Status of Nebraska’s Mack, Burke unknown headed into B1G tourney

UPDATE: Fred Hoiberg told members of the media Tuesday that Cam Mack and Dachon Burke Jr. did not make the trip to Indianapolis.

The obvious strength of Nebraska’s basketball team has been its backcourt.

But as the Hoosiers ready to face the Cornhuskers for a third time, this time in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament, it’s not entirely clear what that backcourt will look like.

Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg announced indefinite suspensions for Cam Mack and Dachon Burke Jr. — his second- and third-leading scorers — ahead of the regular-season finale at Minnesota. As of the Big Ten coaches teleconference Monday, Hoiberg hadn’t made a decision on whether Mack and Burke would rejoin the team for Wednesday’s game in Indianapolis.

“We’re still evaluating everything right now and we’ll make a determination tomorrow before we leave for who will come with us and be eligible for this game,” Hoiberg said. “The way I look at it right now, my job is to make decisions that are in the best interest of this program.”

The Cornhuskers (7-24, 2-18 Big Ten) enter the conference tournament stumbling toward the finish line, losers of their last 16 games. IU (19-12, 9-11) needs to avoid a loss to the NET’s 198th-ranked team, exactly the kind of bad loss that could damage an NCAA tournament resume.

While the Huskers are struggling, regardless, they are that much less potent without Mack and Burke. In their finale versus Minnesota, the Huskers suffered a 107-75 loss, their largest margin of defeat this season.

Burke and Mack each played significant roles in past matchups with the Hoosiers. Burke hit clutch 3s on IU in December, helping push the game into overtime with a team-high 25 points. In the rematch, Mack, the ultra-quick point guard, led Nebraska with 20 points but it came on 5-of-15 shooting.

IU won both games, but those two made things interesting.

“In both games they presented a lot of challenges with their offense, five shooters at times on the floor, really spread out with unbelievable pace,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “They create a lot of problems with their tempo and their spacing. For us, having to guard the 3-point line and guard the dribble are the two things that stand out in being able to play them.”

“Cam Mack is one of the premier point guard passers, especially off ball screens, in the country,” Miller added. “(Dachon) Burke at both ends of the floor, causing a lot of problems. Haanif Cheatham, and now (Jervay) Green being available on the wing spot, gives them more versatility and size off the dribble and scoring.”

Subtracting Mack’s team-high 34.8 minutes and 6.4 assists per game certainly makes the Huskers a different team. But regardless, the Hoosiers’ perimeter players will be tested by the likes of Cheatham, Nebraska’s leading scorer at 13 per game, and Thorir Thorbjarnarson’s 38.6-percent success rate from 3.

On the other end, Miller would also like to see his backcourt continue to handle the ball well. IU has turned it over just under 10 times per game in its last seven, which is nearly three turnovers less than its season average (12.8).

Sunday, the Hoosiers turned it over just seven times in a four-point loss to Wisconsin. Rob Phinisee and Devonte Green were responsible for none of those. Al Durham had three turnovers — he’s averaged 2.6 per game in his last five — but the junior has been more productive as of late in creating offense off the dribble.

“We’re not turning it over as much, which gives us a lot better chance offensively to get fouled, rebound, you know, score a little bit more,” Miller said. “But as we head into the postseason, it’s everything. You have to play with less mistakes. Every possession matters even more and you’re going to be in a lot, a lot of tough games like we’ve been in the recent past.”

Guard play is important in every game. But especially versus Nebraska. Especially at this time of year.

“The postseason comes down at the end of the day to guys stepping up and making plays, and for us it’s going to come down to our backcourt,” Miller said. “Can they step up and make plays here in March and find a way for us to be successful and win a few more games?”

8 comments

  1. This is good news for our Hoosiers.

    And brings to light one positive that I’ve not mentioned: Archie Miller has kept his players out of trouble with the law, and injuries have been minimal. Having written that, however, I was sort of stunned at the last game where an Announcer mentioned that there was “foot trouble” with Trayce Jackson-Davis. Anyone have information on that? Was it a sprain or something potentially more serious??

  2. Talk of playing March Madness games without crowds? Environmental conditioning experts are placing huge bets on Penn State.

    Those aren’t sky boxes….Those are sneeze shields for the wealthy.

    I wonder if there will be beer tents set up outside of Bankers Life Fieldhouse once the BigTen Tournament gets on its way? Advice: Avoid the ‘Corona’ tent.

    Since breathing masks are in short supply and will not be handed out at March Madness events, I would advise all spectators to adopt the 1980 New Orleans Saints fans’ approach to protective wear.

    1. I’m going to the tournament & I’ve been drinking Corona’s since Sun. (when I drink, that is) to counteract the insane who can’t distinguish between a cold Corona and a Coronavirus. Perhaps it’s the “cold” that has them perplexed. Nonetheless, I’m traveling to Indy to watch some good basketball and watch 12 teams vow for the tourney title. (2 don’t have a prayer)

  3. Report from “Kentucky Sports”

    None of the Top 5 recruits are projected to be in the NCAA tourney.

    Projected # 1 seeds Kansas, Baylor, Gonzaga and Dayton – None have a Top 25 recruit from the 2019 class.

    Only one team of the projected #2 seeds has a Top 25 recruit

    Strange ?

  4. Excellent information Ron,

    This report doesn’t surprise me in the least based on the teams hanging banners the last 5 years. If you are a program stocking up on one and done’s, the results are diminishing. The key is to find the top talent which will stay 3-4 years. It is the experienced teams who are rising to the top at tournament time. Just in case no one is looking that model should be very familiar to posters on this board because it is in progress right before our very eyes. It’s nice to have a top level player for a year, but the rest better be experienced guys.

    The one thing about programs converting to the experience model versus making a big splash in the short term, it takes time. Usually takes 3-5 years or more just to establish consistency. Then a few more to make title runs. The question still begs to be answered, “Do want lots of regular season wins followed by early exits from the tournament in the short run, or do we want to hang banners?”

  5. Based on that, I guess IU is screwed for a couple years after Lander arrives on campus. If he re-classifies for for the 2020 season, Archie will have two top-25 ranked players on the roster.

    All kidding aside, I think the key is to get one or two stars to mesh with the 3 and 4-star rated players on the roster. Bob Knight’s best teams always had the combination of stars and effective roll players. Recruiting NBA-ready players is probably not a good idea. And that’s why the NBA should eliminate the one-and-done policy.

  6. Just read that one of my heroes, Kent Benson just had major heart surgery. My thoughts and prayers go out to the big man. May he make a full recovery and live many, many more years.

    If IU ever gets another center like Kent Benson, I expect we’ll win Big Ten Championships and make it deep into the NCAA Tournament.

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