Nebraska has lost four games in a row. It should probably come as no surprise then to learn those four games make up four of the six worst shooting performances of the season for the Huskers, including the worst two (33 percent vs. Michigan State, 28 percent vs. Wisconsin). About the only thing Nebraska has proven this season is you can’t expect much to stay the same from week to week.
So does the shooting come back up to the media? For the season, Nebraska shoots 44.8 percent from the field. That’s pretty much right in the middle of college basketball. It sounded as if head coach Tim Miles is expecting things to turn around in the shooting department. He certainly felt like he could put a finger on why his team was so frigid against the Badgers.
“Wisconsin is an elite defensive team for a reason,” he said after the game Tuesday. “They know how to walk into you without fouling and body you in a way that really makes it tough to score at the rim. … I really thought that more than anything, we had too many quick shots, just quick one, two pass possessions. Way too many. One of the things in the game plan was to manipulate their defense, move it around and that’s where I think maybe a couple of guys were trying too hard.”
The Badgers rank 12th nationally in opponent effective field goal percentage and 24th in defensive rating. They’re a strong Big Ten defense. But Nebraska didn’t struggle to score purely because of Wisconsin’s defense. Nebraska struggled to score because over the last four games, the Huskers have been completely unable to finish inside and at the rim.
“The gliders struggle a little bit more [against Wisconsin],” Miles said Tuesday night. “That’s not uncommon. It doesn’t shock me that we were not great at the rim.”
Per Planos, a writer at ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight, Nebraska’s best finisher at the rim is out for the season. James Palmer Jr. and Isaiah Roby (who figures to become the No. 2 option on offense in Isaac Copeland’s absence) are both below 51 percent shooting on those looks.
Those are without a doubt Nebraska’s two best athletes and they can’t finish at the hoop.
Both prefer to play inside because neither is particularly good at shooting from distance. Roby is at 31 percent on the season from 3-point range, though he’s much more reluctant than Palmer, who chucks six a night and only hits at a 34 percent clip. But if Palmer goes inside, he’s worse. On two-point jumpers this year, the Huskers’ leading scorer is shooting 17 percent, according to Hoop-Math.
But it’s not just the top two guys. No one can finish inside. And over the last four games, Nebraska has gotten progressively worse.
- vs. Michigan State: 13-for-27 on layups, 16 offensive rebounds, 16 second-chance points
- at Rutgers: 9-for-22 on layups, nine offensive rebounds, seven second-chance points
- vs. Ohio State: 11-for-20 on layups, seven offensive rebounds, two second-chance points
- vs. Wisconsin: 9-for-24 on layups, 18 offensive rebounds, seven second-chance points
In conference play overall, the Huskers are shooting 51 percent on layups. In just the last four games, they have a 45 percent clip. Think about that.
Bart Torvik’s midrange analysis has the Huskers shooting 10-for-54 in the last four games as well. That’s 18.5 percent. Nebraska already doesn’t scare teams from 3 (NU is tied for 140th in 3-point percentage this season) and now that the midrange has fallen off, defenses are just loading up in the paint and trying to wall off the rim.
The Huskers are tied for 185th nationally in free throw rate, so they’re not making defenses pay for that either. Cut down on the quick shots like Miles addressed and maybe you start taking a few more trips to the free throw line, but the current method of just trying to bulldoze their way toward the rim isn’t working. Nebraska has been under a point per possession for four straight games.
And a commitment to the offensive glass hasn’t helped either, because the Huskers aren’t sticking putbacks when the opportunities present themselves. In conference play, they have 105 offensive rebounds and 94 second-chance points. In the last four, they have 50 second-chances and 32 points off of them.
That just won’t get it done.
Confidence could play a major factor in everything — not just the shooting — right now for Nebraska. Wing Nana Akenten missed a look at the rim against Wisconsin and immediately sunk his shoulders and put his head down. Center Tanner Borchardt missed a putback off an offensive rebound against Ohio State and looked visibly dejected.
Asked if winning was the hardest thing to do right now, Miles said it’s not; the team just needs to believe in itself.
If that’s the fix for the shooting or the Huskers are just trying to wait out the Polar Vortex or something else is going on, Nebraska needs to figure it out sooner rather than later. The closer you get to the basket, the easier it’s supposed to be to score. That hasn’t been the case lately for the Huskers and the wins won’t start coming again until they can figure out how to change that.