Editor’s note: All stats for this article were retrieved from kenpom.com.
Coming off a tough stretch of games as of late, Nebraska men’s basketball's Tuesday’s matchup against Maryland on the road will offer little comfort for the Huskers.
After three-straight double-digit defeats in Big Ten Conference play, the early January joy of beating Iowa at home and narrowly losing to Rutgers have proven to be the only positive moments of the season so far. And while a knee-jerk reaction to this now eight-game losing run is surely unfair, it’s hard not to become discouraged by this recent spate of results.
Facing the eighth-best defensive team in the country in Maryland may be another exercise in gracious defeat. The Huskers will try to mitigate an excellent team that currently tops the Big Ten standings.
Against teams ranked in the top 100 defensively, the Huskers have only won three games, resulting in a record of 3-9. At the same time, the Huskers have not yet won on the road this season. Against teams where a big man has at least a 22% usage rate, the Huskers have only won once.
Part of this may be due to Nebraska’s poor rim protection, as it currently ranks 353rd in the nation for block percentage. Nebraska’s lack of rim protection also means rebounding has been a constant problem — the team’s opponent offensive rebounding percentage is one of the highest in the nation at 31.2%. This means nearly a third of all possible rebounds from opponent misses go to the opponent.
This is all brought up to illustrate the monumental task the Huskers face. Maryland’s 6-foot-10-inch sophomore forward Jalen Smith has blossomed in the absence of now-Atlanta Hawks big man Bruno Fernando, and the Terrapins’ 2-point defense is one of the best in the country. Smith’s 10.1 rebounds per game underlie a generally fantastic offensive rebounding team in Maryland, which is currently 50th in the country for offensive rebounding rate.
There are some small tactical positives to be considered for Nebraska against Maryland. First, Nebraska has a generally respectable opposition 3-point completion percentage at 31.7%. This is good for 103rd in the nation and is partly attributed to Nebraska’s marquee win over Iowa and its close defeat to Rutgers. Iowa only shot 4-33 from the 3-point line at Pinnacle Bank Arena, and Rutgers shot 8-22. Maryland has had its own 3-point struggles so far this season. Despite its high 3-point frequency at 42.3%, Maryland is 241st in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage.
This means only 32.4% of Maryland’s points come from 3-pointers, an alarming discrepancy against its distribution of shots and inefficiency for a nearly flawless team. This is an inefficiency Nebraska is uniquely suited to benefit from.
There is also one game that shows Maryland can struggle against high-pace teams. Against Iowa, the Terrapins played exceedingly poor, only scoring 49 points to Iowa’s 67. This has been the lowest-scoring game Maryland has played so far. Iowa and Nebraska share similar offensive profiles, and Iowa also has a strong opponent 3-point completion percentage, ranked 102nd in the nation.
These small positives are ultimately dwarfed by the sheer quality of Maryland’s team. And while Nebraska may be better suited in some places to face the Terrapins, they are woefully under-equipped to match them in firepower inside the paint and in general talent. An effective exploitation of Nebraska’s advantages is something one can expect from head coach Fred Hoiberg. But, tactics and craftiness can only go so far in a game of strength and conditioning like Nebraska’s game against Maryland will prove to be.