After two straight road losses, Nebraska men’s basketball begins a two-game home stand Saturday when it hosts Michigan for a 5:30 p.m. CT tipoff.
The game will be televised on Big Ten Network with Kevin Kugler and Bruce Weber on the call.
The Huskers played three of their last four games on the road against quality opponents. A mid-week game on Wednesday followed by a Sunday evening game on the road seems to have taken a toll on the team physically.
“I think you saw it in the game the other night [at Northwestern]. I thought we did play tired,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s been a really, really tough stretch and we knew that. We knew this was going to be as tough of a four-game stretch as we had with those three road games and Wisconsin at home and finishing off the tough stretch with Michigan tomorrow.”
The Huskers are 1-2 so far in the four-game stretch with the one win coming at home against Wisconsin.
Nebraska went to a big lineup to start the game at Northwestern with Josiah Allick, Juwan Gary and Rienk Mast all starting for the first time this season.
The hope was it would help combat Northwestern’s physicality, but it didn’t work as the Huskers started slow on both ends of the floor and failed to win the rebounding edge in the game.
“We wanted to get our most physical guys out there early in the game,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously we were not very good early in that game at Northwestern. We will figure it out. We played a couple of different lineups in practice today and we will make that decision in shoot-around tomorrow on how we are going to start.
Lawrence off the bench?
Jamarques Lawrence played what Hoiberg considered one of his better games of the season in Wednesday’s loss at Northwestern.
“I thought Jamarques was terrific,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Jamarques really gave us a nice spark off the bench. I thought he was aggressive in transition. I was proud of Jamarques, He talked to me about really liking that role of coming off the bench; we’ll see, we have to do what’s best for us as far as a lineup is concerned. Jamarques did like that change, it just changed the rhythm of his game, I thought, the flow, and he played one of his better games of the year.”
Lawrence played more off the ball instead of as the lead guard in his 22 minutes of action, scoring 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting.
Rebounding and Turnovers
Two things that have plagued Nebraska on the road and a few home games this season are offensive rebounding and turnovers. Wednesday was no different as the Huskers lost the offensive rebounding battle by a 13-3 margin and committed 17 turnovers while forcing 10.
“The focus has been rebounding and taking care of the ball,” Hoiberg said. “It’s as simple as that. We blocked out better, we actually hit on a couple of occasions, we just didn’t come up with the ball, whether we went up with one hand or a guy reached over the top of us. You’ve got to find a way to finish those off.”
Nebraska enters Saturday averaging 77.2 points per game, which is fourth in the Big Ten in scoring offense as of Feb. 8. Where the Huskers have struggled not just in the last two games but multiple games this season offensively is on the glass.
“We’ve got to find a way to generate some extra possessions,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve been under five the last two games on the offensive rebounds and that’s another reason [for consecutive losses].”
For the season Nebraska’s 16.5% turnover rate ranks 130th in the country, but that figure is up slightly in Big Ten play to 17.2%, ninth in the league.
“The unforced you throw it with one hand and they run through the passing lane for a dunk,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve shown we are capable of taking care of the ball, but when we don’t we have a tough time winning.”
Michigan comes to Lincoln after the Wolverines’ best win of the season, defeating No. 11 Wisconsin 72-68 in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines have played 12 league games and have held a halftime lead in 10 of those 12 games, but their record is only 3-9.
Michigan could take advantage of the Huskers’ flaws. The Wolverines don’t force many turnovers (335th nationally), but they do boast a 31.5% offensive rebounding rate.
Tennessee transfer Olivier Nkamhoua is second on the Wolverines in scoring, averaging 15.5 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds per game. Terrance Williams III is at 13.3 points per game and shoots 39.1% from 3-point range.
As a team, Michigan shoots 46% from the field and nearly 37% from 3-point range. However, the Wolverines will be without leading scorer Dug McDaniel for Saturday’s game. McDaniel averages a team-high 16.8 points and 4.7 assists and is second on the team with 41 3-pointers but is serving a suspension that holds him out of road games but allows him to play at home.
Michigan has won 16 of the last 17 meetings since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, with the Huskers’ only win a 72-52 result in Lincoln during the 2017-18 season.