Nebraska Basketball vs. Northwestern Photo No. 13

Nebraska’s Jervay Green attempts a free throw during the game against Northwestern at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday, March, 1, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Five minutes into the second half, Minnesota sophomore guard Gabe Kalscheur decided to rain fire on the Huskers. The guard converted five 3-pointers in six minutes, a lights-out shooting performance that helped the lead balloon from 64-43 to 84-54.

By the end of the night, after a number of senior-day bows from Minnesota players, the score ended at 107-75, the most points Nebraska has conceded in a game so far this season. 

Minnesota isn’t even an exceptional, or good, 3-point shooting team. The same team that shot 51.4 percent from the 3-point line against Nebraska had a 3-point shooting percentage of 32.3 percent coming into the game. This is good for 219th in the nation. Minnesota’s poor 3-point scoring is also not ideal because 3-pointers are a significant part of its offensive diet. The team has the 100th-highest 3-point frequency in the nation.

Nebraska’s 3-point defense is stout relative to its overall defense. Despite ranking 134th in the nation for defensive rating, its 3-point defense sits at 32.3 percent, which is 118th best in the nation. 

The conclusion to pull from this is that Minnesota had a fantastic night shooting the basketball. The absence of junior guard Dachon Burke Jr. and sophomore guard Cam Mack can’t explain how well Minnesota shot the ball. Burke’s defense is highly rated according to certain impact metrics, but a lot of that comes from steals or forced turnovers and not necessarily opponent 3-point percentage. Mack’s defense isn’t anything special, either.

The lack of two starters, both offensive engines for the team, explains much of Nebraska’s offensive issues against Minnesota. The team shot 5-22 from the 3-point line and 23-52 from inside the arc. These percentages come out to 22.7 percent and 44.2 percent, respectively. Nebraska’s 2-point completion percentage stands at 48.7 percent on the season, and its 3-point scoring at 32.3 percent.

Nebraska had a poor offensive performance by any metric, and the reason for this can probably be the lack of familiarity Nebraska has with the lineup head coach Fred Hoiberg fielded. In the absence of Mack and Burke, junior guard Jervay Green was forced to handle all ball-handling responsibility in the offense. Junior guard Thorir Thorbjarnarson and senior guard Haanif Cheatham both cut and motioned off the ball as usual, while freshman guard Charlie Easley primarily lurked in the paint to grab rebounds or scrap in the case of a turnover.

Green tried to emulate the production of Mack or Burke, but his efficiency wasn’t great. He shot 6-15 from the field and 0-4 from the 3-point line. His role in the offense became a fusion of the two players. Like Mack, he was the primary ball-handler in the pick-and-roll with either freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo or freshman forward Kevin Cross screening. However, like Burke, he would use those pick-and-roll opportunities to fashion cross-key layups off of drives.

Nebraska’s forwards were utterly smothered by the 33rd-best rebounding team in the country. Senior forward Alihan Demir had 10 rebounds and sophomore center Daniel Oturu had six. In total, Minnesota ended the game with 10 more rebounds than the Huskers, but surprisingly, Nebraska ended with two more offensive rebounds in total.

Easley’s three offensive rebounds and Green’s one offensive rebound is production that the Huskers wouldn’t otherwise have in the starting lineup, and this could be the reason for the Huskers leading in offensive rebounds. By comparison, Ouedraogo and Cross also grabbed four offensive rebounds combined despite being the primary rebounders on the team.

Minnesota breaking down Nebraska’s forwards could also explain Nebraska’s overall uptick in offensive rebounding. 3-point shots are more commonly rebounded by the offense than 2-point shots, and dis-incentivizing the 2-point shot, as Minnesota did, can lead to more 3-point shots. Nebraska did take less 3-pointers than is typical to its distribution, only 29.7 percent as compared to its usual 39.9 percent, but there were far more possessions in the game.

Minnesota used Nebraska’s pace against itself. Minnesota’s average tempo is good for only 255th in the nation at 66.8 possessions per 40 minutes. However, against Nebraska, that number increased drastically to 78. If Minnesota kept this pace the entire season, it’d be the fastest team in college basketball.

Nebraska has shown an ability to play well against faster teams, but Minnesota’s high pace was not structural, but rather a game management decision. That is to say, if a team is shooting well, then it’d behoove that team to take more shots. Minnesota stepping away from its slower philosophy only came when it realized it had the upper hand shooting the basketball.

Despite all this, there was one small bright spot in the game for the Huskers. Nebraska shot 14-17 from the free throw line, good for 82.8 percent. This dwarfs its average free throw shooting percentage of 68.8 percent. It’s not a large victory for the Huskers, but it’s something.