Nebrasketball Requires Patience
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebrasketball Requires Patience, And That’s the Only Frustrating Part

February 10, 2020

Am I supposed to have strong feelings about the Nebraska basketball team? Or a hot take? Because I got nothing.

This team just kind of. . . is.

That’s perhaps the most frustrating part. All of these problems that have lead to a 7-16 record, a 2-10 conference record, an eight-game winless streak, and it’s hard to really get too worked up about any one thing.

Before the season, it looked as though Nebraska might have the ingredients for a switchable, energetic kind of defense that flustered teams on the perimeter and tried to clog driving/passing lanes. Arms everywhere. Just have arms everywhere. Be active and that would be the way to help the size disadvantage on the interior. If everyone else is kept out of the paint, that might be the best way to help Yvan Ouedraogo inside.

But that thinking assumed Nebraska would be able to stay with its man on the perimeter and wall off the paint. That doesn’t happen. At least, not anywhere near frequently enough.

Only two teams in the Big Ten allow a higher percentage of opponent shot attempts at the rim than the Huskers (36.2%), Minnesota and Penn State. Minnesota allows 52.9% shooting on those attempts in close, Penn State 51.2%. Nebraska is at 59.4%. And neither give up 3s at the frequency Nebraska does.

Whether that’s by design or effort I still can’t entirely sort out.

Nebraska plays well at home on defense and poorly on the road; no surprise given the youth on the team and the historical tendency of young teams to struggle in hostile environments. In home games, teams are posting a 47.8% effective field goal percentage and 27.7% 3-point clip against the Huskers; on the road those numbers climb to 54.8% and 37.6%.

Nebraska is 0-8 on the road. It played its tail off defensively against Indiana in a 6-point overtime loss on Dec. 13. The same thing happened two days later against Purdue. That feels like years ago.

Since, the losses have piled up, the shots have clanked off and the drive to defend seems to have dipped. But, again, that’s to be expected. Young team and all.

Offensively, Nebraska scored 90 points three times in the span of a month. Lately, it’s been a struggle to hit 70. Yeah, yeah, Big Ten defenses play a role in all that but so does Nebraska’s shooting.

Nebraska is 351st in free throw shooting. Division I basketball has 353 teams. (NU ranks 186th in attempts, so middle of the pack with a 59.9% conversion rate.) How that’s a thing when the entire rotation is comprised of guards and wings makes no legitimate sense.

Has Ouedraogo attempted a single shot outside the paint this year? Aside from the elbow jumper he air-balled a few games ago, I can’t think of many, and yet his effective field goal percentage is 39.5%. Cam Mack is below 50% at the rim.

The 3-point shooting goes through peaks and valleys; 41% against Ohio State, 27% against Wisconsin two games later on the same volume, 43% against Michigan two games later again on the same volume, then 20% against Iowa. And I think Nebraska is, for the most part, getting better looks from its offense now than it was a month or so ago. The zero-pass, pull-up 3s are being weeded out.

Still, the thing the Huskers are supposed to be doing well isn’t even something they can hang their hat on. Nebraska is shooting 33% from deep on the year. No Fred Hoiberg-coached Iowa State team ever shot below 35% from deep in a year, not even that initial 16-16 team.

What would this Nebraska team be if it had a fully-available roster? If the NCAA had approved Shamiel Stevenson’s waiver, would things be different? If even one of Derrick Walker or Dalano Banton wasn’t sitting out and Nebraska had another reliable option that stood taller than 6-foot-6,  would Nebraska be playing different defensively?

Banton is a “6-foot-8 point guard,” as described by Stevenson (that’s a premium piece from Jacob Padilla but it alone is worth the sub for basketball fans), and he’s been working on the lateral quickness needed to stay in front of guys on the perimeter. That kind of tool in the toolbox of Doc Sadler, a guy who is, for all intents and purposes, Nebraska’s defensive coordinator, would be helpful and appreciated.

This season could be different, but it’s not for clearly defined reasons. That, on some rational level, makes me just kind of shrug when Wisconsin goes bonkers from deep or Iowa puts Nebraska to sleep early. “What are ya gonna do?”

But Cam Mack triple-doubled, the first time a Husker had ever done that. Kevin Cross has flashes of brilliance. Dachon Burke had a 20-point, 10-for-14 shooting game against Wisconsin in the middle of an 11-game stretch of shooting 31% from the field. Nebraska upset Purdue and Iowa at home and nearly knocked off Indiana on the road.

Those moments have been there where the viewing public has seen a team capable of some fun and exciting things. That they have been so few and far between this season is the only real disappointment. If we were to give Hoiberg truth serum, would he say Nebraska has underperformed?

Does it even matter if he thinks that? Next year, if everything falls into place, could be just as entertaining for Husker Nation as this year has been frustrating.

I’ve just never been very patient.

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