Two-thirds of the way through the season, Fred Hoiberg and his staff are having to tweak some of what they do because of the season-ending injuries to two of their starters.
Unfortunately, they’re having to do so without a ton of on-court reps because of the lack of healthy bodies in the program. Nebraska (10-11, 3-7 Big Ten) currently has eight healthy scholarship players, a red-shirting scholarship player, four walk-ons (two of which appear to be redshirting) and four players dealing with injuries (three of which were season-ending).
“We watch a lot of film,” Hoiberg said. “We had a couple really productive meetings, I thought, the last few days. Just where we are right now with our bodies, we’re not doing a ton of live work. We just can’t afford it. Jamarques [Lawrence] sprained his ankle the day before the Penn State game and was questionable all the way up until the tip, and with where we are with our bodies, it’s a lot of mental reps, it’s a lot of meetings, it’s a lot of film.”
Even so, Hoiberg said the team did get after it a bit more on the practice court this week to prepare for a tough Maryland team that plays a unique style on the defensive end. The Huskers will visit the XFINITY Center in College Park on Saturday to face the Terrapins, who sport the 32nd-ranked team in adjusted defensive efficiency this season according to KenPom.
“Probably the most similar team that we’ve faced is St. John’s,” Hoiberg said. “They really get up and pressure you in the backcourt every make, they’re in a press, they run different types of coverages out of It — they’ll trap, they’ll double team, they’ll play a little bit soft and they’ll fall back into zone, sometimes they’ll fall back into man. For us, we’ve got to get into our stuff and we can’t let it affect our pace, and that’s what they do such a good job of is getting you out of your flow and getting you out of your rhythm. Whatever it is, man or zone, we have to have great movement — both ball movement and body movement — to try to keep them off balance as they get back into their set. It’s very unique and it is something that has really slowed a lot of teams down and they do a great job with it.”
Maryland (13-7, 4-5) is average in terms of forcing turnovers (18.6%, 176th nationally) but boasts top-50 ranks in both 2-point (46.2%, 50th) and 3-point (30.3, 36th) percentage allowed, equaling the 26th-best effective field goal defense in the country at 46%.
Offensively, four players account for over 70% of the team’s scoring output this season led by Charlotte transfer point guard Jahmir Young who is averaging 15.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists. Returners Donta Scott (11.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game at 6-foot-7), Hakim Hart (11.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game at 6-foot-6) and Julian Reese (10.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game at 6-foot-9) also average double figures for the Terps.
“They’re really talented,” Hoiberg said. “I’ve been so impressed with Young and his ability to get into the paint. He’s a tremendous finisher at the rim and he scores a bulk of his points in the paint, and that’s where it starts. We have to do a good job. He’s very good at rejecting ball screens and getting to the rim. He’s jet quick and he does a great job getting those other guys involved. They’ve got good experience with their other players. Reese has really taken his game to the next level as well, great touch in the paint. And all those guys that come back from a year ago, you can see it, the chemistry is really, I think, starting to click with that group.”
Maryland is 56th in adjusted offensive efficiency despite shooting just 30.5% from 3 (320th). The Terrapins aren’t elite in any one area offensively (their best mark being 45th in 2-point percentage at 53.8%), but they’re above-average in ball security, offensive rebounding rate and free-throw rate.
Maryland opened the season with eight straight wins under new coach Kevin Willard before falling into a rut, losing five of seven with the only wins coming against St. Peter’s and Maryland-Baltimore County. The Terrapins have alternated wins and losses since, but they’ve beaten Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin and nearly took down Purdue.
“Kevin’s doing a phenomenal job,” Hoiberg said. “They’re playing, I think, their best basketball this season right now. That game at Purdue certainly could have gone either way and then two great wins at home over Michigan and Wisconsin, beating them almost by 20 which is obviously very hard to do. So it’s a team that’s hitting on all cylinders right now.
“We’re going to have to go down there and take care of the basketball much better than we have lately. They’ve got great length; we have to finish off possessions with a rebound. Those are two areas we’ve really struggled, and when we’ve lost, we’ve gotten pounded on the boards and that’s been a pretty common theme for us. So it’s going to be important to go down there, play with good physicality and hopefully finish off possessions.”
After building the team’s identity around its defense, the Huskers have struggled to get stops since losing their top two defenders in Juwan Gary and Emmanuel Bandoumel. Penn State shot 68% from the field in the second half following Bandoumel’s injury and Northwestern shot 51.8% overall and matched Penn State’s 3-point total with 11 triples on Wednesday. The Huskers have begun experimenting with different tweaks on defense (including a 1-3-1 zone) to try to make up for the loss of their two leaders on that end of the floor.
“I think you saw some of that the second half the other day when we switched up defenses,” Hoiberg said. “I thought that got Northwestern a little bit out of the rhythm that they were in even though they had a couple open looks out of it, but we’re going to continue to have to add to our defensive package. Our staple will continue to be man-to-man but we’re going to have to throw some other defenses out there to try to keep teams off balance.”
Tipoff on Saturday is set for 3:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network with Jason Ross Jr. and Robbie Hummel on the call.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.