A return to Chicago did nothing to remedy a morose season for former Windy City residents in Nebraska men’s basketball head coach Fred Hoiberg and senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. Nebraska lost 77-65 at Northwestern, its 20th loss of the season and 15th in Big Ten play. It also marked Nebraska’s fifth-straight loss to the Wildcats, one of the worst programs in the Power Six.
The Huskers did some things well in the 12-point loss. They had two positive superlatives — they won their largest margin of victory in the offensive rebounding battle (11-7) and recorded their lowest foul total (10) of the season.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Bryce McGowens further validates his elite status with freshman record
Freshman guard Bryce McGowens added another accolade to his trophy case on Tuesday night when he surpassed former Husker center Dave Hoppen’s freshman scoring record of 445 points with at least five games remaining in the season. That’s no small feat as Hoppen is the Huskers’ all-time leading scorer and one of four jerseys in the Pinnacle Bank Arena rafters.
McGowens is now second in the nation in freshman scoring with 16.7 points per game. The former five-star recruit finished Tuesday’s game with 15 points to go with 10 rebounds and four assists. He did, however, shoot only 5-of-13 from the floor and 1-of-6 from beyond the arc.
This comes just after he was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Monday for a seventh time this season. The only player who has won the award more was Ohio State’s two-time All-American Jared Sullinger in 2010-11.
With his statistical feats, recognition and performance compared to his peers in an otherwise lackluster freshman class nationally, it’s appearing increasingly likely that this will be McGowens’ first and only season in Lincoln. He looks set to become the third Husker drafted in four seasons after a nearly 20 year drought. McGowens is projected as a late first round or early second round pick in most mock drafts.
Perhaps his brother, junior guard Trey McGowens, can convince him to stick around in the fast-approaching offseason.
Huskers have played considerably better in every rematch, but it hasn’t mattered
The trip to Northwestern was Nebraska’s fourth rematch thus far this season. They have lost every series and have several more to come. Still, a positive trend is that they have performed better in the second game of the series each time, even when the first game came at home. They lost by 13 at Indiana and then by seven at home, by 35 to Michigan at home and then six on the road, by 28 at Rutgers and then by two at home, and now by 24 to Northwestern and by 12 on the road.
There is no easy win remaining in the Huskers’ four game slate, which is to be expected in the deep Big Ten. With rematches remaining against currently ranked foes Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin, the latter two on the road, perhaps better results are ahead. The Huskers were routed by the Hawkeyes but remained in the game late against the Buckeyes and Badgers. If they can continue this trend, they might have a prayer in any of these games in which they have less than an 11% chance of winning each one according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index.
A third straight last place Big Ten finish appears imminent
Even if the Huskers manage to win one of the games ahead, their best chance most likely at Penn State, they seem to be locked in for a third-straight last place finish in the Big Ten. Before this three-year stretch, Nebraska had not finished in the bottom two of the Big Ten standings in any of its first eight years in the conference. That statistic does not bode well for Hoiberg, whose struggles to replicate his success from Iowa State have been well-documented lately.
Nebraska sits three games back from Minnesota, the lone team it beat in conference play, with four games remaining for both teams. Nebraska would need to win three games, at least two against NCAA Tournament teams, and bank on the Golden Gophers not winning again. Pencil Husker basketball in a third season in the Big Ten basement.