Padding the Stats: Huskers' Issues Go Beyond a 'Player Situation'
Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski - USA TODAY Sports

Padding the Stats: Huskers’ Issues Go Beyond a ‘Player Situation’

March 01, 2019

On Thursday night, Nebraska suffered its second blowout loss in its last three games, falling at No. 9 Michigan, 82-53. 

The Huskers dug themselves a hole early and just kept on digging. James Palmer Jr., Isaiah Roby and Thomas Allen Jr. all went scoreless in the first half and got themselves benched as Coach Tim Miles decided to give some of the younger reserves a chance to play to see if they felt like bringing some energy.

The lackluster effort was a frequent theme of conversation for the broadcast crew on ESPN, Dave Flemming, Dan Dakich and Molly McGrath. One play involving Palmer really set Dakich off in the second half.

Dakich was spot on with his criticism. That play in particular happened after Palmer had already spent the first eight minutes of the second half on the bench, making you wonder if he had learned any sort of lesson from the benching.

But Dakich continued talking, and his criticisms remained concentrated on the players and the players alone.

“There is enough talent on this basketball team and enough good coaching in this basketball program to win more than they have,” Dakich said. “This is not a coaching problem, this is a player situation.”

Nebraska is 15-14. The Huskers have lost 12 of their last 16 games. This is an everyone problem, players and coaches. 

The Isaac Copeland Jr. injury was a devastating blow, and Amir Harris going down with mono was an unfortunate turn of events that disrupted the rotation. But Harris was, at best, the eighth man and his return to full strength hasn’t exactly affected the team’s record. As for Copeland, the Huskers lost at Rutgers with him in the lineup. There were cracks in the armor already.

During his post-game radio segment with Kent Pavelka on Thursday, Miles talked about the team’s struggles with executing the game plan. “You either don’t know or don’t care,” he said. He said the Huskers didn’t match Michigan’s mentality. He said his players are frustrated, and that he didn’t get much in the way of a verbal response from them after the game.

Dakich is right that the players didn’t bring it, but what does that say about the players and their relationship with their coach? Maybe one terrible performance is understandable, but two out of three games when the coach is already on thin ice?

Dakich is just the latest national media member to come out in support of Miles, but doesn’t the buck ultimately stop with the head coach? Why is he blameless in this situation? Miles’ personality and the way he interacts with the media has garnered him a great deal of good will with people like Jeff Goodman and Dan Dakich, people who only look at the surface level and haven’t followed things in Lincoln closely.

But we’re in year seven now. Miles has three seniors, a junior, and a sophomore who was a 4-star recruit in his starting lineup. The bench may be young, but this team as a whole isn’t. If players either aren’t preparing like they should or aren’t giving close to full effort on the court, that’s a culture issue. By year seven, a coach should have the culture he wants for his program established. If one injury to the team’s second-leading scorer was enough to derail the entire season so completely, how stable was the team in the first place?

The on-court issues that are plaguing this team right now are the same ones that have existed throughout Miles’ tenure, mainly shot-making and shot creation/selection. Nebraska can’t find a way to consistently generate great looks, and recently they haven’t been converting the tougher looks they often settle for. The Huskers simply don’t get the ball to go through the rim at a high enough level to compete with the conference’s best, and when the defense doesn’t show up, we see blowouts like in the Michigan and Penn State games.

This was supposed to be Miles’ best season in Lincoln, and in game 29, he had to resort to a benching to try to get a point across to three of his best players including his preseason all-conference pick.

Blame the players all you want — and their effort was not acceptable against the Wolverines — but Miles and his staff are the ones who brought those players in and developed them, and Miles is the one charged with getting them ready to play each game. Whether he picked the wrong players, he failed to develop them or he’s failing to connect with them now, Thursday’s failure reflects back on Miles.

So yes, Dan Dakich, there is a coaching problem. Tim Miles has not been able to build a program that can maintain success, and that was Bill Moos’ directive for him heading into this season: prove your program is more than just a couple flashes in the pan. With two more ranked teams on the schedule to close out the regular season, a sub-.500 season is well within the range of outcomes for this year and I struggle to see how that would sit well with Moos.

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