The Fred Hoiberg era at Nebraska hasn’t exactly gotten off to the best of starts, and with a 79-78 double-overtime loss to Southern Utah at home Saturday afternoon, the Huskers dropped to 0-2 on the young season.
Nebraska takes on South Dakota State next Friday, Sept. 15, at 8 p.m. CT. Before we turn the page, though, here are three thoughts from Saturday’s game.
The Good, First
It takes a certain kind of confidence to hold the ball near the halfcourt line and bleed 25 seconds left in the first half down to under 10, then, as a center whose body is still a work in progress, take your man off the dribble, cross over right to left in the lane, put a shoulder into the defender to give yourself some space and then lay a shot up and in.
It takes even more confidence when you shot 1-for-10 in a 19-point loss in your first game out. Even more when you’re the guy the opponent has basically conceded the shot to on most possessions.
Kevin Cross is a 6-foot-8 true freshman forward who has lost 15 pounds since arriving in Lincoln yet is still probably going to look radically different after a couple years in the NU weight program. And still, Cross could be a difference-making kind of forward this season for Nebraska.
Through two games, teams are more than content to let Cross shoot. The math, as they see it, works for them if Cross takes perimeter shots. That means the Huskers aren’t running something to set up a 3.
But Cross certainly has game. And he certainly isn’t shy about trying to play it.
Against UC Riverside, Cross took the second-most shots on the team, scoring four points on 1-of-10 shooting. Hoiberg, after the game, said he was fine with Cross’ aggressiveness given the way he was shooting it in practice. Let them fly, Hoiberg preaches. This time out, Cross again obliged, again breaking the 10-shot threshold.
He led the team in scoring, with 19 points, shot 53% from the field, continues to show a little something with the ball in his hands, and far-out-paced starter Yvan Ouedraogo in court time (36 minutes for Cross compared to 14 for Ouedraogo) despite both being almost completely foul-free.
Keep an eye on Cross.
Now, the Bad: Rough Offense
The shooting continues to be awry, but—and this is probably the only other time I’ll write this for the next few weeks—don’t get too hung up on shooting percentages right now. Cam Mack, Dachon Burke and Jervay Green were a combined 3-for-18 on 3s against Southern Utah and they’re a combined 6-for-31 from deep on the season and I don’t expect that to continue to be the case for too much longer.
But Nebraska has to find a better way to generate offense outside of the 3-point shot.
It has to be better at finishing inside. The looks were there. Nebraska shot 21-for-43 in the paint.
It shot free throws better and at a higher rate against the Thunderbirds than in the opener, but still missed 10 of its 29 and two at the end of regulation that could have tied things up or given Nebraska the lead with five seconds remaining.
Point guard Cam Mack had 13 points, 11 assists and seven boards and generally got his teammates good looks, but the zone defense from Southern Utah forced a bunch of perimeter attempts from the Huskers. Without being able to get into sets, Nebraska idled and settled a bit more than Hoiberg probably would have liked.
The Columns Are Going to Be Hot, But Remember Where Things Are
This is not what Hoiberg “deserves for running off Tim Miles’ roster.” This is not a sign Nebraska basketball is destined to be a doormat.
It’s still early. Hoiberg is trying to build something new.
But, this one has to be viewed with a little more disappointment than the opener. Nebraska had a 14-point lead early in the second half and let it erode away. Southern Utah scored 43 points in the second half and shot 56%.
This Nebraska defense has been more matador than not through the first two games. Even on what became the game-winning baseline jumper from SUU, Mack closed too hard and gave up the blow-by. Cameron Oluyitan’s jumper was wide-open.
The defense has to be better.
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.