The Ls continue to pile up for the Nebraska basketball team. At nine straight losses, Nebraska has dropped more consecutive games than it has won all season. The Huskers came out flat in the second half against Penn State and followed it up with their worst loss of the season at Iowa.
The latest defeat was different, however. Nebraska may not have ended its losing streak, but it did at least put a halt to the downward spiral. Nebraska went toe-to-toe with No. 9 Maryland, the top team in the Big Ten, and came up just short in a 72-70 loss.
The Huskers scrapped and fought all game. Nebraska clearly isn’t capable of putting together a full 40 minutes of quality basketball at this point, but the effort at least never waned on Tuesday and buried within the loss was a look at what Fred Hoiberg wants Nebraska basketball to look like.
— Matt Abdelmassih (@mabde33) February 12, 2020
First off, Hoiberg changed up his starting lineup. Jervay Green starting in place of Dachon Burke Jr. was out of necessity considering Burke was back in Lincoln recovering from the flu during the game, but the other change was strategy-driven. Kevin Cross Jr. got his first career start in place of Yvan Ouedraogo. That meant the Huskers started five players 6-foot-6 or shorter (Hoiberg has admitted that’s Cross’ real height even though he’s listed at 6-foot-8 on the roster). Nebraska switched one through five with that lineup.
Ideally, Nebraska won’t play quite the small once Hoiberg gets this thing up and running, but that kind of versatility is what he and Doc Sadler are likely looking for. Throw Shamiel Stevenson, Dalano Banton, Teddy Allen and Lat Mayen into the mix next year and that switch-everything defense becomes more of a weapon.
Even with the roster as it stands now, the Huskers forced 17 turnovers, seven of which were steals that directly fueled Nebraska’s fast break. Nebraska also limited Maryland to just seven offensive rebounds, two of which were team rebounds. Jalen Smith, who averages 3.3 offensive boards per game, secured just one of them.
Offensively, the first half was rough overall. It’s hard to sugarcoat 27.3% from the field. But there were some bright moments, and Nebraska turned it on in the second half to hang 45 points on 54.8% shooting.
Nebraska recorded an assist on its first eight buckets, and the ninth was a put-back that might as well have been a lob off the backboard from Cam Mack to Thorir Thorbjarnarson. The Huskers opened the game with a lob to Mack, its point guard. He didn’t dunk it but he did lay it in and I love the ambition to even try that play.
The first half included two transition 3s, a give-and-go layup, a closeout attack that led to a dump off for a hook and three different kinds of buckets out of the pick-and-roll. All of those things are major parts of Hoiberg’s scheme. Nebraska just didn’t do enough of it in the first half, though they did get several open 3-point looks off of good action that simply didn’t fall.
The success when sharing the ball continued into the second half and paid more dividends. Five of Nebraska’s first six buckets of the second half were assisted and the Huskers finished with 18 assists on 26 field goals for the game. Mack had a brutal game scoring-wise with four points on 1-of-10 shooting but he created a lot of open looks for his teammates as well, finishing with eight assists and moving into fifth place on Nebraska’s single-season assists chart, passing Tyronn Lue.
“We missed some really good shots in the first half,” Hoiberg said about the scoring discrepancy from one half to the other. “We had some open ones. I thought we lost our minds for about a three-minute stretch where we came down and took an off-the-dribble 3 without moving the defense. We drove into a pile a couple times; we talked about how selective we needed to be at the rim because of Jalen Smith’s ability to protect the rim and that really fuels their break. Other than that, I thought we had some good looks. I though Thor had some good ones, I though Kevin had some really good ones and Kevin’s been shooting the ball very well lately. Cam had some good looks, Jervay.
“Second half, a few of those went in and the other thing is I thought we rebounded the heck out of the ball in the second half … and that got us out in transition. We got some loose balls, we got some deflections and that got us to the rim. I thought our attack in the second half was really good. When we got the defense shifted side-to-side I thought we had a lot of good things happen.”
Nebraska was credited with 16 fast-break points, and that doesn’t include the 3-pointers the Huskers hit in transition (a flaw in the stat-keeping system colleges use). For long stretches of that game, Nebraska played fast and it played together. That’s the style of play Hoiberg is trying to instill in this team and that’s the foundation he’s trying to establish so he can build on it next year when the three redshirting transfers and the two junior college commits join the fold.
Had Nebraska shot better than 7-of-33 from 3 (they had a lot of good looks) the Huskers likely would have stolen that game. Nebraska didn’t win on Tuesday, but perhaps it did find a way to at least compete.
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.