Nebraska returned home on Saturday night looking to snap a two-game losing streak, but struggles at the end of the first half and beginning of the second kept the Huskers from keeping up with Indiana. Here are five takeaways from the loss:
Finishing at the rim continues to be an issue for Huskers
Fred Hoiberg’s offense relies almost exclusively on layups and threes. With his current roster, there is not a consistent threat from deep, so it is imperative that the team converts on its high percentage shot attempts.
Shooting 42-80 with 25 shots blocked over the past three games doesn’t cut it.
Nearing the end of January, the grind of a college basketball season is beginning to take its toll on players. Hoiberg himself admitted after the loss that he thought his players looked tired near the end of the game, and that it is on him to rotate players better to prevent that.
A lot has been said about the 13 newcomers having to build relationships from scratch, but the coaching staff is also working with most of these players for the first time and are still learning their tendencies and habits.
Heck, players themselves are still discovering their tendencies. Playing against some of the best big men in the country expose a player’s true primal habits. When under the stress of skilled athletes, the available decision-making time is scant and players can only fall back on their training.
Take freshman forward Kevin Cross, for example. Trailing by six late in the first half, he caught the ball deep in the post and put up a floater over his defender that clanged off of the back of the rim and led to an Indiana rebound. That’s a move that Cross has made countless times throughout this season, and most likely throughout his career. But against Indiana’s lanky big men, he rushed the shot and it went long, where as an attempt off the glass would have had a better chance of working.
It’s impossible for a player to make a decision whether to try to bank a shot in or not in milliseconds, but it’s likely going to be something that coaches emphasize him to work on in practice endlessly over the next few weeks.
Despite the struggles at the rim, Nebraska was able to stay competitive in two of the past three games. That’s certainly an encouraging sign, but it also shows the missed opportunities that making 10-15 more layups could have presented.
Indiana showed the Big Ten one Husker weakness
It’s no secret that Nebraska struggles with rebounding. But on Saturday night, Indiana appeared to have zero interest in taking smart shots or working to find its regular looks. Instead, guards took the first open look they saw, and played fearlessly knowing that any bad shots they missed would get cleaned up by their frontcourt.
The result? Nine second-chance points in the first half and 12 offensive rebounds for the game. Keep in mind, there are several teams with far better big men and far better guards in the conference.
Not having to worry about misses leading to defensive rebounds can do wonders for confidence, and it showed at the beginning of the second half with Indiana.
Complaints about officiating are skyrocketing this month, and it’s no coincidence
There have been plenty of questionable calls in recent games and this one was not exempt. Plenty of people complain about the quality of officiating, but few offer reasonable explanations for why it is so bad.
Allow me to offer some reasons.
Tonight’s crew chief, Terry Wymers, was working his 43rd game of the season, and his 14th game in the past 18 days. His two counterparts, Steve Honacki and Rob Kueneman, have also each worked over 35 games this season.
Officials are contract employees of the NCAA, and can work as much as the NCAA wants them to. When conferences are willing to pay over $2,000 per game, of course officials will take as many games as possible. It’s fair to assume that when you work 14 games in 18 days across 10 different states, like Wymers has, fatigue begins to play a factor.
This in no way is an excuse, but I’m just trying to offer a different perspective over a common and valid complaint.
Fred Hoiberg’s in-game demeanor is contagious and beneficial to both this team and the fans
This game was a prime example of how Hoiberg handles a game. His team was playing in front of a charged up crowd against a quality opponent that has a highly energetic persona. Whether Nebraska led by nine or trailed by 19, Hoiberg’s demeanor rarely changed.
That’s a characteristic that has been consistent throughout his coaching career, and it’s a big part of why he has such high expectations here.
Thanks to his calm demeanor and steady approach, Nebraska was able to fight back after taking a vicious blow to start the second half. Usually, last-place teams in the Big Ten just roll over and move onto the next game when they go down 19 in the second half. Nebraska has almost always been able to keep giving a respectable amount of effort regardless of whether the outcome is already decided or not.
It was no coincidence that Nebraska’s comeback was sparked by freshman guard Charlie Easley burying a pair of 3-pointers. The freshman clearly has shown that he understands what Hoiberg wants out of him and in many ways has a similar calm demeanor on the court. That might come in handy a couple years down the line.
The Huskers may be bottom-dwellers in the Big Ten, but they’re still entertaining
It’s clear that this roster doesn’t have what it takes to even make the postseason, but thanks to an appealing style and some fun personalities, most nights are far more interesting than some of the previous lost seasons.
In a January littered with college basketball teams stuck in the teens at halftime, it was refreshing to see a halftime score of 46-41.
The true test of where this team currently stands with its fundamentals and style will come on Tuesday night, when the Huskers travel to Madison to face Wisconsin (11-7, 4-3). The Badgers once again have an exceptional defense, and play at one of the slowest tempos in college basketball.
If Nebraska can force Wisconsin to run with them, that will be a very promising sign of things to come.