Nebraska’s losing streak continued against No. 21 Wisconsin in the Huskers’ third game back from an extended COVID-19 absence. The Huskers led for much of the first half before the Badgers slowly chipped away, reclaiming the lead by halftime and slowly pulling away to win 61-48 and complete the season sweep.The victory is also Wisconsin’s sixth straight in the series.
Here are three takeaways from the loss:
Huskers struggle shooting ball, taking care of it
In its third game back from an extended COVID-19 pause, Nebraska played like a team that had neither played together nor touched the ball much. The announcers alluded to Nebraska not having practiced yesterday or today, and said obviously it wasn’t hurting, as the Huskers were winning at the time. Clearly, that ended up being a bad take.
It’s not as if the outcome would have been different had Nebraska practiced, surely the rest had some value. But this game served as a snapshot of the entire season thus far, the Huskers keeping up with a top team before being felled by poor shooting or turnovers, or a combination of both in this case.
Through most of this season, it has looked like there has been little cohesion among the players. This should serve as little surprise given that 11 new players joined the team or became eligible to play this year. Still, one would expect a little more cohesion at this point. There were countless instances when players got the ball with the singular idea of shooting it themselves, and errant or careless passes led to several turnovers.
The Huskers shot 36.7% from the field, a number similar to their 36.2% shooting and 36.8% shooting in the other two games since the hiatus. They also held their opponent to under 40% shooting for the third straight game, a ghastly 32.3% in Wisconsin’s case. In those three games, the difference has been turnovers. Nebraska gave the ball up 17 times compared to just eight for Wisconsin. When they weren’t shooting just as poorly as the Badgers, they were giving the ball right back to them, leading to the Badgers attempting 13 more shots.
One play in particular exemplified the Huskers’ struggles. With just over 11 minutes left in the game, junior guard Trey McGowens buried a midrange jumper to cut the deficit down to six for the first time in five minutes. Immediately after, the Huskers had one of their best defensive stands of the game and forced a late shot clock three-pointer that led to a rebound pushed out to McGowens. Upon crossing midcourt, McGowens essentially tripped and lost the ball, and Wisconsin took the ball down and scored. It was the closest Nebraska got to Wisconsin for the rest of the game.
Mayen continues to provide a bright spot
Junior forward Lat Mayen reached double figures for the fourth straight game against the Badgers after only doing so twice in the first 11 games this season. During this four-game stretch, the Australia native is averaging 13.5 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 50% from the field and 42.9% on 3-pointers. This is what Hoiberg envisioned for Mayen when he signed the transfer out of the JUCO ranks.
Mayen failed to match his career high of 15 points, but still led the Huskers with 14 points to go with seven rebounds. He had 10 points within the first eight minutes of the game as Nebraska sprung out to a 20-14 lead that slowly faded away.
Mayen is one of the Huskers’ purest 3-point shooters, but is shooting just 32.9% on the season due to a very poor start, including a five-game stretch where he went 1-for-19 from beyond the arc. When he’s knocking down shots as he did tonight, he provides another option for Nebraska outside of its guards, and most importantly, spaces the floor.
This season is starting to look eerily similar to last year
The Huskers have now lost eight straight games, all in Big Ten play. They have now lost 25 straight Big Ten games after losing their last 17 conference games of last season. While expectations were muted entering this season, many expected Nebraska to be more competitive given the breadth of talent on its roster, and win several Big Ten games.
The Huskers still have seven scheduled games left, and could have more of the remaining four postponements get rescheduled, so they will still have ample opportunity to end the season with some momentum. This team does seem better than last year’s, as it’s more experienced. Nebraska ranks 101st in experience per kenpom.com, compared to 267th last year, and has higher-caliber transfers and recruits.
Right now, the Huskers sit at 128th on kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency rankings, whereas they finished 162nd last year. Still, one can’t help but feel some queasiness after seeing the Huskers near the double-digit mark for their losing streak.
Friday’s game against No. 6 Illinois and Sunday’s at Penn State won’t provide much of an amnesty for Nebraska as it finishes its stretch of playing five games in nine days.