NCAA BASKETBALL: Feb 01 Penn St at Nebraska
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3 Thoughts from Nebraska’s Regular-Season-Ending Loss at Minnesota

March 08, 2020

Nebraska lost 107-75 to Minnesota on the road Sunday to close out the 2019-20 regular season. 

The Huskers, 7-24 and 2-18 in Big Ten play, face Indiana Wednesday night in the first round of the Big Ten tournament in the 11-14 matchup. (Nebraska is the lower seed there, just in case there was any doubt over that.) 

One more time from the regular season, here are three thoughts on Sunday’s game.

No. 1

Nebraska has now been outrebounded by double-digit boards in a game 15 times this season. The Huskers have been smaller than just about every other team they’ve come up against this season, so expecting them to win a ton of rebounding battles would have been foolish. (They did it four times.)

The Gophers followed in a long line of others who pounded the paint and crashed the boards against Nebraska. They won the rebounding battle 45-35, grabbed 12 offensive boards and scored 12 second-chance points. Minnesota got 18 triples to fall (a program record, who cares), seven free throws and 42 paint points. It was either splashing long-range bombs or doing work inside. 

Nebraska, as it does in a number of other areas, doesn’t help itself on the boards. 

Thorir Thorbjarnarson’s basketball IQ is high. I think the same can be said for Haanif Cheatham. But this team, collectively, doesn’t want to box out. If everyone took the same approach as Charlie Easley, would the rebounding margin have been so wide this season?

Nebraska lets guys crash from the corners, crash from the weakside of the floor, and grab boards because no one has bothered to put a body on them. It’s a lot of ball-watching without any spatial awareness.

They aren’t adding a ton of frontcourt size in the offseason, so fundamentals need to be better next season.

(Perhaps this is nit-picking, but what else can be written at this point?)

No. 2

Kevin Cross has a lot of work to do this offseason. 

Am I ready to completely abandon Cross Island? Not quite. The two-man game with Jervay Green that spanned several possessions in the first half ended with some good things, but a few misses on Cross’ part. But the 3-point misses are effecting everything else. 

Cross shot 4-for-15 and 2-for-7 from 3 against the Gophers. He’s at 34% on the season and 26% from beyond the arc. He’s got a minus-20 net rating on the year and a minus-1.8 real offensive box plus/minus per 100 possessions. The offensive game—the reason for optimism with the freshman forward—has been a negative. 

Cross might not be big enough to play center unless he either improves his shot-blocking (less than one block per 40 minutes played) or gets a lot more consistent on defense.

His on-court production has to be tied to offense. Which means he has to get his body into better shape so he can move a little better outside. Cross’ perimeter game needs fine-tuning and his interior game has fallen apart as the season has dragged on. How many bunnies did he miss Sunday afternoon? Three for sure. Maybe more?

It’ll be a crucial offseason for him. A scenario exists where he’s squeezed from the rotation.

No. 3

Which brings us here: the Big Ten Tournament for Nebraska, however long it may last, is a job interview for everyone on this Husker roster. 

Haanif Cheatham is gone after the year and with Nebraska down to just seven available players Sunday, it ran a lot through the grad transfer wing for one reason or another. Cheatham started with two early buckets and then his shooting went rogue. He had 17 points on 22 shots and Nebraska was outscored by 30; that’s not going to help anything. 

Junior guard Jervay Green is going to have a massive opportunity in the tournament to run the offense. He looked good in brief spurts doing just that against the Gophers, with a few screen assists that led to drives and finishes at the hoop. He had 15 points, five rebounds and three assists. Green was a volume shooter at the JUCO level, his shot didn’t come with him, and next season he’ll have to contend with Teddy Allen and Dalano Banton for minutes at the guard spots. That’s ignoring whatever happens with Cam Mack and Dachon Burke Jr., both of whom were suspended indefinitely earlier this week.

Thorbjarnarson and Cross are playing for minutes at this point. Shamiel Stevenson and Derrick Walker are two guys who could both conceivably take starting spots on next year’s team. There’s a 6-foot-8 forward, Lat Mayen, coming into the fold this offseason and Nebraska is not done recruiting. 

No one should feel safe just because they had to endure this season. 

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