The nonconference slate for the Huskers is complete and Nebraska is getting ready to dive into Big Ten play in earnest. Nebraska made it through the first two months of the season with an 11-2 record, though only 11 of those games were out of conference.
The Huskers split their two early conference games, beating Illinois at home and losing at Minnesota.
“If you would have told me 11-2 at the beginning of the year, I’m buying, I’m in,” Coach Tim Miles said after the Huskers beat Southwest Minnesota State to complete non-league play. “I’d be really happy with that, and I am. I feel like there were some efforts out there where we could have played better, but all in all, when you look at the collective work it’s good play. I’m really happy for the guys. When I see Glynn out there playing the way he is, I just can’t hope for enough good things for Glynn Watson.”
As of Monday, Nebraska’s early-season work was good enough for a No. 12 ranking in the new NCAA Evaluation Tool, or NET. Nebraska is fourth in defensive rating at 83.6 and 22nd in offensive rating at 115.8. KenPom has Nebraska at No. 15, although that has the Huskers 15th in adjusted offensive efficiency (115.0) and 30th in adjusted defensive efficiency (93.8).
After practice on Monday, senior forward Isaac Copeland Jr. highlighted a couple areas in which he felt the team had improved the most through the nonconference.
“Sharing the ball,” Copeland said. “I think as the year’s progressed we kind of had more spread-out production and stuff, especially with Isaiah [Roby] playing better and Glynn. Defensively, I think we keep growing. We may have some set-backs but we always come in and work hard in practice and improve in the next game.”
Miles also shared a couple of pleasant surprises from the first part of the season.
“I’m feeling better about our depth,” Miles said. “I just feel like guys are doing all right and they’re picking it up. We’ve got to get Brady [Heiman] back in there, especially if Isaiah’s out, and get him up to speed. So as we look at this, I’m happy with where our depth is. We’ve shot it all right. We’re going to need now to go on the road against Big Ten teams and shoot it well, too.”
As far as the depth goes, both senior Tanner Borchardt and the freshman Heiman have taken turns making solid contributions, sophomore Nana Akenten has brought some scoring punch and positional versatility and another sophomore in Thorir Thorbjarnarson has stepped up and made a few plays while freshman Amir Harris has been out sick.
On the shooting point, Nebraska is at 37.5 percent on the season, good for 58th in the country. The last four games have improved that percentage, however, as the Huskers are 43-of-91 (47.3 percent) over that stretch after shooting 33.5 percent in the first nine games.
Miles called the nonconference a success, but what exactly did the Huskers accomplish? For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to include the two early Big Ten games in this breakdown as the Huskers have already completed those games. They went 7-0 at home, 2-1 at neutral sites and 1-1 on the road.
Looking through the scope of the quadrant system the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will use when evaluating teams, Nebraska’s record breaks down like this: 1-2 in quadrant one games, 3-0 in quadrant two games, 1-0 in quadrant three and 5-0 in quadrant four.
From a numerical standpoint, Nebraska win at Clemson is its best win so far because it is a win on the road against a top-50 team (No. 49 in the NET, No. 34 in KenPom). Texas Tech is the best team the Huskers ave played by far (No. 5 in the NET, No. 10 in KenPom) and the Red Raiders won by 18. Minnesota is at No. 45 in the NET but only No. 62 in KenPom and Nebraska lost in Minneapolis.
The best team Nebraska has beaten is probably Creighton as the Jays are No. 47 in the NET and No. 30 in KenPom, though it only qualifies as a quad two win since it was at home (Creighton would have to be a top-30 team to make it a quad one win). Seton Hall isn’t far behind at No. 52 in the NET and No. 55 in KenPom, and the Pirates have impressive wins over Kentucky, Maryland and St. John’s since the Huskers blew them out early in the year.
The résumé runs out of quality in a hurry after that, though, as Oklahoma State is the only other top-100 team the Huskers have played. The Cowboys are at No. 74 in the NET and No. 86 in KenPom, though they are sitting at 6-6 on the season.
Wins over Missouri State (225 NET, 214 KenPom), Cal State Fullerton (230 NET, 167 KenPom), Western Illinois (285 NET, 263 KenPom), Southeastern Louisiana (320 NET, 301 KenPom) and Mississippi Valley State won’t help the Huskers come tournament time, and neither will a home win over an Illinois team now sitting at 4-9 on the year, 129 in the NET and 113 in KenPom.
To recap, wins over Creighton, Clemson, Seton Hall and Oklahoma State are nice to have, but none of them are résumé-makers and that means Nebraska still needs to score a big win or two to better their case for an at-large bid and a good seed.
Fortunately for Nebraska, this year’s conference schedule should provide a few more opportunities to secure those wins than it did last year. The second part of the season begins on Wednesday.
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.