How important is Ed Morrow Jr. to the Nebraska basketball team’s success? The Huskers haven’t won since a stress reaction in his foot limited the 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward to 17 minutes against Northwestern in Lincoln and kept him out of the team’s following four games.
Morrow was third on the team in scoring at 10.1 points per game and first in field goal percentage (55.4 percent) and rebounding (7.9), but his impact goes far beyond just the raw production. A deep dive into Nebraska’s statistics with and without Morrow makes that evident.
In the four Big Ten games with Morrow on the court, Nebraska scored 78.3 points per game, shot 45 percent from the field and averaged 23.3 free throw attempts per game. In the four games without him, those figures drop to 69.3 points per game, 42.2 percent shooting and 13.3 free throw attempts per game.
Morrow is somewhat limited offensively as a 6-foot-7 post with limited perimeter skills, but even so he still found a way to be effective with his motor and athleticism, and defenses had to account for him, creating more opportunities for the other guys on the court and improving the Nebraska offense as a whole.
On the other end of the floor, during the first four games Nebraska was giving up 78 points per game, 43 percent shooting and 17.8 free throw attempts per game. In the last four, Nebraska’s points allowed dropped to 74.3 per game, but their opponents are shooting 46.1 percent from the field and taking 21.3 free-throw attempts per game. Despite the drop in points per game, Nebraska’s defense has been noticeably worse.
During that 3-1 stretch to start conference play, Nebraska only outscored its opponents by one point, but it was more efficient from the field overall and got to the free-throw line more often. Most importantly, it closed out three close games. Without Morrow, the Huskers have been outscored by 20, they’re shooting worse form the field and taking fewer free throws than their opponents. They’ve lost two one-possession games.
Morrow’s rebounding is his calling card, so how has Nebraska done on the glass without him? The answer might actually surprise you.
With Morrow, Nebraska averaged 38.3 rebounds per game including 14 on the offensive end. However the Huskers also gave up 41.3 total rebounds and 15.8 per game on the offensive end. The differential was minus-3 overall and minus-1.8 on offense. Without Morrow, Nebraska’s rebounding has dropped to 36 per game and 12.5 on offense while opponents’ has fallen to 37.5 overall, but just 10 per game on offense. The differential without Morrow is just minus-1.5 overall and the Huskers are plus-2.5 in offensive rebounding.
Second chance offense has been a big focus for the Huskers, but they’ve actually been outscored on the offensive glass in conference play overall and the differential has improved without Morrow. Nebraska averaged 10.3 points on the offensive glass with Morrow while giving up 17 points per game. Without Morrow, Nebraska has scored 9.8 points per game on the offensive glass and given up 13.5. However, four of those second chance points led directly to two losses (Ohio State and Rutgers).
Based on the numbers, Morrow’s absence has been felt far more on offense and defense than it has been in rebounding where the Huskers have held their own for the most part.
Who has felt the loss of Morrow the most? Look no further than his frontcourt partner, sophomore Michael Jacobson. Despite being bigger than Morrow, Jacobson started at the four and left the smaller yet powerful Morrow to battle it out against opposing centers inside. Without Morrow, that responsibility has fallen to Jacobson full-time rather than just when Miles opted to play without both Morrow and freshman center Jordy Tshimanga.
After struggling against good teams during the nonconference slate, Jacobson saw his performance skyrocket during the first four Big Ten games. Jacobson averaged 8.3 points on 50 percent shooting with 10.3 rebounds per game, including an incredible 6 per game on offense, in 28.5 minutes per game. For comparison’s sake, during those same four games Morrow was putting up 9.3 points and 6.3 rebounds (3.5 offensive) while shooting 51.7 percent in 27.5 minutes per game.
Without Morrow, Jacobson has reverted to his nonconference form as his scoring has plummeted to 5.8 points on 30 percent shooting and his rebounding has fallen to 6.8 rebounds including 3.8 on the offensive end in 27.8 minutes per game. Part of it has been that Jacobson has just plain struggled, but teams also can focus more of their attention on slowing down Jacobson without having to worry about Morrow.
Freshman Isaiah Roby has stepped into the starting lineup in Morrow’s place, but at 6-foot-8 and 214 pounds he is a completely different kind of player than Morrow. Since Morrow went down, Roby has seen about four more minutes per game but is actually scoring 1.5 points per game less. Over the last four, Roby is averaging 2.3 points on 36.4 percent shooting and 3.5 rebounds. Not only is Roby not giving them close to what Morrow was, he’s actually given them less than when he was coming off the bench.
Perhaps the player that some thought might see the biggest increase in playing time without Morrow is Jordy Tshimanga, but mainly because of his proclivity for fouling (8 fouls per 40 minutes) the freshman is playing the same amount of minutes as he was before – right around 10 per game. The difference is that Tshimanga is finishing much better than he did in the first four Big Ten games where he shot 22.2 percent and scored four total points. Tshimanaga’s average is up to 5.8 points on 57.1 percent shooting over the last four, but he’s only grabbed four six rebounds, four of which came in Thursday’s loss at Northwestern.
Jack McVeigh has resurfaced and is eating up some of those frontcourt minutes, and in fact, he’s been out-performing all of the players I’ve already mentioned. In the last four, McVeigh has been playing 21.8 minutes per game and is averaging 8.3 points and 3.3 rebounds on 41.3 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from downtown. However, those numbers are buoyed by his 4-of-7 3-point shooting performance against Rutgers.
To recap, without Morrow, McVeigh has scored 33 points, Jacobson and Tshimanga have scored 23 points each and Isaiah Roby has scored nine points, while freshman Jeriah Horne, who recorded a DNP-CD against Northwestern, totaled nine points in the previous three games.
Nebraska simply is not getting the kind of production it needs from the frontcourt in Morrow’s absence, and that has negatively affected the backcourt as well as both Tai Webster and Glynn Watson Jr. have struggled in the last three games without an interior presence to draw defensive attention.
The backcourt drives this team, but in order for Watson and Webster to do what they do best they need more production from the frontcourt. If Nebraska is going to end this losing streak, Jacobson and company have to step it up.
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.