Nebraska hadn’t lost a season-opener at home dating back to 1980.
The Fred Hoiberg era got off to a slow start with a 66-47 loss to UC-Riverside Tuesday night. It’ll play Southern Utah on Saturday at 1 p.m. hoping to course-correct.
Here are three thoughts from the loss.
A Glimpse of Peaks and Valleys to Come
Fred Hoiberg’s first Iowa State team never scored fewer than 50 points. In 32 games played, that squad hit at least 53 in every game. His second team was never below 55. His third was never below 51. His fourth finished below 70 points only once. His final year in Ames, the Cyclones were held under 60 only once.
At no point in Hoiberg’s ISU tenure was his group held in the 40s.
Tuesday night’s 47-point effort was an offensive low for Hoiberg as a coach.
That means this will be a long rebuild. That means there isn’t as much talent on this team as we previously thought. That means this season is going to be worse than just a grind. That means thi…
This is going to take time to sort out.
A 19-10 start for Nebraska gave way to a 25-5 run from the other guys that bled over into the start of the second half. Nebraska’s shot profile being what it is, there are going to be cold nights and there are going to be cold stretches. That’s what happened in the first half Tuesday night.
Nebraska’s shot grew icy and the defense slipped. Hoiberg’s group shot 3-for-13 from beyond the arc in the first half and UC-Riverside made its way back into the game. It wasn’t necessarily the Highlanders using a 7-foot center to their advantage inside, it was more about Nebraska playing passing lanes and coming up empty, Nebraska getting beat off the dribble and Nebraska being poor on close outs.
Well, maybe it had a little to do with 7-foot-1 sophomore Callum McRae. Nebraska was certainly well aware of him, with perimeter defenders looking to sag and help probably more than they should. But that’s going to be the case some nights too with the Huskers’ lack of size in the middle.
So the margin for error isn’t great, at least until this stitched-together group can jell and/or get comfortable enough within the offensive system to run it without any snags. Nebraska either needs its shot to fall at a good clip or it needs to be successful with the opportunistic and aggressive defense.
It did neither thing well for most of the evening in the season-opener (shot selection was pretty bad) and we got a good glimpse of what this season may look like. Bursts of goodness and stretches of roughness. Nebraska closed the game shooting 23% from deep while the Highlanders hit for 48%. Doc did warn everyone.
Nebraska Doesn’t Like Free Things
In the exhibition against Doane, Nebraska shot 11-for-24 from the free throw line. “Uhhh,” I thought, but it wasn’t overly alarming as shooting numbers this early in the season tend to be pretty noisy. (For example, Nebraska is now 14-for-54 on triples through one game that doesn’t count and one that does. That will almost certainly rise to the mean. I think.)
So, with that in mind, should we get worried over the fact the Huskers followed up their free throw performance last time out with a 9-for-19 performance in the season-opener? Maybe. Hoiberg gave the team a lecture on free-throw shooting last week, and they spent some extra time working on foul shooting in practice, so he’s at least thinking about it.
Nebraska just made it difficult on itself. It wasn’t getting a friendly whistle at home and it wasn’t experiencing friendly rims, so the free throw attempts aren’t quite indicative of the frequency with which Nebraska attacked the paint, but they weren’t exactly cashing in when they were awarded with freebies.
All this stuff builds on itself. If your perimeter shot isn’t falling, you need to get to the rim. And if you’re not shooting well in the paint (which Nebraska didn’t, 9-for-25), you need to hit your free throws. Which Nebraska didn’t.
So it goes.
They will, in fact, be an issue.
McRae only had six boards and the Huskers were still out-rebounded 49-29. They gave up 13 offensive rebounds that led to 11 second-chance points. They gave up 18 rebounds to 6-foot-3 junior guard George Willborn III. Eighteen!
Sophomore guard Cam Mack—standing at 6-foot-2, meaning he’s the smallest Husker on the roster—being the only guy to grab more than four boards for Big Red is a problem. (He had nine.)
The small-ball lineup didn’t force the Highlanders to play small, the Highlanders just beat Nebraska up on the glass. This is a thing that isn’t noisy. This is a thing that isn’t going to even out over time. This is a thing the Huskers are going to have to figure out how to work around.
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.