedly be a tough one. The Huskers are currently riding a 4 game winning streak heading into Wednesday night's meeting. Fred Hoiberg's squad is not the most dominant team on either side of the court, currently scoring 77.6 points per game on offense (120th in the nation) while giving up 65.5 points per game (56th in the nation). The team has a balanced attack on the offensive end with their top 4 scorers (Brice Williams, Juwan Gary, Rienk Mast, and Keisei Tominaga) all averaging between 12.7 and 13.7 points per contest. Unfortunately for Nebraska, Mast is currently sidelined while he recovers from a minor knee surgery that will keep him out for a bit more time. The team's starting big man (and leading rebounder) will definitely be missed in this matchup against a powerful Indiana frontcourt. To make matters worse, key frontcourt reserve Blaise Keita has missed the team's last 4 games and is not expected to suit up tomorrow night.
On Indiana's side of the injury report, the hope is that the team will get Kel'el Ware back after missing their last game while fighting off a bout with COVID. If Ware is indeed able to give it a go, he could be in store for a big night when considering the lack of oppositional size. If he does not receive the green light in this one, Malik Reneau will again be looked upon to shoulder a heavier load. In the final game of 2023, Reneau annihilated Kennesaw State to the tune of 34 points and 11 rebounds (both individual career highs). If he can replicate that type of assertiveness in Lincoln, the Hoosiers may not even need Ware's presence down low. And if Mackenzie Mgbako can reciprocate the hot shooting he displayed last time out (4-5 from downtown versus Kennesaw State), the frontcourt could collectively conquer the Huskers' fragile interior.
On the perimeter, Xavier Johnson's status is once again unclear leading up to the game. After being listed as questionable prior to the last outing, he was not able to play and missed his 7th straight game. The eye test obviously depicts a need for the senior point guard's return, and the numbers more than support that sentiment. Gabe Cupps and Trey Galloway (who has 16 combined assists in his last two games) have not been terrible in Johnson's absence. However, neither of them offers the same leadership and poise that their wounded backcourt colleague has.
The Hoosiers will look to kick off 2024 on a positive note in tomorrow night's game (9 PM Eastern Standard Time on BTN). With the first of two matchup's with bitter rival Purdue coming up in two weeks, this game could be the jumpstart the Hoosiers need to build up some momentum.