Nebraska got its first win of the season. Finally. It took a bit longer than fans and players and coach Fred Hoiberg probably would have liked, but Nebraska is in the win column for the 2019-20 season.
And boy, oh boy did they do it in a big way. The Huskers (1-2) jumped all over the South Dakota State Jackrabbits early and then rolled to a 90-73 win inside Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Next up is Southern, next Friday, Nov. 22, at home with tip set for 7 p.m. CT. First, though, here are some thoughts from win No. 1.
That’s What it’s Supposed to Look Like
Amazing what happens when shots fall, isn’t it?
Nebraska was up 10-2, then 26-9, then it was 51-27 at the end of the first half. Whereas the Huskers seemed to have a lid on the hoop in the first two games, Nebraska didn’t do much different, I don’t think. It got a break from the zone defense the first two opponents threw at it—and that meant running a little more of the patentedly-awesome Fred Hoiberg offense—but the Huskers were still actively looking to force turnovers on defense (nine at the break) and sprinting out into transition with zero prejudice for makes versus misses.
Senior wing Haanif Cheatham got a layup five seconds after a SDSU make.
The difference Friday night, the only difference, was that the shots that careened off the backboard or the back of the iron in the first two games went in. That gave Nebraska confidence, which gave Nebraska energy to keep running, which brought the crowd into the action, which only gave Nebraska more energy.
When you’re a perimeter-oriented team, cold shooting nights ruin everything. Defensive effort dips, attention to detail on offense dips, and frustration rises. When shots go in, everything else works.
If you’ve been reading these religiously (thank you), you know I’ve cautioned to not worry too much about the shooting. At some point, it all evens out. If we had gotten a month into the year and that still wasn’t happening, then OK, worry, but that’s not the case. So, welcome, officially, to the Fred Hoiberg era.
Nebraska’s going to run and gun.
Nebraska looks how we thought it would. It shot 49% from the field for the game. And against a good Jackrabbit team. Now the challenge is maintaining this.
Cam Mack Good
It appears this Husker team is going as far as the former junior college point guard takes it.
That’s not really new information, that was sort of a given when Mack and Jervay Green teamed up in Lincoln. That duo, combined with Dachon Burke Jr., is going to lead Nebraska most nights.
Mack can take this thing a little further, though.
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound sophomore had a career-high 24 points on 14 shots. He was Nebraska’s engine and gas pedal. The other stuff wasn’t there Friday night in the same way it had been through the first two games (four assists, two boards) but his 3-point shooting (3-of-6) and aggressiveness in transition were really what got the ball rolling. He came into the night shooting 33% from the floor and 18% on 3s. Consider this a breakthrough.
Mack is just so talented at setting the table. He won’t force his shot unless either: A, it’s there, or B, he’s feeling it. Mack makes the smart play, and that’s what allows him to have a dominant performance in conjunction with other strong offensive showings.
Burke had 17 points. Cheatham had 17 on 8-for-11 shooting. Cross added 10 off the bench. Mack gets his buckets within the offense, rather than hijacking it. And when his shot is falling, Nebraska’s going to be a problem for teams.
So… we expect size to be an issue in Big Ten play, right?
Nebraska only won the rebounding battle 45-44 and gave up 48 points in the paint. South Dakota State isn’t a small team, but Nebraska is. The common assessment heading into the year was bigger Big Ten teams would take advantage of the Huskers’ big-man rotation.
Because the rotation is really just two guys who alternate at center. Matej Kavas is 6-foot-8 but he’s a perimeter player in every other respect. Freshman Yvan Ouedraogo, the starter, and freshman Kevin Cross, the reserve, are all the Huskers have in the center department. Shameil Stevenson—eligible after Christmas break— doesn’t project as a five unless Hoiberg wants to play smaller than anyone ever (slight hyperbole).
Ouedraogo and Cross are it.
I think we may have to re-evaluate just how much of a disadvantage that puts the Huskers at.
Ouedraogo is developing quickly. His offense is pretty limited, but his defense and his anticipation are improving every day. Friday marked easily his best performance, with six points and 12 boards. Cross is looking more and more like a matchup problem for laterally-challenged forwards. He had 10 points, two boards and two blocks off the bench, went behind the back on the break to shake a defender, finished a tough euro layup, stepped back in the corner for a 3 falling away and then immediately blocked a dude at the other end.
Rebounding will still be an area of emphasis, as will paint protection, and I think Nebraska is still going to have to find ways to work around the size thing, it just might not be as big a problem as anyone initially thought. The two bigs Nebraska has appear to be that promising.
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.