Photo by Marc Lebryk – USA Today Sports
The crowd at Pinnacle Bank Arena last Wednesday was anxious. An early tip combined with freezing cold weather and a struggling team provided more than enough excuses to justify the feeling. Although, the main cause could be attributed to eagerly wanting this bad run to end and realizing it won’t for at least another month. In a historical context, this season reminds me of Mike Riley’s last season as head football coach in 2017. Nebraska fans are faced with the task of cheering on the team while simultaneously wanting the season to end in favor of a fresh start.
The ending might not be pretty. The upcoming schedule provides no favors and includes a three-game skid at home against Purdue followed by Michigan and Michigan State on the road. Sprinkled in are home matchups with Minnesota, Northwestern, and Iowa. The most winnable game comes against Penn State in State College on the 19th. Based on the way things have looked, it might be the only realistic chance Nebraska has to strike up another one in the win column.
The Achilles heel all season has been the notoriously thin reserve cast. Miles tried to combat this by replacing Thomas Allen with Thor in the starting lineup so there might be some spark off the bench. This proved to be true against Purdue. Allen tied his career-high with 18 points, including 12 straight at one point. Despite his efforts, the Huskers couldn’t pull off the win. I was a little confused on the change to the starting lineup at first. You could argue Allen is one of Nebraska’s most consistent and diverse scorers. He always seems to step up in big moments, making him the most logical candidate to come off the bench. At this point, you might as well try anything. Thor offers more size and has been playing hard and rebounding well since he’s been getting playing time. Allen still plays starter minutes.
The biggest difference in the starting lineup change is Thor and Borchardt, who starts out of necessity due to Copeland’s injury, aren’t a threat to score. Defenses can aggressively help off them when Palmer, Roby, or Watson look to create, clogging up the lane and forcing them to take tough shots. Allen is at least someone you have to worry about on the offensive end. Offense takes priority over rebounding in my opinion, but I understand wanting to shake things up when you’re in a funk.
Speaking of funks, the Huskers are in the midst of a horrid one shooting the ball. They are shooting 33.4% from the field over this seven-game losing streak, including 28.3% against Wisconsin and 21.1% against Maryland at home. Nebraska made just 12 shots from the field against Maryland. 12. Not great. These are the type of results you get when your offense lacks creativity and rhythm.
One of the few bright spots against Maryland was Isaiah Roby, who finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Copeland’s injury has forced him to shed his passiveness on the offensive end. He still isn’t as aggressive as he should be. If the ball is kicked out to Roby on the arc he almost always pump-fakes and drives; even if he has space to shoot. Roby is shooting 30% from three this year with 2.2 attempts per game. Not bad for a big guy. If he would catch and shoot right away it would force defenses to close out harder on him out of respect to his shot. With the defense off balance, using the pump fake and drive would open up opportunities for him to use his athleticism to get to the rim. Or he could kick it out to open teammates.
The most memorable sequence from the Maryland game was Tanner Borchardt attempting to take a charge on Maryland’s sophomore forward Bruno Fernando. Fernando backed down, Borchardt fell to the ground, Fernando dunked and high-stepped over Borchardt after the basket. Miles then got a technical foul. It looked like Fernando may have excessively dug his shoulder into Borchardt to get position on the block. Unfortunately, big guys usually don’t get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to taking charges. That being said, the fact that Miles was issued a technical and Fernando walked off scotch free is ridiculous. Hey Bruno, how about you Fernandon’t. The only Nebraska guy who’s allowed to get stepped over is Ty Lue, and his jersey is in the rafters. Show some respect, please!
The final buzzer of each game brings a sigh of relief and sorrow. The last win feels like a lifetime ago. For now, it’s just a waiting game.