Nebraska, nearly a week of rest off the heels of a brutal double overtime defeat to Southern Utah, faces an intriguing challenge in the form of South Dakota State on Friday. According to kenpom.com, South Dakota State is going to be the toughest game yet for the Huskers this season.
South Dakota State and Nebraska play at a relatively similar tempo according to KenPom, with Nebraska’s AdjT (adjusted tempo), a stat which measures number of possessions over 40 minutes against an average-tempo Division I team, being 74.2 and South Dakota State being 72.7. South Dakota State and Nebraska also value the 3-point shot, with Nebraska’s 3-point shot frequency being 40% to South Dakota’s 38%. South Dakota’s completion rate is better than Nebraska’s, however, at 28.2% to Nebraska’s 21.2%.
The continued development of Nebraska’s 3-point shot will be crucial in keeping this game close. Since both Nebraska and South Dakota State have above average tempos, a number of completed 3-pointers from South Dakota State shouldn’t sink Nebraska. However, the result against UC Riverside, where at one point the Highlanders shot five straight 3-pointers, is a worrying sign for the Huskers.
Junior forward Doug Wilson is the player to watch on South Dakota State. The 2018-19 NJCAA player of the year, Wilson is an athletic 6-foot-7 forward who loves driving in the lane and finishing plays with layups and dunks. He finished last year with a 67% field goal percentage, which is impressive for a driving forward.
Wilson, however, doesn’t have a midrange game or 3-point shot. He hasn’t made a single 3-pointer yet from three attempts against 49 total field goal attempts for the Jackrabbits, and this can be exploited. Instead of using space to fashion for shot, Wilson uses it as a runway for an acrobatic finish. As a result, Nebraska can build a defensive wall to prevent these drives and force Wilson to take an awkward floater or stop his dribble. It will be important for Nebraska to transition into defense quickly, as Wilson can cause havoc for a defense that’s not set.
Nebraska has not run a press defense yet this season, but should it fail to contain Wilson in transition and in half-court sets, it might be necessary to pressure Wilson into giving up the ball or making a poor decision high up the court.
The ideal defender for Wilson would be a light-footed 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-9 forward with a long wingspan and a high motor. Nebraska has some of these pieces in the squad, but Wilson will be a mismatch for any player on the team. If Hoiberg decides to mark Wilson with freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo, he can ask Ouedraogo to sit back in the post and contest any shot by Wilson. This might work, but Ouedraogo would need to be disciplined or he could be beaten off the dribble by Wilson. Senior guard Haanif Cheatham would be able to bother Wilson on the perimeter and has the foot speed to not be beaten by Wilson on the dribble, but lacks the size to take Wilson on in the low post.
Senior guard Brandon Key is another player who has the potential to be a difference-maker for South Dakota State. The 5-foot-10 guard has elite ball-handling abilities and can use those abilities to fashion space for himself to find a cutter or kick out for a wing three.
Key’s height and lack of an off-dribble floater means that he’s not a big threat slashing to the basket beyond his ability to find space for his teammates. As a result, covering shooters and blocking passing lanes for Key can help to stop some of his impact on the game. Key hasn’t perfected skip passes or advanced reads in the pick-and-roll, which means a lot of his passes are telegraphed beforehand.
Nebraska took a significant step forward from UC Riverside to Southern Utah, something which is made more impressive by the fact that Southern Utah was also better than UC Riverside. Nebraska will need to take yet another step forward against South Dakota State. Unlocking the 3-point shot and disciplined, well-drilled defense against Wilson and South Dakota’s wing threat will be paramount to success on Friday.