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3 Thoughts From Nebraska’s 86-65 Loss to Michigan State

February 20, 2020

Nebraska, now 7-19 on the season and 2-13 in conference play, lost to Michigan State by 21 points Thursday night, 86-65.

Next up is a trip to Champaign, Illinois, to battle the Fighting Illini. Tip is set for 7 p.m. CT on Monday, Feb. 24. But first, here are three thoughts from Thursday night’s game.

Two Different Leagues

Nebraska’s defensive gameplan, effort, and execution was, until garbage time, great. Want to get that on the record as early as possible. When this group really tries, it can do good things. We’ve seen what happens when they don’t, but Thursday night was a good one.

Nebraska blocked six shots and forced 21 turnovers.

But while Michigan State just chipped away at the Huskers, I had a scene stuck in my head.

Two of our editors at Hail Varsity, Brandon Vogel and Erin Sorensen, traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2017 for the Peach Bowl matchup between Central Florida and Auburn. On the field while both teams were going through warmups, a group of Auburn linemen walked past my two bosses. The story, as it has been told to me, goes like this: Erin sees them and immediately says, “Woah.” Brandon then responds with something to the effect of, “That’s what they’re supposed to look like.”

I trust I don’t need to explain that comment.

Back to Thursday inside Pinnacle Bank Arena, at one point in the second half, Michigan State had a primarily-bench lineup on the court that featured wings galore. The Spartans were walling off every driving lane with arms. Just arms everywhere. Try to drive? Here are three sets of arms taking the ball away from you or, at the least, swiping at your hands as you try and gather your shot.

And those were reserves.

Starting forward Xavier Tillman is listed at 6-foot-8, which seems small compared to what he looked like on the court. Nebraska had no one who looked like him. Not a soul.

The Spartans out-rebounded Nebraska 49-25. Some possessions featured multiple offensive boards.

The only way the Huskers were going to beat this kind of Spartan team is if it coupled that kind of a defensive effort with high-level shot-making. One-for-two. Nebraska shot 35% from the field and 25% from deep (8-for-32).

Center of Attention

Yvan Ouedraogo was pretty damn good for Nebraska.

When has that sentence been used this season? At times, the freshman forward from France has been unplayable. At other times he’s been maddeningly frustrating. He’s a year younger than he’s supposed to be at this stage, and there’s so much work left to be done both physically and developmentally, but the promising moments this year have been a little too few and far between.

It was nice, then, to see him re-enter the starting five against the Spartans and turn in arguably his best individual performance of the year.

The line: 10 points, seven rebounds, two blocked shots, two fouls. He’s not a shot-blocker, at least his numbers this season would suggest he isn’t, yet he showed solid instincts on a pair of swats.

His decision-making around the rim seems to be improving. His handling is getting there. He wasn’t a liability Thursday. Fellow freshman forward Kevin Cross started the previous two games, but sat on the bench for the first 15 minutes, for one reason or another.

Maybe it was just because Nebraska was operating better with Ouedraogo manning the middle. Nebraska tied Michigan State for points in the paint with 30.

That was unexpected.

A Concern

The foundation is discernable. The pieces for the future are encouraging. Nebraska has lost a program-record 11 straight games and no one is sounding the alarms. People actually feel encouraged about the future.

But I’m at least curious about the 3-point shooting. Concern is probably too strong. This staff believes shooting can be taught if the bare bones are there.

The 8-for-32 performance marked the ninth time this season Nebraska has shot below 30% from beyond the arc. For the year, this group is shooting 32.3% from outside. No Hoiberg-coached Iowa State team ever shot below 35%.

I have no idea what to make of that. The shooting strokes for guys like Jervay Green and Haanif Cheatham look good, but Green was 2-for-6 and Cheatham 1-for-4. Those two are shooting 29% and 34% on the year, though. Will increased size help in this area? Another offseason in the gym? Is Hoiberg even worried about it? I don’t know.

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