The news of the day on Friday was Fred Hoiberg placing freshman guard Charlie Easley on scholarship, but the Huskers also have a game this weekend. Fresh off a win over Iowa at Pinnacle Bank Arena, the Huskers will hit the road for the first time since Dec. 13 as they travel to take on Northwestern on Saturday afternoon.
Easley’s rise is a great story, but it’s also linked to the struggles of the player the now former walk-on replaced in the rotation: Jervay Green. After starting in nine games and coming off the bench in three more, Green logged a DNP-CD against Iowa as Hoiberg opted to roll with the rotation Nebraska used while Green was suspended for the Huskers’ first two conference games.
Hoiberg said Green has responded well to the benching this week in practice.
“He’s been good,” Hoiberg said. “He had a good practice yesterday, had a good practice again today, had good energy in practice today and that’s what it’s all about right now is just continuing to try to stay as positive as possible through a tough time and if your name is called to go out and make the most of it.”
Hoiberg didn’t say for certain whether Green would play against the Wildcats or if the benching will continue moving forward. He simply said Green needs to keep working and stay ready.
“It’s a long season,” Hoiberg said. “We have 16 regular season games left, they’re all going to be extremely difficult games. Just go out there and keep working, that’s what you have to do. Believe me, I was a guy who was in and out of a lot of rotations — more out than in to be honest with you — but it’s just always preparing yourself and being ready and that’s what we’re going to continue to stress.”
Green has averaged 9.2 points per game on a 44.8 effective field goal percentage this season. He’s struggled on both sides of the ball, but with Nebraska’s lack of depth in the backcourt and the heavy minute totals Cam Mack and Haanif Cheatham are racking up, Green still has a chance to help the team if he can figure some things out.
Speaking of backcourt depth problems, Northwestern is in a bad spot. The Wildcats entered the season with 10 eligible scholarship players including just four guards, and since then Chris Collins has lost two of those backcourt players to injury. Junior Anthony Gaines is out for the season with a shoulder injury while freshman Boo Buie, a double-digit scorer, is out indefinitely with a lower body injury.
With Gaines and Buie out, the Wildcats have started one guard, three forwards and a center. Miller Kopp, a 6-foot-7 wing, is leading the team in scoring at 12.6 points per game while shooting 43.5% from 3. Redshirt freshman center Ryan Young has been solid inside at 10.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Pat Spencer, a former Lacrosse All-American playing a grad transfer year of basketball for the Wildcats, is starting at the point and averaging 10.6 points and 4.1 assists per game while shooting 43.8% from the field.
The short-handed Wildcats are 5-9 on the season including 0-4 in Big Ten play, but they’ve been competitive in all four league games.
“I’ve been really impressed with Northwestern,” Hoiberg said. “Even though they’re 0-4 in league, they had a 10-point lead with under 10 minutes to go at Indiana, they lost to Michigan State who’s got it absolutely rolling right now by only five, they played on the road at Minnesota tough and I thought they really battled at Purdue. It’s a very high-IQ team, they can shoot it across the board, they’ll play multiple defenses and it’s a road game after being at home for a pretty extended period, so we’ll have to shift our mentality to go out with that togetherness and hopefully keeping our chemistry at a high level. You’re going to have to have it if you have a chance to win on the road.”
Nebraska is 0-3 in true road games this season and 2-1 in neutral site games. Tipoff at Welsh-Ryan Arena is set for 3:30 p.m. on BTN with Jordan Bernfield and Stephen Bardo on the call.