The Huskers host Southern on Friday. Here's a preview of the matchup:
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena
Radio: 590 AM (Omaha), 1400 AM (Lincoln)
2019-20 record: 2-2
2018-19 record: 7-25
Offensive efficiency (KenPom): 344th
Defensive efficiency (KenPom): 319th
Trending: Obviously down. This is one of the worst teams in college basketball. They’re 2-2 but neither win was against a Division I team. Against Murray State and New Mexico State, Southern lost by 20 and 16. Could’ve been worse, but consider Southern is No. 321 in effective field goal percentage, it's the worst team in the country in giving up free throws, and teams shoot nearly 60% from inside the arc. Southern is so bad offensively that 33% of their points come off free throws. The national average is 18%. This is the second year under Sean Woods, who was previously a head coach at Morehead State and Mississippi Valley State. He knows how to coach bad programs. But Southern is still a bit away from being an underdog with a chance at an upset.
Players to watch
» Freshman Damiree Burns found his shot in a 121-55 win over Ecclesia College, a game with bloated stats that somewhat misrepresents how good Southern is. Regardless, Burns scored 33 points, making 14 of 19 shots, with six rebounds and four steals. The outburst means he’s now Southern’s leading scorer with 11.3 points per game. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound freshman had scored just 12 points in the previous three games.
» Darius Williams is a 6-foot-9, 200-pound senior from Newark, New Jersey. He’s getting 8 points and a team-high 7 boards per game. He wasn’t all that productive last season with 1.6 points per game in 7.9 minutes. But in the first four games this year, he's averaging 25 minutes while shooting 60% from the field. He had 16 points in Southern’s opener.
» Ahsante Shivers (great basketball name, by the way) is a rare instance of experience for this Southern team. He’s appeared in Southern’s past 69 games and is up to 10.5 points per game this year. He’s shooting 51.6% from the floor and is 5 for 13 from 3-point range (38.5%). He’s a quick, 6-foot-3 junior and the most legitimate threat from behind the arc.
Three keys for Nebraska
1. Hit a few early. Nebraska did against South Dakota State. That ignited the entire team and set the tone for the night. When one guy hits a shot — be it a jumper, even a lay up — there’s a natural inclination from everyone on the court to want to join in. You light that fire early, it burns for 40 minutes. Don’t let Southern hang around. Take the momentum and run with it.
2. Nebraska has to start making 3-pointers. They’ve been real bad behind the arc (23.1%). The Huskers made 6, then 5, then 7 in the opening three games. A season ago, it was 15, 8, 8 then 13 in the first four games. And that wasn’t that great of a 3-point shooting team, either. For how much Nebraska works on shooting from behind the arc, the fruit of those labors has to start turning. Matej Kavas has to start knocking down open shots. Same with Jervay Green. Finding a rhythm before this trip to the Cayman Islands will be important.
3. Find a balance of running Southern off the floor, staying healthy, getting experience, but getting some starters rest before this big trip. Hardly ever will a coach come out and say they want such a big lead they don’t need starters late in the second half. Hoiberg especially won’t say that. He gives opponents their due, and after the UC Riverside debacle, he’ll never say something like that. But four games in six days is going to be a grind, especially for a team that wants to push pace. For the ideal scenario, the first 25 to 30 minutes need to be particularly productive with transition buckets and a fostering of chemistry with starters. But get them out if you can at the end. The grind hits soon.
KenPom: Nebraska wins 77-58.
Chris Heady’s take: Let’s just base this off recent history. Nebraska didn’t play competitive basketball in game one. It looked like a team figuring it out in game two. Game three, the switch flipped. Nebraska appears to be over the first hump. So based on that, coupled with this degree of difficulty, Nebraska should handle business Friday night. They’ll have the best five athletes on the floor most of the time, if not all the time. Cam Mack can split this defense in half. Nebraska might have 30 trips to the free throw line, and if so, they’ll need to actually make those. If they don’t, maybe its close. But Southern is not a great shooting team, and PBA is a tough place to shoot. Give me Nebraska comfortably after a solid beginning to the second half. Let’s call it 80-65.