Two Keys to the Huskers' 7-3 Start
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Two Keys to the Huskers’ 7-3 Start

December 07, 2017

Ten games into the season, Nebraska is sitting at 7-3 coming off of an upset win over. No. 14 Minnesota on Tuesday night. Ten is still a small sample size, but seeing as it is a third of the season, it’s enough to see some trends emerging.

What has been the difference between the wins and losses? Well, the simple answer is that the Huskers haven’t been able to throw it in the ocean in those games. In the three losses (at St. John’s, against Central Florida in Orlando, at Michigan State) the Huskers have shot 30 percent from the field and averaged 57.3 points.

Nebraska played terribly across the board in those games, but it falls primarily on two of Nebraska’s top scoring options: juniors Glynn Watson Jr. and Isaac Copeland. The disparity between their numbers in wins and losses is startling.

Watson, the 6-foot point guard, is leading Nebraska in scoring at 14.5 points per game this season while shooting 42.6 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from 3. Against the Golden Gophers (and double-double machine Jordan Murphy), he was the best player on the floor and carried the Huskers to victory with a 29-point, nine-rebound performance.

In all seven wins this season, Watson is averaging 17.6 points on 51.8 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from deep.

In the three losses, Watson scored 7.3 points per game while shooting 21.6 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from 3. 

The difference wasn’t simply a matter of the shots going in or not; the kind of shots differed as well. In the wins, Watson averaged 1.1 more shots inside the arc, 1.3 fewer shots outside of it and 3.3 more free throws.

When Watson can get out in the open floor or find lanes to the basket in the halfcourt, he finishes at a better rate and gets to the free-throw line more. When Nebraska’s offense bogs down and Watson gets the ball late in the shot clock, it leads to a lot of low-percentage shots — like contested 3-pointers or long 2-point jumpers — that tank his efficiency. 

As for Copeland, his numbers are pretty similar. I’m excluding Copeland’s first two games when he was working his way back into game shape and rhythm (he scored eight points in both games). Since then, Copeland has reached double figures in all five wins but has totaled just 17 points in the three losses.

The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 17.4 points on 64.7 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from 3-point range in the five wins. In the losses he averaged 5.7 points on 21.4 percent from the field including 1-of-11 from 3.

The difference in shot attempts isn’t as dramatic as Watson’s. He’s averaging about a half-shot more from 2 and a half-shot less from 3 in wins. However, Copeland is getting to the free-throw line almost twice as often in wins. 

With Copeland, it truly is just a matter of making and missing shots. A lot of the looks he’s getting are quality shots. He’s as hot and cold as they come right now.

Ironically, Nebraska’s second-leading scorer, James Palmer Jr. (14.0 points per game), has been more productive in losses than he has in wins. Palmer’s line in losses: 16.7 points per game, 45.7 percent from the field, 44.4 percent (4-of-9) from 3 and 77.8 percent from the free-throw line. In losses those numbers fall to 12.9 points per game, 38.8 percent from the field, 23.1 percent from 3 and 64.7 percent from the line. 

Palmer’s best game (22 points on 8-of-13 shooting) came in the loss to Central Florida. It seems like when things are flowing, Watson and Copeland are leading the way. When those two are struggling, Palmer shoulders more of the offensive load and is more effective in doing so, even if he doesn’t get enough support from the others to get Nebraska wins. 

The talent level on the roster has seen a significant bump this season, but the Huskers still rely heavily on a few players for their offense. Tim Miles is going to have to find a way to get more consistency out of Watson and Copeland, and that starts by generating good looks for them early in the game. 

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