It’s Friday, which means it’s time for another five things to like or trash. Let’s get to it.
1. The Best Kind of Roby
All season long, I’ve gotten a sense junior forward Isaiah Roby is still unsure of himself at the offensive end. When an on-ball defender shades him right, he still tries to go left. When he gets a mismatch in the paint, he doesn’t demand the ball. The most frustrating thing is watching him and knowing his combination of athleticism and skill can completely take over a game while also knowing he won’t actually do it.
He did it, or at least tried to early on, against Maryland.
Roby took seven of Nebraska’s first nine shots from the field, four of its first six shots from the charity stripe and scored 13 of its first 16 points.
“I wouldn’t say it was a part of the gameplan, it was just me being aggressive and finding my spots,” Roby said after the game. “I think early on they were playing me soft. I hit my first 3 and that opened up the court a little bit for me until later in the game when they started to pack the paint a little bit more. I was just being aggressive to start.”
*inserts Meryl Streep cheering gif*
I had wondered heading into the postgame press conference if head coach Tim Miles told everyone to play through Roby early on. He fired up two triples in the first five minutes and it opened things up so much for him to use his quickness against Maryland’s bigger defenders.
That the “was this scripted?” answer was a no had me excited. That Roby then talked about the benefits of just taking those outside shots had me even more excited.
Over his last three games, Roby has been trying to put his fingerprints all over games. Against Wisconsin, he had 18 points, nine rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes. He took 13 shots and only had three fouls. Against he had nine points, eight rebounds and three assists in 39 minutes while taking 11 shots. Against the Terps, he had 20 points, 14 boards, five blocks and two steals in 40 minutes while taking 22 shots and committing just two fouls.
To put the shooting into context, Roby has double-digit attempts in each of the Huskers’ last three games. In the 19 games prior, he had only taken 10 shots in a game four times. The 22 attempts was a career-high.
Roby significantly cooled as the game wore on and Nebraska elected to run things through its guards more. But, flipping that switch right from the jump and saying, ‘Yeah, I’m going to win this for us,’ was one of the brightest moments of this recent slide through the dark.
His aggressiveness engaged everything.
And gave him the confidence to start taking guys on full-court. At one point in the first half, off a Maryland miss, Roby (who didn’t get the rebound) made sure he was the guy who brought the ball up and initiated the offense.
Later, he just took it for himself.
Inject that crossover into my veins.
2. Ryan’s Recognition
With National Signing Day now behind us and the 2019 recruiting class wrapped up, now come the rankings. Even the coaches are being ranked.
Husker running back coach Ryan Held is among the best for the second straight season, and deservedly so.
Rivals ranked Held inside their top-25 for recruiters.
“When Scott Frost accepted the Nebraska position in November of 2017 but continued on as UCF’s head coach through its bowl game, it was Ryan Held who held the Huskers' 2018 class together in the interim and allowed Nebraska to sign 13 in that Early Signing Period. Unlike Dexys Midnight Runners, though, Held is no one-hit wonder. His encore performance with the 2019 class included getting Rivals100 receiver Wandale Robinson to de-commit from his home-state school just before the Early Signing Period and sign with the Cornhuskers.”
Held came in at No. 42 in 247Sports’ rankings and was given credit for seven of Nebraska’s commits:
- 4-star athlete Wandale Robinson
- 3-star wideout Demariyon Houston
- 3-star wideout Jamie Nance
- 3-star running back Rahmir Johnson
- 3-star running back Ronald Thompkins
- 3-star JUCO running back Dedrick Mills
- 3-star offensive lineman Matthew Anderson
Held was instrumental in keeping Nebraska in the race for Robinson even after he committed to Kentucky. His Oklahoma coaching background and affinity for the region got two of the fastest wideouts in the state out of the state. And his JUCO connections helped Nebraska get one of the best running backs at the junior college level for the second year in a row.
But Held was involved in almost every kid the Huskers signed. That’s the way this coaching staff recruits, and the way Held operates. He’s got limitless energy on the trail and an unbridled passion for the school he’s recruiting guys to. The guys who get recruited by Held rave about his authenticity.
“He’s been very good at [building relationships with recruits] ever since I met him,” defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said of Held last year. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a running back, it doesn’t matter if it’s a defensive lineman, it’s just anybody that he comes in contact with he’s going to do a great job with them.”
And Nebraska is seeing the benefits of that. Since his arrival, Nebraska’s running back room has become an all-out warzone for guys trying to earn playing time. Now that Devine Ozigbo has graduated, most assume Maurice Washington will inherit the starting position, but Held keeps bringing in more talent. Whoever is the starter on Day 1 won’t have inherited anything, he will have more than earned it.
That he can set his room up that way and continue to recruit high-level talent to come play for him, all the while crossing over into position groups he has nothing to do with and recruiting talent for them as well, I think that’s the mark of an elite coach. Congrats to him.
3. No Quit
After maybe the worst performance of his Husker career, Glynn Watson Jr. didn’t talk to the media. Understandable. The senior point guard has had his share of ups and downs in Lincoln but nothing quite like what he went through Wednesday night against Maryland. Roby met with reporters and we all just assumed Watson was on his way home.
He was there for a while, too. Shooting from the top of the key, going down to the free throw line, going to the corners, shooting from the wings.
Watson has made just five of his last 32 attempts from the field and five of his last 19 triples. He has nine fouls, four turnovers and only two assists in his last three games. Against the Terps, he played 38 minutes and had one assist, 10 missed shots and a miss on his only free throw attempt.
Watson’s struggles right now are mental. I don’t think that, I know that. Jacob Padilla has a terrific breakdown of the bad shots Watson took in his latest “Run it Back” column, but I think the shots he didn’t take are just as telling.
Watson’s 0-for-8 from the field at this point and turns down an open, rhythm triple. If he was maybe 4-for-8, does he take that shot? I think so. Instead, Watson’s afraid to pull the trigger and passes away to James Palmer Jr., who settled for a contested 15-foot jumper that missed everything. Turning down shots like that wrecks an offense.
Late into the second half, Watson looked like he just didn’t want the basketball. He stood in the corner while the action moved away from him. He just looks in his head.
Seeing him in an empty gym trying to shake that was a positive sign.
4. Ticked Off and Ready to Play
I like what is coming out of the dugout for Husker baseball.
Nebraska finished last season 24-28 with losses in five of its last seven games and series wins in two of their last 11. Some wanted personnel changes. Nebraska started out behind the eight ball last season with an unhealthy bullpen but Nebraska probably should have won more than just 24 games. There just weren’t many counters when the team took a punch.
I don’t know if this season will be different, and neither does head coach Darin Erstad, yet.
“It’s so funny this time of year,” Erstad said when he met with the media Tuesday. “Everything is going great, but until they get punched in the face we’re not going to know what really happens. I’m ready to be done talking. It’s time to play.”
Erstad called his team “ticked off and ready to get back on the field.”
“So much so that I had to go over the fight rule with this team because I’m a little concerned that some of them might take it a little too far, but I would rather have that,” he said.
5. Red-Hot Whitish
Over her first 16 games, junior point guard Hannah Whitish was connecting on 32 percent of her triples. Not terrible, but a major dip in efficiency from her 38 percent shooting a season ago. Over her last seven games, Whitish has looked more like herself.
She has hoisted 55 attempts in seven games (including three games with 10 attempts) and made almost as many in seven (24) as she did in the first 16 (27). She’s hitting at a 44 percent clip and putting defenses in a serious bind. Because Nebraska still has the best 3-point shooter in the Big Ten, percentage-wise, over on the wing in sophomore Taylor Kissinger.
The recent hot stretch hasn’t coincided with wins — Nebraska is 3-4 in its last seven games — but I don’t necessarily lay the blame for that at Whitish’s feet. She’s averaging five assists a game during this run as well.
Nebraska’s inconsistency, I think, has more to do with the youth on the team than anything else. Meaning no, it’s not time to panic or wonder why a team that went 21-11 a season ago is down at 10-13. Eight players have played in every game this season and six of them are freshmen or sophomores. The 2-9 record in two-possession games can partially be explained away from that standpoint. Typically, those coin flip games start going your way as your team gets older.
If Whitish keeps playing this way offensively, though, who knows. Even still, she’s a big reason the record doesn’t look worse.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.