Love or Hate: Schedules
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Love or Hate: Schedules, a Patient Bill Moos & Watson’s Wonky Season

February 01, 2019

It’s Friday. Let’s get to it.

1. A Patient Moos

After a Nebraska loss, social media has run rampant this season. The sky starts falling and head coach Tim Miles becomes the target of every negative thing said. And as the Huskers’ slide has continued, its looking more and more like Miles will be the scapegoat should this season fully go upside down. 

Some athletic directors around the country might have fired their coach by now. The Huskers were 11-2. They’re now 13-8, without their second-leading scorer, without direction and increasingly looking without confidence. Given the expectations of the season—make the NCAA Tournament or else—it wouldn’t come as a total shock to see AD fire head coach. 

But Bill Moos, Nebraska’s Athletic Director, doesn’t operate that way. And I appreciate that a lot.

When he first got to Nebraska in 2017, his football coach looked like a lame duck. He could have axed Mike Riley, handed the keys to a replacement on staff in the interim and closed out the season having appeased the fanbase and boosters. Maybe things would have turned out differently. Maybe not.

This situation is different. Miles still has room to turn things around. Nebraska still has 10 conference games remaining, five at home and five on the road. That schedule includes No. 5 Michigan on the road, No. 6 Michigan State on the road, No. 17 Purdue twice, No. 21 Maryland at home and Iowa on the road. Regardless of how you might feel about the Huskers’ chances in those games, they are still chances.

Nebraska has an opportunity ahead of itself to change the perception of the team.

Average Team Ranking First 10 B1G Games Last 10 B1G Games
KenPom 44.3 34.4
NET  51.4 38.8
Sagarin 46 36.5

Letting Miles go at any point before the season comes to a close would almost serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy. A team with zero confidence craters under the thought they just cost their coach his job and ends up missing the tournament anyway. 

Instead, Moos played his hand perfectly. 

“Tim Miles is our basketball coach. I support him,” Moos said during his monthly appearance on Husker Sports Nightly Wednesday night. “I want to win every game from here on out, I think we’re capable of that. It’s unfortunate that we have some injury things that we’re concerned with now, but we need to bounce back and play well and we can still have a very, very good season.

“I’ve made four coaching changes since I’ve been here and I’m not going to say there’s going to be more because I love our coaches, but they know what’s expected of them and it’s realistic,” Moos said.

He’s still giving Miles every chance. That’s the best way to play this situation.

2. Glynn Watson’s regression

From Jacob Padilla’s Padding the Stats column Friday:

In Nebraska’s last four games, the foursome of James Palmer Jr., Glynn Watson Jr., Isaiah Roby and Thomas Allen Jr. have combined to score 190 points on 184 field goal attempts and 66 free throw attempts with 34 assists and 31 turnovers. That is atrocious efficiency from the team’s best players, so it’s no surprise that Nebraska hasn’t been able to score at a respectable rate.
… The Huskers have 40 assists and 41 turnovers in the last four, and while the shots have to fall to get an assist, it’s not like Nebraska is great at moving the ball. That certainly has to improve.

Glynn Watson Jr. isn’t the root of the Huskers’ offensive problems, but the senior point guard certainly isn’t helping the situation. He has slipped as the season has gone on. Maybe it’s an increased scoring burden coupled with the most court time he’s seen in his Husker career and this is a product of fatigue. 

But the decision making is off. 

  Nonconference Conference
Assists 46 12
Turnovers 28 22

Watson’s turnover percentage in league play is at a career-high 16 percent. His previous career-high was 10 percent. 

His 3-point rate is over 50 percent for the first time in his career (never above 40 before) and his free throw rate (attempts per shot from the field) is at a career-low (a little under two foul shots for every 10 field goals attempted). His shooting percentages are better than they’ve ever been factoring in the entire season but during the recent four-game slide, he’s hit only 14 of his 43 shot attempts.

When the season began, it looked like Watson was on pace for a resurgent senior year. The talk was about the work he put in with assistant Armon Gates to help get his confidence back. Now, it’s about how he needs to get back in the lab.

“I’m going to watch some tape with him,” Miles said after the Wisconsin game. “Usually he and I are best when we just sit down, watch tape and talk things out. Like, why is that a good shot? Let’s look at when you had it going earlier this game or that game. Let’s look at the last couple games, look at his shots, his assists, his turnovers and just kind of talk about that. I thought he passed on too many shots early when James attracted a whole bunch and threw it back to him and he just didn’t quite step into it.”

The hate here is about hating for this to happen to Watson at this point in the season. Frustration might be settling in. He’s an easy guy to root for and there are a ton of people rooting for him to find that efficient, attacking self from the nonconference.

3. Nebraska’s Defensive Potential

Why is Nebraska football in a bunch of way-too-early top-25 polls?

A lot of it has to do with the offense and head coach Scott Frost and quarterback Adrian Martinez and the abundance of young, promising weapons on that side of the ball. (Plus a bunch of people are just eager for Nebraska to retake its place amongst college football’s elite.)

But maybe the attention should be on the defensive potential.

Or, better put, the defense’s slack afforded by the schedule next season. 

The Huskers weren’t a defensive stalwart in 2018 by any means — ranking 65th in S&P+ on that side and 90th in defensive success rate — and they only return 55 percent of their defensive production. BUT, defensive needs were addressed yet again with Frost’s second consecutive top-25 recruiting class and the young talent will be looking to fill in gaps around linebacker Mo Barry, defensive backs Deontai Williams, Dicaprio Bootle and Lamar Jackson and linemen Ben Stille, Carlos Davis and Khalil Davis. 

(Wow, just listing out the guys you’re “building around” already has me feeling good about that unit… Don’t overlook Williams at safety.)

But here’s the schedule:

  Offensive S&P+ Ranking Returning Prod. (FBS rank)
South Alabama 93rd 44% (114th)
Colorado 91st 71% (44th)
Northern Illinois 114th 64% (61st)
Illinois 79th 70% (45th)
Ohio State 3rd 42% (117th)
Northwestern 106th 53% (97th)
Minnesota 83rd 90% (4th)
Indiana 71st 78% (25th)
Purdue 20th 37% (124th)
Wisconsin 13th 85% (7th)
Maryland 89th 69% (47th)
Iowa 65th 72% (39th)

Feel good yet?

That’s room for growth, margin for error, time to get your feet under you, whatever cliché you want to use. That’s good for the Huskers’ defense. Considering the extra year in the system, extra year in the weight room and influx of talented youngsters, the equation looks good for defensive coordinator Erik Chinander. 

4. Thor’s Energy

(I will not make a MARVEL Thor joke. I will not make a MARVEL Thor joke. I will not make a MARVEL Thor joke. I will not make a MARVEL Thor joke. I will not make a MARVEL Thor joke.)

Nebraska had a defensive rating of 84 with Thorir Thorbjarnarson on the floor against Wisconsin. In 100 possessions, the Badgers would have scored 84 points. That’s an elite defensive performance. Small sample size, yes, but Thorbjarnarson earned himself minutes with his out-of-nowhere play against the Badgers on Tuesday. 

He was a net negative because there was absolutely no offense from him, but in 17 minutes, the sophomore from Iceland had 10 rebounds. It was only the third double-digit rebound performance from a Husker player in any game this season. The Huskers needed a spark, any kind of energy, and Thorbjarnarson gave it to them. 

“I thought Thorir [Thorbjarnarson] came in and I thought he impacted the game in a really positive manner and earned a spot to play,” Miles said. “I knew I would try and play him, especially if we were struggling on offense and he came in right away and made an impact.

“I am going to roll Thor back out there. I commend Thor. He sat there for a long time, didn’t groan, didn’t moan, kept a good attitude and when he stepped in and got his chance, he really made some great plays. That’s awesome. As a coach, you really admire that in him and I can’t say enough about that.”

P(l)ay that man. 

5. Nebraska’s Schedule

Did you see that Nebrasketball schedule to close the season? Yikes.

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