LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska forward Michael Jacobson said it on Wednesday.
The two wins at Indiana and Maryland, they’re just that. Two wins.
Nebraska’s not in reach of an NCAA Tournament bid. They’re not in reach of the Big Ten title.
They’re an 8-6 team that’s won a few games.
“We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Jacobson said.
But that doesn’t mean they haven’t taken a huge step in the right direction.
Nebraska’s struggled mightily on the offensive side of the ball all year. They scored fewer than 65 points in four of their losses, and had been in the bottom 25 percent of the NCAA in 3-point shooting a few weeks ago.
But now twice, Nebraska’s gone on the road, scored more than 65 and won. The first time was over a ranked Indiana team. The second against 13-1 Maryland.
So what’s going right? What has the team fixed? Why the sudden shift?
Three simple changes.
1. No more quick 3s
We’ll use the Creighton game as a template for poor offense. Nebraska lost to the Bluejays, 77-62, and began the game terribly. The main reason? Nebraska wasn’t driving the ball, and taking quick 3s off picks.
Creighton took a 14-2 lead in the first few minutes, primarily because Nebraska didn’t run its offense well. Poor decisions on picks led to poor shots and Creighton took advantage of empty Nebraska possessions.
Here’s senior guard Tai Webster early in the game using a pick from Morrow, then pulling up early in the shot clock for a contested 3-pointer.
The miss led to Creighton points on the other end.
Two possessions after that Webster shot, Nebraska kept scratching that 3-point itch.
Here’s guard Glynn Watson refusing a pick, then Michael Jacobson drifting out taking a 3-pointer. Webster, who shoots 10 percent better than Jacobson from 3-point range, is wide open in the corner.
Call it panic, call it a habit, but it kept happening over and over.
Nebraska trailed by 12 early and the quick shots kept coming. This one from Watson with 23 seconds left on the shot clock, fading away and contested.
Through Gardner-Webb and the Southern games, Nebraska didn’t fix anything. Until the Indiana game on Dec. 28.
Against Indiana, the 3s went away. And the guards began driving.
Not one time in the first half against Indiana did a guard pull up for 3 on a pick. Not once.
Instead, Watson used the pick to find his sweet spot at about 15 feet.
And Webster began driving off the pick to find open spots in the defense to squeeze through for layups.
Nebraska made nine 3-pointers against Indiana. Zero were rushed. A few came on transition, a few came fluidly in the offense.
Nebraska’s 3-point problem wasn’t fixed completely, but the rushed shots against Indiana and Maryland went away. Thus, the wins.
2. Attacking the rim
Nebraska is not a jump-shooting team, which was never more clear than against Creighton.
Here’s the Nebraska shot chart against Creighton in the first half. Orange is a made bucket; blue is missed. Note two things: the location of the shots (outside) and the amount of blue.
Nebraska trailed at the half, 31-30.
The Huskers settled for jumpers on early shots against the Jays, which just isn’t their game. And as Nebraska got desperate, they abandoned the game plan and began chucking up 3s.
They did the same thing against Gardner-Webb and Southern.
But against Indiana, Nebraska began driving. A lot.
In fact, the Huskers shot 17 times in the lane against Indiana in the first half. Against Creighton, Nebraska shot 20 total shots in the paint.
Here’s how that Indiana half looked. They trailed 36-33 at halftime.
The lane is jam-packed with shots. And a few of those misses ended up being fouls on Indiana, which led to Nebraska free throws.
Webster, Watson, Jacobson, freshman Isaiah Roby and guard Evan Taylor are making an effort to drive first, and shoot second. They did it at Indiana, and they did it at Maryland, where Nebraska had 30 points in the paint.
The drives also open up 3-pointers and jumpers. The more teams cheat in, the more open space Nebraska has for those 15-foot jumpers.
Nebraska has quit (for the most part) the jumper-first mentality, accepting that the paint is its friend. And its paid off.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles said on Wednesday that his best teams are his slowest teams, which is why he’s so comfortable not scoring many points and not running out in transition too much. He likes having tough, defensive-minded teams and offenses that score just enough to get by.
Which is why the switch to want to run up and down the floor is so surprising. But his team is equipped for it. And Miles seems to like it.
“I like to run, I like to get out and have guys run with me,” Watson said. “I don’t want to force it, but if that’s what’s open I’ll take it.”
Watson said Nebraska is at its worst when it isn’t moving in the half-court. When it’s lots of one-on-one time and not a whole lot of ball movement.
But when Nebraska runs, the ball moves beautifully.
They find players for transition 3s:
They find easy buckets down low:
And they even have big guys following behind to clean up any messes:
Nebraska doesn’t score every time it runs. But even when it doesn’t, it at least speeds up the game and its own offense, drawing fouls and keeping the opposition off-balance.
Miles said on Wednesday he wants to run more. Which isn’t necessarily the his style.
Then again, it’s what’s working.
And then again, it’s part of the reason why Nebraska is now back above .500 and 2-0 in the Big Ten.
So Miles will probably take it. And his team, too.