It’s Friday. Here are five things to either love or hate in the world of Husker sports.
The Thing that Matters the Most
Nebraska had the best attendance of any opening NIT game at 10,103 tickets scanned for Wednesday’s win over Butler. According to NU, the attendance number was nearly three times larger than the average of the other 15 first-round games.
Well done for that.
But the coolest part about that isn’t the ability to brag at the watercooler with Jake, your bandwagon Bama fan coworker, or that Texas fan you have to deal with because he’s the boss’ kid. No the best part of that packed house at Pinnacle Bank Arena Wednesday night was this.
Good job, Husker fans.
(To date, 74 cities and 65 counties have been declared a State of Emergency in response to unprecedented flooding across the upper midwest. If you'd like to donate from home, you can text “Red Cross” to 90999 to immediately donate $10 per text. Fans can also donate at redcross.org. More details on relief efforts can be found here.)
From Erin Sorensen on Johnny Trueblood’s upcoming decision to stay at Nebraska after this season and use up his final year of eligibility (emphasis mine):
Nebraska fans aren’t the only ones who want Trueblood back next season. Roby does too. Roby had to be a little coy about his reasons—he has his own decision to make too—but he did say “we need to be back” before a sly smile switched it to “Johnny needs to be back.”
Roby can certainly come back. He has holes in his game that need working on. He needs a few go-to moves out on the perimeter (currently his only move is shot-faking and driving around his defender, whether that defender bit on the fake or not) and needs to fine-tune his 3-point shot to unpack the constantly clogged lanes he goes driving into. Roby’s 3-point volume doubled this season and yet he only made 11 more treys than last season.
As he doesn’t project as a center at the next level, and therefore won’t be matching up against the flat-footed, athletically-challenged big men he takes advantage of at this level, he needs to add some shot-creating on offense, or at least prove he can consistently knock down open 3s.
All of that could be accomplished in the offseason heading into his senior season. It’s not unheard of for a guy to go from questionable project to undoubted first-round selection. Buddy Hield worked his tail off the summer between his junior and senior seasons, shot 46 percent from 3 his final year, upped his scoring average from 17 to 25 and parlayed that into a lottery selection. It could happen.
But the odds of that happening aren’t high.
If Roby comes back to Lincoln for his senior season, which it sounds like he’s more than considering, it would be a mistake.
Setting aside the fact he doesn’t know who his head coach would be, Roby would be in a situation where he would be the unquestioned focal point of the offense. Without James Palmer Jr. to attract defensive attention and Glynn Watson Jr. to initiate offense (Roby would be the leading returning assist man on the team with just two a night), what kind of defense does he face?
He’s only taking 12 shots per 40 minutes right now and shooting sub-50 percent on 2s, so what does increased volume do to his efficiency when that volume is also paired with increased defensive focus? And are we so sure there’s an alpha dog in there that would bump the offensive output up to first option levels?
Do opponents start to double him on every touch, unafraid of a guy like Watson on the perimeter or Palmer as a slasher? Roby has a career 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and even though I like his vision on the block and have advocated for more usage in the post, his decision making is late almost as often as it is correct.
Roby could be viewed as a mismanaged talent if he left after this season. An NBA front office wouldn’t have to work too terribly hard to convince itself he wasn’t developed fully and could be turned into something more under the right circumstances. If he shows the same offensive limitations under a second head coach, all that goes away.
His 28 points on 12 shots against Butler showed that offense is in there. He might be better served to let an NBA developmental staff try and get that out of him on a more consistent basis.
Fun With Splits
A four-game postseason (so far) is an admittedly small sample size but there are some interesting things at play with the Husker defense right now. When you look at it, you see the guys grinding, you see the fight and a continued commitment to a specific gameplan. To say the defense has responded to the challenges brought on by postseason ball, despite losing who I believe to be the Huskers’ best defender in Copeland and a slew of other switchable wings (Nana Akenten wasn’t great, though he had the ability to be a headache defensively, and Amir Harris was really good), would be a pretty safe thing to say.
James Palmer Jr., for instance, was a net negative in conference play because his shooting was slumping and his defense was being affected by it. Nebraska was 5.2 points worse on average than its conference foes with Palmer on the floor in 20 games. His defensive rating sat at 111, which is no bueno.
He has been markedly better in postseason play, as has everyone else. Nebraska is playing opportunistic right now, using the length of the starting five to disrupt passing lanes and force turnovers. It’s the “defense to easy offense because halfcourt sets are too rough” approach Nebraska feasted on in nonconference play and just couldn’t keep up in conference play.
The Huskers are doing a better job of keeping teams off the free throw line, a much better job of limiting second-chance opportunities and getting out to contest the 3-point line. Guys have been on a string and moving together, closing out to shooters and keeping action out on the perimeter.
Palmer was superb in the scoring column in the first two wins at the Big Ten tournament, and Isaiah Roby was tremendous in the opening round of the NIT on the offensive end, but the defense is trending back toward its early-season self.
Husker stickball finally played its first home games of the season, with Tuesday and Wednesday games against Air Force. The sun was out on Wednesday and the squad responded with a 12-3 win.
Since that four-game sweep at the hands of the defending national champion Oregon State, Nebraska has gone 5-2 with wins over No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 21 Baylor (twice). Considering their practices have been limited by horrendous Nebraska weather, the 1.1 errors-per average over that seven-game stretch is quite impressive.
Nebraska is up to No. 22 in the RPI thanks, in part, to pitching. Nate Fisher went eight innings without giving up a single hit against Baylor (the 17th-best hitting team in the country) in a 2-0 series-clinching win on March 9. Matt Waldron went five innings with just four hits and one earned against Texas Tech (No. 32 in hitting percentage). Kyle Perry went four innings with just one earned and nine punch-outs in Wednesday’s series-clinching win over Air Force. That’s big-time pitching in big-time moments.
There’s still a lot of baseball to play before anyone can definitively know what Nebraska is this season, but if health permits this squad to find some rhythm on the mound, head coach Darin Erstad might have something here to work with.
Football is on spring break and men’s basketball has been talked about enough and women’s basketball is done for the season and we just talked about baseball, so here are Ja Morant highlights to end this off with a bang.
And a take because why not: the Murray State point guard will have the second-best pro career of any player drafted in this 2019 class.
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.