Nebraska has a problem.
As terrific as the Huskers have been on defense in conference play, Nebraska’s offense is letting it down.
Nebraska is averaging 66.6 points in Big Ten play. The Huskers have only scored more than 70 points three times, with a high of 78 against Minnesota back on Dec. 5. Nebraska as only shot above 45 percent from the field twice, against Minnesota and against Michigan last week.
A huge part of the team’s struggles has been the play of junior point guard Glynn Watson Jr.
Watson, the team’s second-leading scorer last season who averaged 13 points and shot nearly 40 percent from 3, has managed to make more than two field goals just twice in his last nine games.
In Nebraska’s 64-59 loss at Ohio State on Monday, Watson made just one shot all night. He finished with 2 points on 1-of-9 from the field and 0-of-3 from 3. He did not attempt a free throw and dished out just two assists (including one on the final play that was merely cosmetic) in 30 minutes.
What has happened to the guy Coach Tim Miles called an all-league player prior to the season-opener? I looked back at each of the possessions Watson used against the Buckeyes to try to find out why he’s struggling so much.
Watson’s first shot attempt came on Nebraska’s first possession. The Huskers ran a high pick-and-roll with Isaiah Roby setting the screen. Roby’s man, freshman Kaleb Wesson, jumped at Watson as CJ Jackson went over the top.
Watson got Wesson in the air with a slight hesitation and blew by him, but Anton Gill’s man, Kam Williams, dug down from the right wing, forcing Watson to pick up his dribble. Watson split Wesson and Williams into a one-two step, but the man on James Palmer Jr., Jae’Sean Tate, had one foot in the paint, as did Isaac Copeland’s man, Keita Bates-Diop. Bates-Diop took away Roby on his roll to the basket while Bates-Diop cut off Watson’s direct line to the basket.
Rather than kicking it out to Palmer wide open in the right corner or Copeland on the left wing, Watson changed hands in the air and threw up a left-handed floater that didn’t even draw iron.
A couple of minutes later, Watson got a wide open catch-and-shoot 3 opportunity from the corner after Palmer drove the lane and kicked it out to him, and Watson’s shot clanged hard off the heel of the rim.
Soon after, Watson came down in semi-transition, drew three defenders near the free-throw line, hesitated then attacked the big man — Micah Potter — helping over. Potter slid his feet and stayed in front for the most part, forcing Watson into a running hook shot over the top that he put too strong. However, by attacking Potter, Watson opened up the offensive glass for Jordy Tshimanga who grabbed the board and put it back in. Watson didn’t make the shot here, but he did make something positive happen.
Late in the first half, Watson ran off a high screen in semi-transition from Tanner Borchardt. Wesson played back near the free-throw line this time, and Watson hit him with an in-and-out dribble to blow by him. However, Tate helped off Palmer in the corner again to dig down as Watson drove. Watson left the ground from just outside the second hash mark, pulled the ball down and around to avoid Tate and tried a tough scoop shot that he left short. Borchardt managed to follow up the miss but couldn’t finish himself.
Palmer got Watson another open 3 with about a minute-and-a-half left in the first half, although this one was a bit deeper and slightly on the move, and Watson bricked it hard off the rim which led to an offensive rebound and later to a layup by Palmer.
To open the second half, Watson ran off another high pick from Roby, drew both defenders and this time he hit Roby popping to the top of the key. The sophomore missed the shot wide left, however, barely drawing rim.
A couple of minutes later, Nebraska ran the dribble-weave and the ball ended up in Watson’s hands at the end of it. He hesitated again, then took one dribble and pulled up for a fading elbow jumper with 18 seconds on the shot clock that came up short.
Midway through the half, Nebraska had Evan Taylor — playing power forward in a four-guard lineup — set a screen for Watson, and freshman forward Kyle Young switched onto him. Watson attacked the apparent mismatch, but Young did a good job of staying in front and Watson jump-stopped near the block. He faked a pass and got Young to jump, but the freshman regained his feet and positioned himself back in front as Watson pivoted back and tried to go up. Watson bounced off Young without a call (which was fair) and missed badly.
A few minutes later, Roby ran a hand-off for Watson, then went to set a high ball screen for him. Watson refused the screen to his left and attacked to his right. Andrew Dakich faked towards Watson but stayed with Gill in the corner. Without a second defender, Watson kept going to the rim even though Jackson had managed to stay in front. Watson jump-stopped, elevated off two feet, double-clutched and finished off the glass for his only bucket of the game.
That bucket came at the 8:37 mark. Watson didn’t register in the stat sheet again outside of substitutions and fouls until the final minute. Watson grabbed an offensive rebound with about 50 seconds left and the team down six, dribbled back out to the arc and launched a 3 that bricked hard off the rim into a Buckeye’s hands. Palmer and Gill were both open on the perimeter when Watson grabbed the rebound, but he never looked up.
On the final possession, Watson grabbed another offensive rebound and this time kicked it out to Palmer, who hit a 3 with 12 seconds left.
The biggest problem for Watson is how horribly he’s been shooting from 3 all season. He is shooting 28.6 percent and has only made more than one of them six times in 22 games. Watson got some good looks from 3 in this one and couldn’t knock them down.
Inside the arc, Watson is struggling to create easy looks for himself. If he manages to beat his man on the perimeter, there’s usually a help defender or two waiting for him at the rim. Watson didn’t get any clean looks at the rim in this one, and the result was a couple of tough shots over defenders at the rim and a contested mid-range fadeaway jumper.
That being said, Watson has always specialized in making tough shots. He shot just over 40 percent on 2-pointers in Big Ten play last season and is down to 29.5 percent this season.
Miles has said repeatedly how he has faith that Watson will get going again, but time is running out. It’s not all on Watson as teammates hitting shots at a higher rate would likely open up the floor for Watson to create easier looks for himself, but at a certain point, Watson just needs to make shots.
If Nebraska continues to get the kind of play from Watson that it did against Ohio State, a NCAA Tournament berth seems far-fetched, no matter how good the team’s defense continues to be.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.