This week’s Drake’s Takes gives an overview on both Nebraska basketball squads, plus final thoughts on the Husker coaching staff now that it’s been completed.
Women’s basketball takes two ranked losses
The toughest stretch of Nebraska women’s basketball schedule so far has come with mixed results.
The Huskers didn’t play a ranked team in their first 13 games of the season, but have since played three straight top-25 teams. They started that slate off hot with a blowout win over No. 8 Michigan, but then lost two straight to No. 22 Iowa and No. 6 Indiana. That gives the team three losses in its last four games and an early conference record of 2-3.
This isn’t anything to be worried about, due to the strength of schedule and nature of college basketball. The losses were close as well. However, a win in the rematch against (now-unranked) Iowa on Sunday would be huge as the Huskers try to continue to assert themselves as a top team in the conference.
I mentioned last week that Nebraska should be able to split the two games with Iowa, and I didn’t think a sweep for the Huskers was out of the question. The latter is impossible now, but my mind is unchanged. The 9-4 Hawkeyes still deserve respect as one of the most talented teams out there, but given how they’ve performed this season, Nebraska should be looking to get out of this series with a win.
To do that, the Huskers will mainly need to defend better. Iowa scored 95 points in the last matchup. The most Nebraska has given up outside of that game is 72. It’s easier said than done against such a talented team, but if the score stays in the 70s on Sunday, Nebraska should have a good shot.
If the Huskers don’t win, it’s not a huge deal, and the schedule will get a little easier with three straight games against much worse Big Ten opponents. The early February stretch of Maryland, Ohio State and Indiana would likely be Nebraska’s next chance to prove itself against big-time opponents.
Men’s team can’t grab conference win once again
It’s easier to subdue any worries about the women’s basketball team when you compare them to the mess happening on the men’s side.
Nebraska is 0-6 in Big Ten play and 6-11 on the season. Things aren’t going to get easier soon either, with three of the next four opponents being ranked and the other receiving votes. Last year, the Huskers didn’t get a conference win until mid-February. There’s reason to think that might be the case again.
There are some reasons to be hopeful, too, of course. Derrick Walker has played well. There are stretches within games where this team looks like it could put things together. Getting Trey McGowens back soon will matter a lot.
Along with that, Nebraska has had a pair of competitive games with ranked teams recently. Home games with No. 13 Ohio State and No. 25 Illinois were close for the majority of the contest, and the Huskers even went to overtime against the Buckeyes. That part is encouraging.
What isn’t encouraging is how they’ve finished those games. A pair of missed free throws were a big reason the Ohio State game even went into overtime, and it seemed like the Huskers fell apart in the final minutes against the Fighting Illini.
It’s already going to be hard enough for Nebraska to turn things around in a very tough Big Ten. If it can’t take advantage of its best opportunities late in games, it’ll be near-impossible.
The Huskers most likely won’t finish winless in Big Ten play regardless, but I think there’d be a much better feeling about this team if it had even just closed out the win over Ohio State. With McGowens returning, it’ll be interesting to see how things change, but Nebraska desperately needs to put up some good performances down the stretch of this season.
Finished football staff
Nebraska’s hire of Bryan Applewhite brought an end to the program’s search for new assistant coaches.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m happy with how the Huskers have filled out the staff. Applewhite should be a solid addition as well, and has a large task in front of him.
Nebraska’s running back spot has been a mess the last two years, as the quarterback has led the team in both rushing attempts in yards. The Huskers have expressed a desire to have a consistent starting running back, but haven’t been able to accomplish that for reasons that range from injuries to a simple lack of production.
Perhaps Applewhite can help Rahmir Johnson take the next step. Jaquez Yant, who averaged 6.3 yards per carry on 47 attempts, has potential. Maybe it’ll be a new face, as we’ve been used to seeing at this spot for the last few years.
No matter what, this is a key position for Nebraska to figure out. Applewhite’s previous coaching spot, TCU, fell into a similar situation with the quarterback being the most prominent rusher, but the running backs had significant success. Three Horned Frogs backs had 100-yard games. Zach Evans and Kendre Miller averaged over seven yards per carry on 54 rushes. The leading back, Darwin Barlow, averaged 5.9.
There are too many differences to try and translate this directly to how Nebraska’s backs will do next season, but ideally Applewhite will help the team create production similar to 2018, when the team had two talented backs, including 1,000-yard rusher Devine Ozigbo.