Nebraska lost Tuesday night to what was a sliding-but-still-strong Michigan team, 79-68. It dropped NU to 7-14 on the year and just 2-8 in Big Ten play.
Here are three thoughts from the game.
Another Close Call
It looked like was going to be another one of those “close but no cigar” kind of nights for Nebraska. For all intents and purposes, it was. Until roughly the last 10 minutes of the game, Nebraska was giving Michigan all it could handle. The Huskers were up two points after a Kevin Cross jumper with 13:49 to play. But over the course of the next seven minutes, Michigan held the Huskers to just three points, scoring 19 of its own to blow the lead open.
Nebraska showed grit, though. It just didn’t have the size of a Michigan team that continues, oddly, to have seemingly supersized forwards and wing players every year (with itty bitty lead guards, which is a hilarious juxtaposition but that’s beside the point).
Franz Wagner was a load to handle, particularly in transition. Brandon Johns Jr. was posting up Nebraska’s wings. Michigan center Jon Teske had only two blocks but seriously affected Nebraska’s interior game (13-for-26 on layups). The Huskers struggled to break down long perimeter defenders off the dribble and when they were able to do so, they were either turned away by someone under the hoop or encouraged to not even try it.
Michigan is good, with a number of ways to hurt you.
It probably feels rough to keep losing to good teams close, but what typically happens when you flip a coin a number of times and it keeps coming up tails? Eventually, if you flip long enough, the heads results will start to even out. The wrong end of the box score in basketball with a young team means the right end is coming up sooner or later.
Nebraska again showed its potential against a team more well-rounded than itself.
A Duo Forming
Nebraska tried something a little different with its pick-and-roll coverage against the Wolverines. Not different in the sense it hadn’t done this thing before, but different in the sense it hadn’t done much of it. When Yvan Ouedraogo was on the court, the Huskers were hedging the pick-and-roll much more frequently.
The plan with the French forward so far has been to have him drop behind the screener to protect the paint, but Ouedraogo isn’t much a rim-protector at this point in his career and Nebraska has been bleeding 3s. Michigan hit just 7-of-24 from beyond the arc (29%), and you could and should give some credit to the perimeter defense for that; Nebraska was closing hard.
The more interesting subplot there, I thought, was the mixing up of Ouedraogo’s responsibilities. He’s not been good (minus-14.7 net rating), and he’s running out of reasons for Hoiberg to keep him on the floor. He dribbled into a pull-up two from the right elbow in the second half, air-mailed it, and never saw the floor again.
Meanwhile, Kevin Cross is laminating his résumé and sliding it across Hoiberg’s desk with gusto. The reserve forward has shown some special moments in his last few outings. He had 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting against Wisconsin two games ago. Against the Wolverines Tuesday night, he put up 17 points, four boards and two assists again on 6-of-11 shooting. He was 3-for-5 from beyond the arc.
The guy who had no qualms about shooting and bricking jumpers in his first game in a Nebraska uniform has come a long way. He’s starting to shoot more confidently from the perimeter, defenders are starting to respect that shot, and he’s starting to realize he can take most bigs guarding him off the dribble.
Cross and Mack, who went for 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, form what could easily become a pretty formidable pick-and-roll partnership. Cross can roll and get himself to the free throw line, he can pop and shoot from the top of the key, and he has the vision and understanding to theoretically slip a screen if he needs to.
That combined with Mack’s off-the-bounce quickness and vision could be something.
Cross got 21 minutes to Ouedraogo’s 17. That trend just might continue as Cross keeps growing his game, his understanding and his confidence.
Nebraska, as many other teams, both professional and collegiate, have done in recent days, honored the memory of longtime Los Angeles Laker and NBA champion Kobe Bryant before Tuesday’s game.
With 24.8 seconds on the stadium clock remaining before tip-off, things paused and the public address announcer asked fans in attendance to hold a 24-second moment of silence.
Michigan won the tip and took a 10-second violation, which Nebraska followed up with a 30-second shot clock violation. Not the eight-second and 24-second violations of the NBA, but in the same spirit.
There were a few Bryant jerseys in the crowd and a sign in the student section reading “Rest in Peace.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.