Eight days off didn’t help.
Following back-to-back 30-point beatdowns at the hands of Michigan and Auburn, Nebraska men’s basketball was in desperate need of a re-set. After a week off, the Huskers’ first opportunity to right the ship came against Kansas State on Sunday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
That didn’t happen, and instead an already shaky season appears in danger of spiraling further off the rails. Nebraska lost to the Wildcats, a squad picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 12 in the preseason coaches’ poll, 67-58.
The loss extended Nebraska’s losing streak to five and marked yet another frustrating performance in a season already full of them through just 12 games. Here are four takeaways from the defeat:
Once again, Alonzo Verge Jr. salvages horrific offensive display
Nebraska’s offense remained completely disjointed following an eight-day hiatus, an extremely disconcerting trend as the meat of Big Ten play approaches.
After head coach Fred Hoiberg all-but promised offensive changes following the Michigan game, it’s still unclear what exactly changed. The Huskers were marred by lengthy scoring droughts against the Wildcats, the most shocking an 16-2 Kansas State that ran for the final 8:11 of the first half.
The run allowed Kansas State to take a 33-27 lead into the locker room.
What constituted that Nebraska scoring drought was all-too familiar. Turnovers, ill-advised 3-pointers and stagnant offense — weaknesses that have plagued each and every one of Hoiberg’s Husker squads. Nebraska started 5-of-10 from 3-point range, then proceeded to miss 18 in a row.
It’s perhaps fitting that Nebraska didn’t make a field goal for the contest’s final 3:22, unable to find the basket when it needed to most. The Huskers went just 1-of-8 down the stretch while suffering another horrifying loss.
Maybe, just maybe, Nebraska’s preseason expectations as a quality 3-point shooting team won’t materialize. The Huskers entered Sunday’s contest shooting just 25.9% from 3-point range as a team, the No. 347 mark in Division I basketball according to kenpom.com, and fared no better against the Wildcats.
There’s enough of a sample size to indicate that Nebraska is not and will not be a good 3-point shooting team this season. The fact that 3-pointers constitute such a high percentage of the team’s total field goal attempts, at this point in the season, is an absolute travesty.
Stil, through all the muck, senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. posted yet another 20-point performance. The Arizona State transfer attacked the basket consistently and tried to will the Huskers to victory in the second half.
Whether it came through tough circus finishes at the rim, generating transition opportunities with his defense or even intercepting lazy inbound passes for layups, Verge did it all in leading the Huskers’ second-half charge. He finished the contest with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting with five rebounds, five assists and six turnovers.
Verge draws a good bit of discussion for his play, and it’s not without reason. When Nebraska’s offense stagnates, it’s largely because the ball stops moving. As Nebraska’s primary ball handler, that facilitation starts with him. However, he’s also Nebraska’s only consistent option to attack the basket and has been efficient with the shots he takes. Once again, Nebraska would’ve been worse off against Kansas State without Verge’s contributions.
Like or dislike his play, it’s undeniable that Verge is the only player keeping Nebraska afloat right now.
Depth an issue
Thought to be one of the team’s strengths entering the season, Nebraska’s bench production was nonexistent on Sunday.
Freshman guard CJ Wilcher’s six points began and ended any contributions from a non-starter wearing a Nebraska uniform. Injuries to junior guard Trey McGowens and freshman forward Wilhelm Breidenbach haven’t helped matters much, but the Huskers could’ve used more production from their reserves in a tightly-contested battle.
Wilcher, senior guard Kobe Webster and freshman forward Eduardo Andre were the lone Huskers that featured off the bench. Webster was 0-of-3 from the field, while Andre recorded zero points and four fouls in seven minutes of action. What’s more, Verge and freshman guard Bryce McGowens accounted for 35 of Nebraska’s 58 points.
Nebraska needs more reliable production elsewhere.
Junior forward Lat Mayen’s struggles have only continued, going 0-of-3 from 3-point range against Kansas State. He’s shooting just 22% from deep this season after hitting the long ball at a 36% clip a season ago. Sophomore guard Keisei Tominaga remained inconsistent, posting a brutal 3-of-13 shooting performance.
On paper, this roster appeared to be Hoiberg’s most complete of his Nebraska tenure. That depth needs to appear on a consistent basis for the Huskers to have a puncher’s chance in Big Ten play.
About the defense
On a more positive note, the Huskers’ defensive effort was largely encouraging after surrendering at least 99 points in consecutive games.
The Wildcats are by no means an offensive juggernaut, ranking No. 119 nationally according to kenpom.com in offensive efficiency, but Nebraska did render the visitor’s offense largely useless.
Kansas State shot just 39% from the field and 6-of-26 from 3-point range. Sophomore guard Nigel Pack led the Wildcats in scoring with 15 points, and Pack was the lone Wildcat to score more than 10 points. In addition, Nebraska forced 19 Kansas State turnovers.
All of that should’ve been enough to win, but it wasn’t. Even though it came in defeat, Nebraska’s defensive performance could hopefully serve as a building block for future contests.
Enjoy Wednesday, because…
Kansas State, while improving, is still not a quality Power Six team. Sunday’s win marked the Wildcats’ first nonconference true road victory over a power conference opponent since 2017.
It was a game that Nebraska should’ve won, but didn’t.
From here, things are extremely macabre, at least on the surface. Nebraska welcomes Kennesaw State to Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday, and that contest appears to be the only “sure thing” remaining on the Huskers’ schedule. The contest against the Owls marks the last of Nebraska’s nonconfernce slate before the team begins the bulk of Big Ten play in the new year.
According to kenpom.com, Nebraska is favored to win just one more game outside of Wednesday’s upcoming contest — a home game against Rutgers in late January. Things can change rapidly between now and the start of Big Ten play, but Nebraska’s early contests against quality opposition haven’t been inspiring.
The Huskers are 0-6 against power conference opposition so far this season, and have lost five of those games by eight points or more. Nebraska is all-but out of time to fix its flaws, but the Kennesaw State game just might offer a bit of reprieve and optimism ahead of a brutal conference slate.