Photo Credit: John Peterson

Padding the Stats: Holiday Hoops Grab Bag

December 23, 2020

Nebraska opting against a bowl game earlier in the week freed me up to turn all of my focus toward basketball (not that I needed an excuse). Instead of writing extensively on one big topic, I decided to hit on a few different hoops-related things bouncing around my head.

Let’s get to it.

What’s up Doc?

We’ll start with a Huskers topic since this is a Huskers website. Though Nebraska suffered a 14-point defeat at No. 9 Wisconsin in its Big Ten opener on Tuesday night, I actually came away somewhat encouraged.

Doc Sadler put together an aggressive game plan to deal with Wisconsin’s talented frontcourt, and the players did a great job of executing it early on. Nebraska was flying around, blocking shots like crazy and turning over a team that doesn’t give the ball away.

The Huskers weren’t quite able to keep it up for the full 40 minutes, but that defensive performance was absolutely good enough to get a win. The Huskers have held six of their eight opponents under 70 points, and the two teams that topped that mark — Georgia Tech (75) and Creighton (98) — benefitted from Nebraska’s dysfunction on offense that led to 16 and 25 turnovers, respectively. Hard to get your defense set when you keep turning the ball over.

Hoiberg decided to change up his starting lineup for the first time this season, starting Yvan Ouedraogo at center to better match up with Wisconsin’s bigs, and Ouedraogo responded with two blocks while Lat Mayen, spending more time at the four, had three blocks. I’ll be interested to see if Hoiberg decides to stick with the bigger starting lineup throughout conference play, especially as Eduardo Andre gets up to speed and Derrick Walker becomes eligible.

In any regard, Sadler has certainly earned his money so far this season. Now it’s time for Hoiberg to do the same. Nebraska needs to get some things figured out offensively.

The Huskers cleaned up their turnover woes against Wisconsin with just nine of them. Teddy Allen and Dalano Banton, Nebraska’s top two scorers who have done their damage in the paint but struggled from the perimeter, both shot 3-of-5 from deep against the Badgers but made just three of their combined 11 2-point attempts, negating the hot shooting.

Thorir Thorbjarnarson continues to struggle from the perimeter, Lat Mayen can’t seem to get himself out of a rut after a good start to the season, Kobe Webster continues to be hot or cold and Trevor Lakes couldn’t seem to get himself open against the Badgers. Those four are probably Nebraska’s best 3-point shooters, and they went 1-for-15 on Tuesday.

Hoiberg is confident his guys will start hitting shots eventually, but “eventually” needs to be much sooner or later or the Huskers are going to find themselves in a deep hole. In the mean time, Hoiberg is going to have to find some way to generate offense. The Huskers can’t afford any more eight-minute field goal droughts.

Guess Who’s Back?

Those of you that follow my game coverage on Twitter might have noticed that I wasn’t able to cover the Georgia Tech, Creighton or Doane games in person. I managed to avoid the coronavirus for nearly nine months, but my luck finally ran out.

I tested positive for COVID-19, and it kept me in my apartment for a couple of weeks. Fortunately my symptoms were mild overall, though there were a couple rough days in there.

On Tuesday afternoon, I covered my first game since the first week of the high school season. The game turned out to be a blowout, but regardless of the score it felt good to be back in a gym and I’m looking forward to diving back into high school coverage fully after the moratorium.

Typically I spend my Christmas Day with family and watching NBA games all day on TV, but after being stuck in my apartment watching telecasts and streams of games for the last two weeks, I’m looking forward to getting back on the Nebrasketball beat and covering a game in person instead. Hopefully the Huskers and Wolverines make it a good one on Friday.

Seeing Stars

I’m as big of an NBA fan as you’ll find in Nebraska, and Tuesday night marked the beginning of the 2020-21 season with a pair of games.

The Brooklyn Nets picked up the first win of the season, blowing out the Golden State Warriors. Kevin Durant played in his first NBA game since he tore his Achilles tendon on June 10, 2019. Durant didn’t show any signs of rust, scoring 22 points in 25 minutes and throwing down a few dunks.

On the other side, Stephen Curry played for the first time since early last season. He shot a very uncharacteristic 2-of-10 from 3 but still finished with 20 points and 10 assists for the Warriors. I’m looking forward to seeing how Curry plays this season without Durant and Klay Thompson on the wings; based on game one, Steve Kerr is going to need MVP-level play from Curry in order for the Warriors to keep up in a deep and talented Western Conference.

I’m thrilled to have two of the best players to ever lace ‘em up back on the court; the NBA is so much better with Durant and Curry on the floor.

As for the late game, Paul George went off as the Clippers decisively won the battle for L.A., part one. George has taken a lot of flak for his postseason struggles, and he definitely deserved it, but he’s still the same guy that was in the MVP discussion a couple of years ago before a shoulder injury derailed his season. He was the best player on the floor in a game featuring LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard, and I’m thankful that Derek Peterson, Greg Smith and everyone else in our fantasy basketball league allowed him to fall to me in the fourth round of our draft.

On Wednesday night, my Phoenix Suns will tip off their season on ESPN against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, and I can’t wait to see what kind of damage a Chris Paul and Devin Booker backcourt can do. Don’t sleep on the Suns this season.

Welcome back, NBA. Though it’s only been a couple months, I still missed you.

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