Padding the Stats: How the Huskers Handled This Year's Draft Class
Photo Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Padding the Stats: How the Huskers Handled This Year’s Draft Class

July 02, 2018

A friend reached out to me after reading my column from earlier in the week breaking down the 2018 NBA Draft from a Big Ten perspective and suggested that I go back and look at how each of the eight draft picks from the Big Ten fared against Nebraska last season. Considering it’s the middle of the summer and there’s not much outside the World Cup going on, it seems like a perfect time to write that story.

Jaren Jackson Jr. (No. 4 pick) and Miles Bridges (No. 12), Michigan State

The Huskers only played the Spartans once last year, an 86-57 loss in East Lansing on Dec. 3. It wasn’t party’s two lottery picks that did the most damage, however. Sophomore Nick Ward, who tested the NBA waters before withdrawing his name, finished with 22 points while sophomore point guard Cassius Winston scored 16 points and dished out seven assists.

Bridges, who the Charlotte Hornets acquired in a draft-day trade, struggled mightily against the Huskers, finishing with 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting including 1-of-4 from 3. The 6-foot-6 forward led the Spartans in scoring on the season at 17.1 per game but wasn’t much of a factor in that game.

As for Jackson, he made a massive impact on defense, finishing with 10 boards and three blocks in 24 minutes, and that is why the Memphis Grizzlies used a top-five pick on him. However, he was simply OK on offense against the Huskers, finishing with 15 points on 3-of-9 from the field (1-of-4 from 3) and 8-of-8 from the foul line. 

Overall, the Huskers did a great job defending the arc, limiting the Spartans to 5-of-19 from deep, but couldn’t keep them off the charity stripe with 36 free-throw attempts, 21 of which were taken by big men Jackson and Ward.

Kevin Huerter (No. 19) and Justin Jackson (No. 43), Maryland

Only one of these Terrapins played against the Huskers this season, so we’ll look back to 2016-17 season for Jackson who missed most of this past year with a shoulder injury.

On Feb. 13, the Terps traveled to Lincoln for their only game against Nebraska in 2017-18 and went home with a 70-66 loss.

Huerter, who Atlanta drafted in the first round, struggled with foul trouble throughout the game, eventually fouling out with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting including 1-of-4 from deep. The Huskers did a great job of limiting his looks from deep, but just like against Michigan State, they struggled to guard the interior as physical freshman forward Bruno Fernando put up 21 points and nine boards. Still Nebraska did enough to hold on for a close win.

It was a different story last season, however. Huerter went off and was knocking down shots from all over the floor including well beyond the college 3-point line. He finished with 26 points and shot 7-of-11 from downtown. However, Jackson went 0-for-3 from deep and finished with six points in 26 minutes. The Huskers won that one on Maryland’s home court, 67-65.

Moritz Wagner (No. 25), Michigan

The Huskers faced the Wolverines twice this season, and in no small coincidence the result and Wagner’s performance were completely different from one to the other. 

On Jan. 18, the Huskers notched their biggest win of the season, blowing out the Wolverines 72-52 in Lincoln. Having recently went all in on their small-ball lineup with Isaiah Roby at the five, Nebraska gave Michigan’s offense fits and held its star big man to a season-low two points in 32 minutes. The Huskers switch-everything defense limited the big German’s pick-and-pop opportunities (he missed his only 3-point attempt) and Nebraska’s length made it tough for him inside as well as he shot 1-of-4 inside the arc as well. Even the student section got into it, taunting Wagner mercilessly throughout the game.

Unfortunately, it was a different story in the Big Ten tournament as Michigan turned the tables and smacked the Huskers 77-58 in a game Nebraska could not afford to lose. Wagner got loose early and often and finished with 20 points on 9-of-16 shooting including 2-of-4 from deep. He pulled down 13 boards and blocked three shots as well, and running mate Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman added in 21 of his own including a perfect 5-of-5 from deep. The 3-point line (and Nebraska defense) was the biggest difference in the two games. The Wolverines shot 4-of-18 in the first meeting and 11-of-23 in the second.

Keita Bates-Diop (No. 48), Ohio State

Many expected Bates-Diop to be a first-round pick after a stellar junior season that netted him Big Ten player of the Year honors, but he slid all the way to the mid-second round where the Minnesota Timberwolves scooped him up.

The Huskers only played the Buckeyes once last year and Bates-Diop shrugged off a slow start to put up more or less his season averages and lead his team to a 64-59 win in Columbus. Bates-Diop finished with 20 points on 8-of-16 from the field and 4-of-5 from the foul line with six boards, two assists, two blocks and a steal in 37 minutes. He never found the range from deep, missing all three of his attempts, but he did get going on mid-range looks and found ways to score around the basket with his length.

Three other Buckeyes finished with 12 or more points and Nebraska didn’t get the same offensive balance as James Palmer Jr. was a one-man show with 34 points.

Tony Carr (No. 51), Penn State

Carr was second only to Bates-Diop in scoring in the Big Ten, nearly putting up 20 a game himself as a sophomore, and the New Orleans Pelicans saw enough to take a chance on him late in the second round. 

Nebraska played Penn State twice last season and Carr put up some gaudy point totals, but he wasn’t exactly efficient. On Jan. 12, the Nittany Lions pulled out a 76-74 win in overtime behind 26 points from wing Lamar Stevens and 20 points and 15 rebounds from big man Mike Watkins. Carr finished with 17 points on an atrocious 5-of-21 shooting (3-of-9 from deep) with eight assists and four turnovers, but he did hit a pull-up jumper from the free-throw line area to win it for the Nittany Lions.

In the second game, Carr got to the free-throw line a little more and finished with 27 points, but he shot 9-of-23 from the field and 2-of-7 from deep. He dished out just one assist with three turnovers. Meanwhile Stevens was limited to 13 points and Watkins didn’t play as Nebraska smacked the Nittany Lions 76-64 at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Feb. 25.

Vince Edwards (No. 52), Purdue

The final pick from the Big Ten went one spot after Carr as Purdue’s do-it-all forward Edwards was drafted by Utah and traded to Houston.

The other Edwards — sophomore guard Carsen, who declared and went to the NBA Combine before withdrawing his name — stole the show for the Boilermakers with some big point totals, but the veteran Vince was the glue that tied Purdue together and he had one of his most complete games of the season against the Huskers in a 74-62 win on Jan. 6.

Edwards put up 21 points on 7-of-14 from the field and 6-of-6 from the line with 10 rebounds (five offensive) and six assists without a turnover. Carson Edwards only had seven points in 3-of-13 shooting in that game.

Takeaways

Overall, the Huskers didn’t fare too badly against the future pros on their schedule last season. Only a couple times did those eight players light up Nebraska for above-average performances based on their season stats. However, the Huskers are going to need more from their front court defensively next season as post players hurt the Huskers more often than not last season. Starting Isaiah Roby at center gives the team increased flexibility defensively and an advantage on offense, but in exchange they’re giving up some significant size in some matchups and players like Ward and Watkins gave the team fits. Perhaps a breakout junior season by Jordy Tshimanga could address that problem.

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