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Big Ten Men’s Basketball Mid Season Check-In: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Seeking their first NCAA tournament win?

Nebraska v Kansas State Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Continuing our series checking in on Big Ten basketball, it’s time for Nebrasketball and every Big Ten fan’s favorite player: Keisei Tominaga.

Resume

Record: 11-2 (1-1)

Torvik: 51, KenPom: 54, Haslam: 64, NET: 57, AP: No Votes, Coaches: NV

*NOTE: we are listing Torvik rankings for opponents. This is because a) NET rankings suck in December and you really shouldn’t pay attention to them until February and b) Torvik is completely free (KenPom is not) and we prefer using Torvik to Haslam. Numbers as of December 28.

Wins: Michigan State (11), Kansas State (70), Duquesne (77), Fullerton (194), N-Oregon State (217), Stony Brook (230), Rider (285), Florida A&M (311), South Carolina State (335), Lindenwood (337)

Losses: @Minnesota (86), Creighton (10)

Michigan State v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

The non-conference resume isn’t exactly going to catch the attention of the committee on Selection Sunday, but Nebraska avoided hitting potholes as they’ve navigated their way through it without major issues. The conference opener loss to Minnesota will probably be offset by the bounce back win over Sparty assuming Michigan State’s recent turnaround continues into January and February.

When viewing the resume so far though, I can’t help but feel that Nebraska has set themselves up to potentially miss the tournament through their non-conference scheduling choices. Which is a real shame for those of us who want to see Keisei Tominaga on college basketball’s biggest stage and Nebrasketball fans hoping for that first NCAA tournament victory.

On pace for: The Bubble

Michigan State v Nebraska
This is all Fred’s fault for scheduling the way he did
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Nebraska is currently the bubbliest of bubble teams in the Big Ten. Torvik projects a 37.5% that the Cornhuskers make the tournament. That’s well behind the quintet of teams all projected at over 90% chances but still leads the rest of the Big Ten pack. Just over 1 in 3 chances isn’t the greatest but a run at an at-large bid is perfectly doable if the Cornhuskers can find a way to get healthy and stay healthy. With the lack of non-conference resume, Nebraska probably needs to reach 11-9 in Big Ten play.

Biggest Surprises

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Minnesota Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

BoilerUp89: This might be partially due to the level of competition that the Cornhuskers have faced this season, but Nebraska’s opponents are shooting just 28.6% from three and 44.6% from two on the season. Their defense has been excellent and they aren’t giving up many easy looks for opponents. This is a departure from previous seasons under Hoiberg and has caused some eye opening results like a 12 point half from Kansas State.

BigRedTwice: Aside from them being 10-2, which is surprising even with the teams they’ve faced, I’ll say it’s the MSU win. I realize the Spartans have struggled a bit this season so far, but that’s still always a big win for a team like Nebraska. I especially liked that it came after a very disappointing performance against the Gophers - a good rebound.

Biggest Disappointments

Nebraska v Kansas State
Get those defensive boards
Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

BoilerUp89: Although Nebraska’s defense has been solid when it comes to forcing opponents into tough shots, their defensive efficiency numbers are still middling when you look at most advanced analytics. That’s because Nebraska isn’t rebounding the basketball or generating turnovers nearly well enough. While you might be able to get away with one or the other of those, struggling with both gives your opponents too many extra possessions to stay in games despite solid defense. I’m not really sure why Nebraska has struggled rebounding the ball, but they’ve got to find a way to eliminate second chance points if they aren’t going to generate turnovers (and Hoiberg’s defenses have never generated turnovers).

BigRedTwice: I’ll agree that the rebounding has been frustrating - or rather, the lack thereof. Sometimes, it really looks like trying to rebound isn’t even on the menu for the team (like, they’re not even trying to do so) and that’s pretty frustrating, especially given the level of teams they’ve mostly faced so far.

Another thing that concerns me is how flat they’ve looked in some games - namely, in the loss to Minnesota and the win against North Dakota. In both games they played some seriously uninspired basketball, and it wasn’t really clear why. A leadership issue? An attitude issue? Everyone had colds? Who knows - but those sudden swoons were concerning. In the case of UND, they did, to their credit, rally (after being down ten at half, yikes), but it makes me worry we’ll see that team at inopportune moments this year - a problem for a team with no margin for error.

Reasons for Optimism

Nebraska v Kansas State
Brice Williams was a sniper his last two seasons at Charlotte. He’s still shooting above 35% from three, but that’s well off the mark he set in CUSA the past two seasons.
Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

BoilerUp89: Although they don’t have a lot of experience together, this is a roster full of upperclassmen and Hoiberg has had plenty of success with transfer rosters before. As the season progresses, Nebraska should continue to get better.

Most of the roster is shooting well below their historic three point percentages and it is reasonable to expect that Nebraska improves upon their current 33.1% from downtown.

BRT: They’ve started out relatively strong, and it seems in past seasons, it’s taken them a couple months to hit that kind of stride - which of course, is too long in basketball. So I’m hoping we’ll see an upward trajectory, but starting from a higher point.

Reasons for Concern

Nebraska v Kansas State
Hopefully Mast returns to action at full health soon
Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

BoilerUp89: The Cornhuskers haven’t been able to stay healthy. Juwan Gary, Keisei Tominaga, Rienk Mast, and Josiah Allick have all missed games due to injuries. Mast is currently dealing with a knee injury and expected to return in early January. It’s hard to gel when you can’t practice or play games together.

BRT: Honestly, all of the normal reasons to be concerned still exist - first and foremost, this is still Nebrasketball, which isn’t exactly known for getting the lucky breaks or finding a way to do what needs to be done. I hope for the best, of course, but as with the football team, I’ll believe in a breakthrough when I see one.

Remaining Schedule

Home: Indiana (85), Purdue (2), Northwestern (49), Ohio State (17), Wisconsin (23), Michigan (54), Penn State (111), Minnesota (86), Rutgers (79)

Away: Wisconsin (23), Iowa (71), Rutgers (79), Maryland (96), Illinois (13), Northwestern (49). Indiana (85), Ohio State (17), Michigan (54)

BoilerUp89: There’s a path to 10 more conference wins in the remaining 18 games, but there are a ton of 50-50 games in there for Nebraska and they will need some road wins to get there. Minnesota was one of the easier road games on the schedule due to the combination of disinterested fans and the state of the Gophers program but the Cornhuskers couldn’t get that one. Can they get three or four others? Can they hold serve at home? If the answer to either of those questions is no, at most programs we would be talking about a potential coaching change after year 5.

Poll

Nebrasketball will...

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Make their 8th NCAA tournament
    (18 votes)
  • 45%
    Fall on the wrong side of the bubble after proving BU89’s scheduling worries valid
    (18 votes)
  • 10%
    Collapse in B1G play and consider looking for a new coach
    (4 votes)
40 votes total Vote Now

Poll

The Cornhuskers will...

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    finish B1G play at 12-8 or better
    (13 votes)
  • 14%
    finish B1G play at 11-9
    (6 votes)
  • 23%
    finish B1G play perfectly balanced
    (10 votes)
  • 19%
    finish between 7 and 9 B1G wins
    (8 votes)
  • 11%
    massively disappoint those who believed in them
    (5 votes)
42 votes total Vote Now