Pick an adjective, any adjective.
Embarrassing, humiliating, deflating, they all apply here. After all, there isn’t really another way to spin Nebraska men’s basketball’s complete and utter dismantling at the hands of Michigan on Tuesday night, 102-67.
Michigan set a Pinnacle Bank Arena record for opponent points scored, and fell one point shy of the largest opponent margin of victory. Nebraska never led, the Wolverines scored 51 points in each half and Michigan had four players score 15 or more points.
By all accounts, what occurred on Tuesday night was a beatdown. A lifeless Nebraska squad never had a shot in what ultimately summated in the third-worst Big Ten loss of Nebraska men’s basketball head coach Fred Hoiberg’s tenure.
Here are four takeaways from the blowout loss:
Verge shines once again
There are hardly any positives to take from Tuesday’s loss from a Nebraska perspective, but another quality performance from senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. tops the list.
The Arizona State transfer was seemingly Nebraska’s only offense at points. He scored 10 of Nebraska’s 14 final first-half points and dropped 13 points in a five-minute stretch early in the second half. On a night where the Huskers were completely dismal offensively, Verge provided some reprieve.
“I thought Alonzo scored it well, I thought he had some pop to him out there, I thought he made some really good plays early trying to get other guys involved,” Hoiberg said postgame. “Obviously, he scored the ball very well and efficiently in the paint.”
Verge finished the contest with a game-high 31 points, 22 of which came inside the arc. The Huskers’ most reliable offense against Michigan seemed to come when Verge got downhill and attacked Wolverine big men in the paint.
Of course, the good and bad of Verge’s ability was on display, too. He recorded three assists, good for half of Nebraska’s six total, but also recorded a team-high four turnovers.
Still, the dynamic guard was the sole reason Michigan didn’t win the game by more than it already did. At the very least, that should be commended.
Nebraska is not a good 3-point shooting team. Michigan, entering Tuesday’s game, defended the perimeter at a top-50 rate nationally.
What ensued was predictable, despite being extremely difficult to watch.
Sophomore guard Keisei Tominaga knocked down two early 3-pointers within the first four minutes of Tuesday’s contest. It was an encouraging start given the team’s difficulties from behind the arc. However, that was not the case.
The Huskers closed the night shooting 5-of-35 from 3-point range, the worst shooting performance in a season littered with duds. Tominaga accounted for three of the five, but was just 3-for-11 overall.
Hoiberg postgame noted that a majority of the Huskers’ outside looks were “great,” and that the team had a good chunk of open 3-point looks that didn’t fall. Still, even then there’s a difference between not making outside shots and finishing a putrid 2-of-29 from 3-point range.
Through 10 games, it’s increasingly apparent that the Huskers have no confidence in shooting the 3-pointer — Tominaga aside, perhaps. Nebraska now sits at No. 351 nationally in 3-point percentage, of 358 Division I teams, according to kenpom.com.
Something has to change with regards to Nebraska’s outside shooting, and it needs to change fast. Otherwise, more results like Tuesday’s are almost certain.
About that defense
Michigan got, essentially, whatever it wanted offensively on Tuesday.
Having a 7-foot-1 stalwart like sophomore center Hunter Dickinson certainly helps matters, but Dickinson had a relatively quiet offensive night by his standards. Senior forward Brandon Johns Jr. led the Wolverines with 20 points in a dominant inside-out effort, in part freed due to Nebraska’s concentration on Dickinson.
Freshman guard Caleb Houstan was spectacular, finishing with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting and six rebounds. Houstan finished with a 4-of-7 performance from 3-point range, just one less than Nebraska’s total as a team. Sophomore forward Terrance Williams II contributed 20 of the Wolverines’ 38 bench points, and Dickinson posted a 15-point, 12-rebound double-double.
As a team, the Wolverines shot 51.3% from the field and 15-of-32 from the 3-point line, good for just under 47%. Michigan moved the ball extremely efficiently, totaling 25 total assists. It’s the highest assist total the Wolverines have recorded against a Big Ten opponent under head coach Juwan Howard.
The Wolverines consistently got Nebraska’s defense to rotate with inside-out action, which allowed for open look after open look. Nebraska offered little resistance.
Nebraska’s potential identity crisis
It’s too early for full-blown panic with regards to the state of Nebraska men’s basketball.
After all, Nebraska is missing a key starter and the Huskers are without assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih for the foreseeable future. Still, Hoiberg appeared to be extremely disheartened and frustrated following the blowout loss.
Throughout his collegiate coaching tenure, Hoiberg-coached offenses have been predicated on operating quickly in transition, running early offense sets and shooting a good deal of 3-pointers that result from proper spacing.
When the outside shots aren’t falling, Hoiberg’s offense cannot work. Nebraska’s head coach, at least postgame, indicated he’s open to taking drastic measures in order to rectify the team’s current struggles — including a potential stylistic change to the way Nebraska operates.
“I’m going to consider everything the next few days,” Hoiberg said.
A complete stylistic overhaul might be too great of an ask, but it’s clear that something needs to change offensively through one-third of the season. How Hoiberg and his staff adapt just might be an indicator of how much success Nebraska will find in the remainder of Big Ten play.
The Huskers begin their last stretch of nonconference play this Saturday against No. 18 Auburn in Atlanta, Georgia before returning to Lincoln to face Kansas State and Kennesaw State to wrap up December’s slate.