The Huskers host Texas A&M Corpus Christi on Sunday. Here's a preview of the matchup:
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena (Lincoln, Neb.)
Radio: 590 AM (Omaha), 1400 AM (Lincoln)
2019-2020 record: 4-8
Offensive efficiency (KenPom): 312nd
Defensive efficiency (KenPom): 241st
Trending: Down. Welcome, the 350th slowest basketball team in America. The Islanders are a hair slower than Wisconsin and a sneeze faster than Virginia. They average 66 possessions per game, 11 fewer than Nebraska at 77, which is 22nd in the country. Islander coach Willis Wilson has been with Texas A&M Corpus Christi since 2012. In 2017, they won 24 games. Since then, they’ve won 18. This season has seen losses to North Dakota State, Stony Brook and Nicholls State. The Islanders are coming into the game having lost four of five. They’re bad, and Nebraska’s bad — but not this kind of bad. In KenPom, UC Riverside was ranked 227 in that game, Southern Utah was 155, North Dakota was 232. This team is 294. A loss and Fred Hoiberg might as well begin conditioning on the court immediately after the game.
Players to watch
» Myles Smith is a 6-foot junior leading the team with 16.7 points per game with 5.6 rebounds. Away from home, he scores 19.2 a game, including 31 the last time out against Central Arkansas. He shoots 45% from the floor and 35% from 3-point range.
» Jordan Hairston is new to the lineup. The 6-foot freshman has only played in six games, but already leads the team in 3-point field goal percentage. He’s made 12 of 23. But 7 of those came against Texas A&M. He was 7 of 10 that day in 29 minutes, all but one of his makes coming from behind the arc. If he gets going, seriously, watch out.
Three keys for Nebraska
1. How to avoid embarrassment, step No. 1: when you are open, shoot it. Nebraska’s loss to North Dakota was shocking in many ways, but in particular, because the Huskers failed to take advantage of open looks. Often, especially in the first 20 minutes, NU guards had open 3-point looks but passed them up. This after a weekend of uber confidence. In the Purdue game, Thorir Thorbjarnarson shot five 3-pointers in the first five minutes! The Huskers shot 42% from the floor, tied for third highest on the year. The problem? They only took 21, the fourth-lowest. Shoot when you’re open.
2. How to avoid embarrassment, step No. 2: give effort on the defensive end. This Texas A&M CC team is so slow there’s no reason Nebraska should ever be beat down the court, giving them ample, ample time to set up a defense. Against North Dakota, NU wasn’t always set. So that would be a start. The Islanders aren’t a terrible 3-point shooting team, especially with Hairston back. They actually rank 44th in the country in 3-point percentage. But they turned it over on 26.2% of possessions, they’re often blocked, they don’t make free throws and aren’t great inside. Keep the 3-pointers below seven, you win.
3. How to avoid embarrassment, step No. 3: decide you want to play. Two of the most dangerous games on the schedule come before Christmas, and after Christmas. NU got back to town on Dec. 26. They had four days completely away from basketball. They might be off rhythm, especially early, but effort makes up for that. Cam Mack was exactly right when he said after the game the team needed to look itself in the mirror and decide if they wanted to be there. Playing hard on Sunday is a way to prove you want to be in Lincoln.
KenPom: Nebraska wins 73-60
Chris Heady’s take: This team is near-impossible to keep track of. Who shows up, who plays well, who is available to play, who is motivated, it’s a rotation that even coaches can’t keep up with. That’s what best explains the loss to Creighton, win over Purdue, then loss to North Dakota. It’s up and down. If Nebraska’s up, there’s no reason why this is close. None. If they play like they did against Indiana or Purdue, this isn’t close. A 20-point win. But you can’t count on that with this team. That’s what, in part, Fred Hoiberg is so frustrated with. If NU comes out slow, doesn’t seem motivated, and is all over the place, hot TAMCC shooting could make NU sweat. With all that, and take this with a grain of salt, give me Nebraska 70, Texas A&M Corpus-Christi 62.