Photo Credit: John Peterson

Drake’s Takes: Husker Basketball Success and the Start of Spring Football

March 04, 2022

This week’s Drake’s Takes covers the recent success of both Nebraska basketball teams, along with takeaways from the first spring football press conference.

Nebraska women’s basketball opens Big Ten Tournament with win 

Nebraska couldn’t ask for a better start to the conference tournament. 

The Huskers cruised to a 92-74 win over Illinois last night, setting a few records along the way. 

Jaz Shelley was the clear standout, dropping 32 points on a single-game school record nine 3-pointers. That also tied the Big Ten Tournament single-game record, and Nebraska’s 15 made threes as a team set a new record for the tournament.

The opponent may have been Illinois, which finished the regular season in last place in the Big Ten, but the win was very impressive regardless.

That leads the Huskers to a showdown with Michigan tonight. Their lone regular season meeting ended in a 21-point win for the Huskers, a performance that will be very difficult to replicate. 

The Wolverines had an inconsistent end to the regular season. They beat Iowa to begin February, then lost back-to-back games against Michigan State and Northwestern. Michigan recovered from that with a big win over Maryland and revenge against the Spartans, but its final regular season game was a 24-point loss to Iowa in which the Hawkeyes scored 104 points. 

There will be a few things to watch here. The first should obviously be Naz Hillmon, who was a unanimous selection for first-team All-Big Ten, along with making the conference’s all-defensive team. 

The Huskers shut down Hillmon when these teams met in January. She had 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting, marking her second-lowest scoring output and worst shooting performance of the year. She also had six turnovers in the game. 

Nebraska may not be able to hold her to numbers like those again, but stopping Hillmon from dominating the game would help the Huskers’ upset chances greatly. 

Another interesting note is the status of Leigha Brown. Brown, who made the All-Big Ten second team and started her career with the Huskers, recently returned from injury. She also didn’t play too well against the Huskers two months ago, but is a very talented player. 

In Brown’s return against Iowa, she played just 13 minutes off the bench and struggled shooting the ball from the field. If she’s still not at 100%, that’s something that will undoubtedly have an impact on the game. 

Men’s basketball grabs a pair of wins

On the men’s side of Nebraska basketball, the Huskers came through with some nice surprises in the last week.

The first of those was a 93-70 win against Penn State, a team which allows the least points per game in the conference. Nebraska followed that up with a win that was arguably even more impressive, taking down Ohio State 78-70. 

I’m not going to say it means anything crazy for the future, but it was nice to see this. Considering the possibility of this team winning another game down the stretch was a bit difficult for me last week, but they came out with two. Credit to them for that. 

I also can’t say enough good things about Bryce McGowens. Continuing what we already knew, he looked really impressive in both wins, dropping 51 combined points on 16-of-28 shootings. His highlights from the win against the Buckeyes are particularly fun to watch. 

Continuing this momentum in the little time left in the season will be difficult. Nebraska’s last game is on Sunday against No. 10 Wisconsin, and then it’ll go right into the conference tournament.

Depending on how the final games of the season shake out, the Huskers could find themselves playing the Nittany Lions once again in the first round. I wouldn’t go as far as expecting a win, but even just one victory could inspire some hope for the future of coach Fred Hoiberg’s team. 

Spring football starting

Speaking of trying to build hope, Nebraska football is also getting back in swing with spring practices. 

Monday was the first press conference of the spring schedule, and all of the new assistants once again had the chance to talk. 

I spent quite a bit of my time listening to Bill Busch, who moved from defensive analyst to full-time special teams coordinator. 

It was fun listening to him talk about what can often feel like one of the more boring parts of football. Busch used Garth Brooks analogies, placed the punt returner as one of the most important people in his life and mentioned that he had quarterbacks involved in kickoff coverage. 

Busch essentially said everything you’d like to hear from a special teams coordinator. If the Huskers improve greatly in that area, it won’t be much of a surprise. Along with coaching, it feels like the talent is there for success. Trey Palmer has had success as a returner. Brian Buschini was the top punter in the FCS. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean it will translate. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the special team woes continue. The least clear answer right now is probably at kicker, which is pretty important, to say the least. Even if Nebraska has a competent return and punting game, field goals need to be made at a higher rate than last year’s 50% clip. 

There’s far more areas of intrigue on this team than special teams as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing how those conversations develop throughout the spring. 

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