What is Sabotaging Nebraska Basketball?



Nebraska basketball can’t stand it.

They know, that you know, that this isn’t how they planned it.

The Cornhuskers want to get their win/loss record straight, this tough out of the start iffy-at-best slate.

They can’t stand losing when they’re anywhere. Because their basketball skills are obviously solid, it’s crystal clear.

(end Beastie Boys cover song)

Seriously, though, what is going on with the Nebraska Cornhuskers? Last season Nebraska become one of the more dynamic teams in the country with a fancy arena, an NBA Draft lottery-level talent in Terran Petteway, and a coach with Tim Miles who was not only an Internet sensation, but also seemed destined to bring the program to heights it had never seen before.

Then, well, this season started and nothing but disappointment has been surrounding the team since their first loss of the season against a solid Rhode Island bunch.

That’s part of the equation, though. A 10-7 start (2-3 in Big Ten play) is not how anyone imagined Nebraska starting the season, but it isn’t nearly as bad as it looks. Well, at least in terms of the record compared to the Huskers’ play. There are some pretty glaring issues going on as far as their actual play on the court — namely, their near horrific offense.

Back to the Cornhuskers’ seven losses, which are more than any team with NCAA Tournament aspirations would prefer at the moment. How many of them are bad losses?

Bad losses doesn’t mean games that felt they should have actually won or losses that can’t be explained away. I mean losses that likely keep Tim Miles up at night and Nebraska fans looking over their shoulders for trolls. The answer is two — maybe. Maybe none either. Who knows, but out of the defeats the Cornhuskers have suffered none of them are as bad as one would think nor are they such bad losses that it makes their 10-7 record even worse.

In order Nebraska has lost to Rhode Island (currently 11-4), Creighton (9-9), the surprisingly solid Incarnate Word (9-4), Hawaii (13-5), Indiana (13-4), Iowa (12-5) and Wisconsin (16-2).

Some of those teams aren’t great now nor historically, or even, you know, traditionally Division I CBB program (I’m so proud of you, Incarnate Word), but outside of the loss to Creighton and losing to a newly formed D-I program there aren’t a ton of “really” bad losses in there.

Granted, there’s only a few “good losses” (Wisconsin, Indiana) among the Ls, yet it does help explain the iffy-at-best start for the Cornhuskers. Simply put, and unlike many others up until this point, Nebraska has played enough teams of consequence that its record doesn’t indicate how good it actually might be.

Unfortunately, its play on the court has backed up its record.

While it would be a really optimistic thing to just look at their schedule to attempt to explain away all their shortcomings, there is a bit more to it than just that: Mainly, the offense has been pretty wretched, which is surprising regardless of who was on their schedule, since they were returning enough playmakers from such a good 2013-’14 lineup.

Oddly enough, Terran Petteway is still getting his in all these losses. The talented junior is averaging 19.4 ppg on a relatively decent 43 percent from the floor. At the same time, though, he is turning the ball over at a high rate (3.6 turnovers per) and the rest of the offense — sans Shavon Shields — is struggling around him. But why?

Nebraska is currently the 259th best scoring offense in the nation if we are to use just team ppg as a measuring point. That would be dumb, however, as if they averaged a few tenths of a point more than they do now (65.2) they would jump about 70 teams. There’s a lot of teams around the mid-to-high 60 ppg mark. It can’t just be how many points per outing they are or aren’t getting then.

Well, not alone at least.

It’s a combination of that with their inability to play team offense, as they rank 313th (just over 10 apg) in assists as a team; not being an even decent rebounding team (34 per); finally coupled with a pretty inefficient team .43 field goal percentage on the floor.

Those are the types of stats you would expect from a team that relies heavily on bad isolation offense. It is also a thing that Miles seems to have employed, using Petteway — deservedly — as his main isolation project, more so than he has in the past. But why isn’t it working now?

Well, Petteway is no longer a secret to anyone. Not that coaches around the country were unaware of his exploits the previous two seasons, but now he is the very best player on a team filled with nowhere near as good players as we may have thought going into this year. Opposing coaches are clearly employing the properly warned to Kevin Arnold by Mr. Arnold in the Wonder Years, just have the other team double Bobby Riddle episode technique.

Teams aren’t truly doubling Petteway individually, at least not usually, but so much so of their defense is focused on him that other players on Nebraska have been put in positions where they need to step up, maybe help spread the floor by hitting a 3-pointer or two and/or relieving any pressure off the junior by picking up the slack.

Unfortunately for the Cornhuskes, though, they are shooting a horrific .308 from beyond the arc, already have 225 turnovers on the year and only have one other legitimate, consistent scoring option — all of which are not exactly conducive to lighting up the scoreboard.

It’s not all a sabotage, though.

Nebraska is still playing pretty stout defense. It’s only allowing a really impressive 61 points a night, and that’s despite not having any tremendous shot blockers or forcing teams to turn the ball over at a high rate. That brings us to another question, though.

Is there defense as good as their team stats show or is their offense so bad that it is making their opponents enter the Cornhukers offensive struggles bizzaro world? Sadly, I have no answer for such a confusing riddle.

It is not time to panic yet for Nebraska fans. I mean, it is getting incredibly close to panic time, but Miles is too good a coach and Petteway is too great a player to count out at this point in the season. Although, their next six games are vital to their season. It is a mix-mush-match of some teams they should beat, teams no one can understand if they are good or bad yet and only one game (against MSU) where most would put a predetermined L next to the Nebraska record.

After that six-game stretch is over the Cornhuskers will host Wisconsin, whom they lost to on Thursday night by 15 points. A game, if they are able to come out of that six game stretch with a respectable 4-2 record, may determine the season for Nebraska.

For some, I guess, the madness that is NCAA basketball starts a little early. While the next few weeks aren’t a win or go home situation for the Cornhuskers it is as close as you will get for any team in mid January. Let’s see if they play with that type of urgency.