Senior night is a night to honor the players. Players who, over the course of the year, endeared themselves to the fans in different ways.
In honor of that, the three takeaways tonight will each center around a different player. The bitter loss to Northwestern can be attributed to a number of things, including a record-breaking 8-30 night from the free throw line and an unnaturally high 21 turnovers.
However, Nebraska’s game against Northwestern was also one of great performances, some of which are honored below.
Dachon Burke Jr. comes up big in the clutch
His shot to end the game was an aberration compared to what was one of his better performances of the season. Junior guard Dachon Burke Jr.’s defense is ranked far better than his offense. According to Offensive and Defensive Box Plus-Minus, an impact metric, Burke’s defense is 1.7 points higher than his offense.
However, his game against Northwestern showed how easily defense can turn into offense when done correctly. His team-high five steals led to a number of fastbreak opportunities for the Huskers, some of them late in the game. He gambled at times, but the defense shifted well enough to validate a number of Burke’s decisions.
It was when he was given more time to think that Burke faltered. At the end of plays or in spot-up shot opportunities, Burke did well. He ended the night 7-14 shooting and 3-6 from the 3-point line, one of his better performances on the year.
In the end, his shot decisions did eventually fail the Huskers; however, this comes only after a night of clutch shooting which helped put the Huskers in that position in the first place. As a significant offensive piece in Hoiberg’s decision, Burke did not disappoint against Northwestern.
Yvan Ouedraogo gives fantastic performance
Freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo had a season of development under head coach Fred Hoiberg, at times looking like he was several years away from being a significant piece on even an average team. There were also concerns over his fitness, and as the season progressed he sometimes rode the bench as a role player or started in ugly losses.
However, against Northwestern, Ouedraogo may have sealed his starting position for next season. One of the big concerns for Ouedraogo’s game as the season progressed was his poor rebounding rate. He hovered around 16.9 percent for defensive rebounding percentage on the season, a poor metric for a primary rebounder. He ranked around average amongst forwards for rebounding rate, but compare him with centers and his rebounding deficiency came into full focus.
“I continue to see growth from Yvan,” Hoiberg said after the game. “He’s been so good, you can see his confidence. Yvan, 10 offensive rebounds and 9 defensive rebounds in a Big Ten game, that’s impressive.”
However, against Northwestern, Ouedraogo jumped to a 25.5 percent rebounding rate, grabbing the highest number of rebounds by a Husker freshman since the 1986-87 season with 19. Assuming Ouedraogo averaged that rebounding rate for the season, he’d be the best rebounder in the Big Ten, beating Purdue forward Trevion Williams by 4.4 percent.
Northwestern is a poor rebounding team, of course. It ranks 316th in the nation for offensive rebounding percentage and 251st in opponent offensive rebounding percentage. Even with those poor numbers, this production in any one game should be commended. One of Ouedraogo’s biggest faults in rebounding early in the season was the ball hitting his hands without him gaining control of it. That didn’t happen against Northwestern.
Also, 10 of Ouedraogo’s 19 rebounds were offensive. His offensive rebounding rate against Northwestern, if taken as an average, would be higher than the leader in the Big Ten by 6.3 percent. This is all promising going into next season.
Ouedraogo’s 1-9 free throw performance also arguably lost the game for Nebraska. It proved to be a smart move from Northwestern head coach Chris Collins to force Ouedraogo to the line late in the game.
Haanif Cheatham gives his best performance in a Husker uniform on senior night.
Senior guard Haanif Cheatham has had an up-and-down season, with an average amount of production accompanying stout defensive performances. Impact metrics imply as much, ranking him at 1.8 for O-BPM and 0.8 for D-BPM. His best production generally came in the form of points off of the fastbreak, baseline layups or reverses. But against Northwestern, Cheatham had 20 points on 7-11 shooting and an offensive rating of 132, the best of either team.
“I thought he was terrific on senior day,” Hoiberg said. “It’s a game he’ll remember for the rest of his life.”
Despite having the fourth-highest true shooting percentage on the team, Cheatham shot 33 percent from the 3-point line. Part of this is due to a low 28.4 percent 3-point frequency, second-lowest on the team to Ouedraogo, who hasn’t taken a 3-pointer yet this season. However, Cheatham shot 3-5 from the 3-point line against Northwestern, a high percentage for the senior guard.
At the same time, he shot 4-6 from inside the arc, ending with 20 points on the night. This is one of his highest productions of the season, almost on par with his 26-point outburst against USF early in the season. His last game at home for the Huskers proved to be a special one.
“The journey is always ups and downs,” Cheatham said. “When you realize how much people accept you, it’s a good feeling. Just to see that, to be respected and accepted, it’s a good feeling.”