You try to stay level-headed with this team. As bad as it looks one night, it’ll look 180 degrees different a week later. But, oof. It looked bad against the No. 17 Iowa Hawkeyes Saturday evening.
The Huskers lost their 16th game of the year; they’re now 7-16. The Huskers lost their 10th conference game of the year; they’re now 2-10 in Big Ten play. The Huskers lost their eighth straight game and their 15th straight game on the road. NU is 3-13 since returning from the Cayman Islands at the beginning of this past December.
To say things are starting to unravel might still be an exaggeration considering the fact these Huskers weren’t expected to win much in a conference that might be the best in basketball, but things are certainly spiraling. Iowa went up by as many as 38 points in the second half. The Hawkeyes ran Nebraska off the court for a 96-72 result.
Here are three thoughts from the game.
Nebraska was never winning this.
Between the men and the women, Iowa basketball squads are 24-1 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena this season. So that’s a thing. The telecast called the place a house of horrors and that’s probably a pretty apt way to describe Nebraska’s feelings on the building.
The Hawkeyes were coming off a road loss to Purdue in which they were blown off the floor in every way imaginable. Purdue, a team that had scored 37 points for an entire game a month earlier, had 61 at halftime and cruised to a 104-68 win.
Add to that the fact Nebraska beat this same Hawkeye team by six points on Jan. 7 in Lincoln. Six points, and the Hawkeyes shot 4-for-33 from beyond the arc. Joe Wieskamp and Luka Garza, two offensive powers for Iowa, shot 1-for-14 from 3 and scored a combined 37.
It was a hornet’s nest the Huskers were walking into. And this Nebraska team fights, it just wasn’t worth much Saturday. Iowa had the better team, the best player on the floor, home-court advantage and a reason to be pissed off.
Wieskamp and Garza combined for 52 points while shooting 19-for-28 from the field and 4-for-8 from deep. Iowa surpassed its 3-point total from the first meeting with a triple at the buzzer to end the first half. It ended the game 11-for-28 from beyond the arc and 49% from the field. The Hawkeyes went eight minutes in the first half without scoring a point and still finished at nearly 1.3 points per possession for the game.
Nebraska, on the other end, was 22-for-34 at the rim, 5-for-25 (20%) from beyond the arc, and only had 11 attempts at the charity stripe.
Burn this one. Nebraska plays No. 6 Maryland on the road Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. CT. Husker coach Fred Hoiberg has talked often this season about wanting to see how his team responds to adversity. How mentally tough is this Husker team, because this feels like the kind of game that could emotionally crack a young group. I’m curious what’s coming next time the Huskers take the floor.
A week ago, Nebraska’s starting point guard was benched to begin a game for the third time in his inaugural year at the D1 level. This time he was late to a film session. He came in, five minutes in, and was a shell of the electrifying player we’ve seen throughout the season. Mack was held scoreless in 22 minutes and Nebraska was blown off the floor.
Against the Hawkeyes, Mack scored, but he wasn’t much better.
The sophomore had 13 points on 12 shots. In 31 minutes, he had three assists and five turnovers. When he was on the floor, Nebraska was outscored by 30. Offensive slippage from him is a problem when everyone else is struggling to find their rhythm. It was nice to see junior guard Jervay Green find something (18 points in 26 minutes, seven rebounds, 8-of-12 from the field), but it proved meaningless in the context of the game.
But let’s set aside the offense for a minute.
Mack provides nothing defensively. It’s a problem.
Freshman Hawkeye guard Joe Toussaint came flying down the floor on the break six minutes into the second half. Husker forward Kevin Cross had missed a triple, Wieskamp grabbed the board and off went the Hawkeyes.
Toussaint laid it up and in with 14:01 to go in the game, giving Iowa its first 20-point lead of the night.
With the guard coming right at him, Mack stood flat-footed on the left side of the lane and let Toussaint drive right past him with absolutely no intention of even slowing his progress. He pointed back to Yvan Ouedraogo, who was apparently supposed to cover his own man while deterring Toussaint with his 0.4 blocks-per-game average on the season while also staying in position to box out for a potential miss.
Rarely does Mack look like he wants to play defense on the road. He has his moments at home when the crowd gets into it and his shot is falling. He sucks down into the paint, leaving corner shooters with loads of room. He doesn’t fight to get over screens consistently. He’s a net negative this season, per 100 possessions, because of a 104.6 defensive rating. Only one other rotation player has a worse defensive rating.
The offensive usage is high. Very high. He has to carry a lot on his shoulders offensively and gets a lot of attention from opposing defenses. But he just can’t be a turnstile on defense.
Another Lineup Tweak
Maybe just say “Why not?” and give freshman forward Akol Arop a few games of 20-plus minutes. Just see what happens. He had four points, three rebounds and a block in 11 minutes. He’s got enough athleticism to help against the lack of size.
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.