Love or Hate: Real Reasons Why the Huskers are Sinking
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Love or Hate: Real Reasons Why the Huskers are Sinking

March 01, 2019

It’s Friday. Let’s get to it.

See the Roll

Nebraska has done this thing all season long and it’s maddening. Since Isaac Copeland has gone out and Tanner Borchardt has replaced him in the starting five, it has gotten worse. 

The Huskers not only don’t dump it off to the roll man when he’s open on screen-and-roll plays, they don’t even look his direction.


Here they do it twice in one possession. First Thomas Allen Jr. ignores Borchardt as he rolls open to the hoop, then James Palmer Jr. does the exact same thing. Nebraska ends the possession with a shot clock violation because the open looks Michigan gave up were turned down, because apparently a contested Allen triple from practically sitting on the Michigan bench is better than giving Borchardt a look over a smaller guy at the rim. 


Brady Heiman runs a handoff here with Glynn Watson Jr. and is left wide open on the low block. You can literally see Carsen Edwards look in Heiman’s direction and choose to stay on his guy in the corner. 

Watson never looks Heiman’s way, despite the fact Heiman’s man and Watson’s man are now both guarding him, and instead passes to Palmer, who drives into five Purdue defenders.


Here Borchardt gets tagged as he rolls, but that means Palmer is now open in the corner. But Watson doesn’t see it. Because he’s not looking.

On the season, the Huskers are tied for 205th in the country in assist percentage, with helpers on 51.1 percent of their made shots. Over the last 10 games (the same stretch of time since losing Copeland), that number is down at 47 percent. Stretched over a season, that percentage would drop them another 100 spots in the rankings. 

Nebraska, it seems, does not trust each other. I suppose it’s possible head coach Tim Miles has instructed Palmer and Watson and Allen to not pass to the open guy if that open guy is Borchardt? But I hope not. The alternative isn’t any better, though, because that means they’re consciously looking guys like Heiman and Borchardt off. 

And that whole “I have a better chance of scoring than him” mentality leads to sequences like this, where 6-foot Zavier Simpson gets switched onto 6-foot-8 Isaiah Roby and 6-foot Watson settles for a long, contested 2 over 6-foot-7 Ignas Brazdeikis. 


And sequences like this, where no one else touches the basketball.


Offense doesn’t work if all five guys don’t play together. Right now it’s a lot of Palmer and Watson and Allen dribbling around trying to make something out of nothing. Surprise, surprise, Nebraska has shot above 45 percent in a game only twice in the last month.

Roby Isn’t Ready

There’s a case to be made for Roby to jump to the NBA after this season ends. The most valuable thing to NBA scouts is potential; Roby’s was all bright and shiny about a year ago but it’s starting to dull. Another season like the one he’s having this year could tank his stock, or worse, erode it all together. 

He flirted with the draft after the 2017-18 campaign but there wasn’t a ton of positive feedback. He was still raw and needed to show he could take over possessions if need be. Nebraska wanted him to be aggressive this season and has gotten, per 40 minutes, an extra three shots out of him each game (8.7 in 2017 up to 11.9 this season). 

The problem: he’s not hitting those extra shots. His per-40 makes have gone from 4.9 to 5.3 a game. His 3-point shooting efficiency has dipped as he’s taking more than last season but making exactly the same amount as last season (0.9 makes per-40 in 2017, 0.9 this season). His assists are down and his turnovers are up. 

For long stretches, Roby looks lost on offense. 

He needed his teammates to basically yell at him in the locker room of the Maryland game to shoot more, which he did, finishing with 22 shots, but Nebraska still lost and Roby only scored 20 points on all those attempts. 


Early against Purdue, Watson gets into the paint and Roby realizes there’s space for him to slip under the hoop on the baseline. He moves to the open space and Watson finds him with a nice pass. Once he catches the ball, he’s open. If he goes up immediately, he can lay it off the glass and use the rim as protection against a recovering Matt Haarms. Easy two.

Instead, he hesitates, lets the defense close and ends up having to give the ball up.


Here Roby gets an open, baseline jumper from the midrange. Turn and shoot. You’re open. Even if it’s a miss, no one has a body on Borchardt under the hoop, who is in position for an offensive rebound. Whether he gets it doesn’t matter, shooting that shot is the correct play and Roby doesn’t make it.

He waits, let’s Jon Teske close out on him and settles for a longer midrange jumper that clangs off the rim. 

With the Huskers struggling on offense the way they are, no one can afford to turn down open shots. When you get a clean look that comes from any kind of offensive set and you don’t take it, the defense wins. Roby has to be better about recognizing when he has space to shoot and when it’s the right time to fire. 

But that doesn’t mean blindly launch jumpers, simply make the right basketball play. This is where the awareness comes into play.


This was not the time to fire. This was a 4-on-2 with both Watson and Palmer in a position to get an uncontested look at the rim. With Allen also in the frame, a Roby triple is the lowest percentage shot here, and it's the shot Roby takes. A bungled 4-on-2. Man.

What Happened to Palmer?

Counting stats say James Palmer Jr. is having another good season. He leads the Big Ten in free throw makes and attempts and currently ranks fourth in scoring at 18.5 points a night. 

But after a 3-for-15 shooting performance against Michigan on Thursday night, he’s officially having the worst shooting season of his collegiate career. For the season, his overall shooting percentage is at 35.7 percent (a career-low). Over his last 10, Palmer is shooting exactly 30 percent, including 32.1 percent inside the 3-point line.

For whatever reason, he has forgotten how to finish at the rim.


Palmer is in a no-win situation, because he’s not shooting the 3-ball well, and if he takes too many of those he’s criticized as well. But these are shots he made last season and made to begin this season.


Something has slipped.


Maybe focus?


Maybe commitment?



The Best Thing You’ll See 

Okay, this has been mostly negative. The point of this feature wasn’t to just harp on the basketball team. 

Here are two coaches with incredible on-court reactions to brighten the mood.

Awkward Stance

ESPN’s Dan Dakich took an awkward, albeit somewhat predictable stance on Husker hoops during the nationally-televised game Thursday night. 

“There is enough talent on this basketball team and enough good coaching in this basketball program to win more than they have,” Dakich said. “This is not a coaching problem, this is a player situation.”

Jacob Padilla broke this down issue down perfectly in his latest Padding the Stats column and it is well worth the read.

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