Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Baseball

Love or Hate: A Miserable Defensive Performance

February 22, 2019
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We took a brief hiatus last week for a few delicate reasons but it’s once again Friday so it’s time to come back with another five things.

We’ll start with a little love and then basketball.

The Time Has Come

Spring football for Nebraska starts on March 4. 

That is all I need to say. The dark days are almost over (at least for a month or so).

The Heavy-Hitter

After a 3-1 opening weekend series win over UC Riverside, sophomore Jaxon Hallmark earned Big Ten Player-of-the-Week honors. 

A freshman All-Big Ten selection last season, Hallmark does pretty much everything for Nebraska, which makes him an easy candidate for fan-favorite. He made his pitching debut over the opening weekend, throwing 0.2 innings of relief in the second game of the series and then terrorized opposing pitchers early and often.

In Friday’s opener, Hallmark set career-highs for hits (4) and RBIs (5), and finished the weekend 8-for-18 with 10 RBIs, two doubles, five runs scored and one stolen base.

 The Huskers banged home 47 runs in their opening weekend. That’s 12 a game. After an offseason of doing pretty much everything right and talking about anger and acknowledging that talking doesn’t make up for last season’s losing record, the Huskers came out and backed everything up.

Yeah, yeah, don’t get carried away early. This weekend series against the defending national champion Oregon State Beavers will tell a lot about the team, but it was as good an opening weekend for Husker baseball as possible. 

Thank Hallmark for a lot of that. 

The Podcast

Now to the basketball... 

I appreciate the apology. But it was entirely unnecessary. 

On Sunday night, head coach Tim Miles recorded a podcast with Jeff Goodman, a former ESPN college basketball talking head, and covered what life is like on the hot seat. At one point, Miles was asked about the possibility of being fired. 

“If they fire me, they're still going to pay me,” he answered. “I'm still a millionaire. ... So I've got that going for me."

If you know Miles closely or have spent time with the man, or even talked with him for more than five minutes, you know Miles uses humor often. He’s a quick-witted guy who likes to joke, likes to use sarcasm and likes to make people laugh. Nothing wrong with that. His “I’m still a millionaire” comment is clearly sarcastic. Someone who has a life and family and roots set down in a place most definitely cares whether he gets to continue keeping roots in that place. 

It’s just not a good look to do that and then go out a few nights later and get your tires blown off by the worst team in your conference. 

It’s not a good look to do a podcast at all in the midst of a season collapse. Turn the offer down. Goodman supports Miles, which is fine, but that kind of light-hearted conversation doesn’t look great when it’s followed up by a careless performance on the court a few nights later. 

The angry twitter mob wants any reason to grab pitchforks and torches. Why supply the gasoline? It was an entirely avoidable situation and an unnecessary distraction for a floundering team.

The Defense

Ninety-five points. Penn State scored 95 points in a regulation Big Ten game. That hadn’t happened in 24 years. The last time the Nittany Lions scored at least 95 points in a regulation league game was Nov. 30, 1995. They have never scored more points against a Big Ten program in a regulation basketball game. 

Never. 

Nebraska prided itself early in the season on defense. For the first six games, no opponent topped 44 percent from the field against the Huskers. In 11 nonconference games, the Huskers had a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) under 90 eight times. 

That was supposed to matter. 

The Penn State game represents the highest opponent effective field goal percentage of the season (64.3 percent; which is like a 15-minute big man who only shoots within five feet of the basket; they shot 64.3 percent for the entire game as a team), the worst defensive rating of the season (143.9; which means Penn State was at 1.44 points per possession), the worst 3-point defense of the season (both in number of makes and shooting percentage) and the fewest turnovers forced in a game this year (six).

There was such little activity the Nittany Lions, who averaged 12 a game, weren’t pressured at all? 

There was such little commitment to closing out the 3-point line the Nittany Lions, who entered the day among the 40 worst Division I basketball teams shooting the 3, made 11 of their 22 looks?

KenPom has archives dating back to 2002. Nebraska’s defensive efficiency rating against Penn State was the worst single-game mark Nebraska has had since the service began. 

“I said, ‘You guys gotta help me out with this one,’” Miles said on his postgame radio show. “I didn’t see it coming.”

The Effort

What does that quote tell you? 

It tells me the effort was in question. It tells me the players and the coaches aren’t on the same page. It leads me to believe the players don’t care anymore. 

Is there really any other way to read that? Penn State had a 10-0 run early that was sparked because Nebraska just didn’t want to guard people.

via GIPHY

That No. 11 guy is Penn State’s leading scorer and the second-best scorer in the Big Ten. Maybe guard him. And then maybe rebound. And then maybe don’t have all five guys ball-watching while there’s a Penn State shooter waiting in the corner for the driver to kick to him.

via GIPHY

This is literally the next play. Again, guard Lamar Stevens, especially since he has already hit a 3. Why are three Huskers around the ball all standing and watching as the pass is made? Even if Stevens didn’t want to take that shot, the man curling into the paint near the free throw line is open as well. 

So that all sparks a 10-0 run that gives Penn State an early lead and early confidence. 

Nebraska came out of the locker room at halftime looking like it was ready to actually play. It got five quick points and then Penn State hit an answer triple from the corner and that was that. 

The Huskers just continued to fall further and further into the hole thanks to more defensive effort like the clips above. The Huskers shot 55 percent in the second half and lost ground. How does that happen? 

During the two wins, defense looked to be the only way out of the doldrums for the Huskers. Appears the commitment to playing that way is waning. That’s the worst of signs for the way the final four games are going to go.

 
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